Stands Half-Empty at the IUPUI Natatorium at Women’s NCAAs


This weekend at the 2017 NCAA Women’s Division I Championships in Indianapolis, the stands were a little… empty. The feeling that something was missing filled the IUPUI Natatorium, especially for spectators, swimmers, and reporters whose last big-time, national-level meet was the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha.

The 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials sold out, with ticket sales eclipsing 200,000 for the 15-session meet. And, though Trials is obviously a bigger and higher-profile meet, Trials ticket sales prove that American interest in the sport remains at its all-time high, and that Midwestern swim fans and fans willing to travel to the Midwest can fill even an entire CenturyLink Center of seats.

This weekend, 10,031 total tickets sold for the 2017 NCAA Women’s DI Championships, a combination of all-session and single-session tickets across seven sessions. This number is actually the second-biggest in history for the women’s NCAA Championships. 11,705 sold last year for the 2016 Championships at Georgia Tech, 8,969 sold for the 2015 Championships in Greensboro, and 8,366 sold for the 2014 Championships in Minneapolis.

However, the IUPUI Natatorium is huge, with seating capacity to fit 4,700 spectators, so even the second-biggest spectator field in history felt like an underwhelming crowd. But this isn’t a unique situation for an IUPUI competition; any veteran of top-level meets in Indianapolis will tell you that the stands are at most 50% full at any point.

The emptiness of the massive facility sucks up some of the competitive energy that thrives in smaller, but still top-flight aquatic centers like those at the University of Minnesota (1,346 seats) and Georgia Tech (1,900 seats). The emptiness may or may not affect swimmer performance, but it definitely does make for a tamer spectator experience. As a onlooker at the IUPUI, you feel farther away from the action, and some of the excitement and cheering can get lost in the big facility.

You can see shots of the crowd on the lane one side right before the start of Friday night finals below. There are more crowd members on the lane eight side of the pool, underneath the photographer’s vantage point. (The first heat of 400 IMers is standing behind the lanes, so the first event is just minutes away.)

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Swimmer A

I see the stands as half-full here. You pessimist.


Or maybe, just maybe, they need to come up with some ways to fill the seats with local age groupers? How do you not furnish local teams with a couple dozen tickets each to give to 12U swimmers (avoiding recruiting issues) or at the very least, allow teams to apply for the free tickets on a first come first serve basis. Disadvantaged youth with limited exposure to the sport? Combine a swim lesson/clinic, paid for and hosted by the NCAA and then sit those kids in the stands with healthy meal and an opportunity to watch some great swimming. Local foundations for girls, inspiring and empowering them by giving them the opportunity to watch girls kick a$$? If this was… Read more »

Not sure if they’ve done anything this year, but last year at Georgia Tech they brought in classes from local schools (not sure what the demographics were) and assigned them to cheer for different teams. I believe there was some interaction with the athletes for those kids. Love those ideas though.


Hi there – former swimmer/coach and now Development Director for an Indianapolis-based nonprofit and just wanted to offer my perspective on your great and valid ideas. The local organizer, Indiana Sports Corp did an amazing job reaching out to local nonprofits and donating tickets to them. One of our programs offers adaptive/inclusive athletics for children of all abilities, and we’ve received funding from ISC for several years. Sports Corp invited groups to register for free tickets to distribute to their constituents. One problem in taking full advantage of those tickets was timing… 1) Most central Indiana schools aren’t on spring break until next week or the week after, so attending prelim sessions during the week would have caused school conflicts… Read more »


All of which are fair points Maggie, but beg the question – why did Indiana bid for this meet on this weekend, then? If Indianapolis has so many conflicts, and so many higher priorities…then stop bidding for the meet. The fact that they chose to host basketball the same weekend is their own fault, and they have to deal with any fallout that results from that.


Did you miss the part about it being the second-highest attended women’s NCAA championship ever?


Fallout? Last year Omaha held the College World Series, Olympic Trials and a road race all during the same time with venues directly across from one another. The NCAA is involved in determining dates for these events so they would be well aware that basketball and swimming would overlap.


Not understanding your last sentence.. Don’t recall writing about decreasing access to girls, but the disruption of a school day? One day for an entire class of kids, or a half day for that matter to see prelims isn’t asking much. USA swimming foundation could do something in conjunction with this, so you have the man power to run the clinic/lessons before watching prelims.

Might need to reconsider bidding and hosting so many events at one time. Same thing happened with last years mega zone Meet in Indy. The same weekend as a major convention taking up so many hotel rooms and driving up the prices of others..


I think the point was decreasing access by assuming it needs to be at a smaller venue isn’t necessarily the answer. While your point about missing school for one day or half day is valid, keep in mind that many swimmers miss school for competition so going during a school day isn’t always possible when they have already missed for their own events. Aside from swimmers, other students/families may not like to miss school. This in addition to the challenge of parents who work being unable to take off to attend. There some school groups in attendance as we sat near them during Friday prelims. As someone that attended the Mega Zone we didn’t have problems finding rooms through the… Read more »


You got my point exactly, Kristin! – thanks 🙂


I’m not talking about swimmers missing school, I’m taking about school groups, as you stated which is great, making an effort to get kids in the stands. Kids from lower SES backgrounds, I get everyone’s points and I’m not arguing how hard it is to get out of school for swimmers, but I’m not talking about swimmers who are already in the sport. Build the base, right?


The venue is a bit larger from a spectator standpoint but it was much more well attended on Saturday and anyone there can probably tell you that the crowd was fantastic for Saturday finals. Lots of energy from all teams, fans and local swimmers/families coming to watch an amazing meet. Fans from Cal, Stanford, Georgia, Texas, Louisville, were all on the opposite side from the photo taken and were well represented. Congrats to all teams on a great week of swimming!


My wife and I were in attendance as well Saturday night and the stands on both sides from the blocks to the end of the pool were pretty full.

About Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht

Hannah Hecht grew up in Kansas and spent most of her childhood trying to convince coaches to let her swim backstroke in freestyle sets. She took her passion to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa and swam at NAIA Nationals all four years. After graduating in 2015, she moved to …

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