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Fiserv Forum to create hostile home court environment

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Fiserv Forum to create hostile home court environment

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

Photo by Andrew Himmelberg

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When Marquette Athletics designed the student section at Fiserv Forum, the program wanted to create an intimidating environment.

“I hope it just destroys (other teams),” men’s head basketball coach Steve Wojciechowski joked.

All joking aside, the program has high expectations for the environment at the new $524 million facility.

The biggest difference between the BMO Harris Bradley Center and Fiserv Forum is the shape of the student section. In the Bradley Center, the student section was in sections 105-106 and 220-222 in the lower bowl, extending into sections 432-434 in the upper bowl. All the seats were along one baseline of the floor.

Now in Fiserv Forum, the student section is in a bowtie shape behind both baskets. The athletic department said the design was not modeled after any other arena. Wojciechowski said the ultimate goal was to get the students to feel more involved.

As of Oct. 9, the student section at Fiserv Forum, which holds 3,100 students, sold out.

“Everybody wants to get a look at it,” junior guard Sam Hauser said. “They’re going to have a lot more fun because they’re closer to the action.”

Redshirt junior Ed Morrow noticed similarities between Marquette’s facility and Pinnacle Bank Arena, his home court before transferring from Nebraska. He said he has high hopes for the new facility.

“We’ll be able to interact with them just as much as they want to interact with us as the game is going on,” Morrow said. “It’ll put a lot of pressure on our opponents considering the fact that it will make the gym louder and the atmosphere just that much more explosive.”

Part of the enthusiasm surrounds the building’s acoustics, which are intended to make the building seem intimate and vociferous.

“When we were touring the Fiserv they were saying how it was built acoustically, so it’s going to sound like there’s more people in it than there actually is,” senior center Matt Heldt said. “It’s going to be a lot more personal for the fans. They’re going to be a lot closer and hopefully that will give us an advantage with our fans being able to have a bigger effect on the opposing team.”

The BMO Harris Bradley Center had some hostile environments over the years, including a court storming after Marquette’s win over No. 1 Villanova in 2017, but the students were not as close to the court.

“At the Bradley Center, the fans were a little distant,” sophomore forward Theo John said. “(In Fiserv), the more rowdy (students) are, the more home court advantage (and) the more games we win.”

From a player’s perspective, the students hovering over the court will have a big impact on the other team’s mentality.

“I’ve been on the other side of that a few times,” freshman foward Brendan Bailey said. “It definitely gets into your head, so that’s what we’re hoping and expecting our students to do.”

The new facility has also been a recruiting tool for incoming players, including redshirt freshman Joey Hauser and graduate student Joseph Chartouny.

“For kids, that’s important. They want to see facilities and venues that scream to them ‘elite,'” Wojciechowski said. “Certainly Fiserv does that.”

Although Chartouny and Joey Hauser said Fiserv Forum was not the deciding factor in why they came to Marquette, it was a key part of both players’ official visits.

“The thing I’m most excited about with Fiserv doesn’t necessarily have to do with recruiting,” Wojciechowski said. “I think we have a chance to create a great home court advantage and tremendous enthusiasm on a night-to-night basis.”

The team also hopes that atmosphere with the student section’s proximity to the action will sway some of the momentum during tight games.

“As much as people say they don’t pay attention to fans, it does have an effect,” John said. “Especially when there’s those big momentum plays and the fans are on your back, it’s going to be a great experience.”

“Anytime you can bring that kind of ruckus closer to the court, as a player or as an opposing coach, it makes you feel like people are on top of you,” associate head coach Stan Johnson said. “It will really change the tone and the atmosphere of the game.”

If the student section’s layout is successful in creating an intimidating atmosphere this season, Marquette’s bowtie shape could be the model for future BIG EAST student sections.

“The Forum gave them a really good chance to kind of experiment and rearrange where everyone is sitting,” Heldt said. “If it works really well, other teams, if they get new arenas or if they change up their seating, might try and replicate that.”

Marquette currently charges its students $140 for season tickets, which is the most of the seven BIG EAST teams that responded to the Wire’s request for comment: Butler, DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Seton Hall, Villanova and Xavier. Creighton, Providence and St. John’s did not comment.

Marquette is the only team to sellout tickets for the 2018-’19 season. Schools with free tickets include Butler, DePaul, Xavier and Villanova.

Marquette is not the only school to place its student section behind both baskets. Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse has a similar layout with its student section, the Dawg Pound, located behind each basket with overflow seating in upper sections.

Many other schools have formats similar to what Marquette had at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Seton Hall and Georgetown had comparable prices to Marquette’s and also put students on one baseline in the lower bowl.

The Villanova Wildcats have a unique system, as the university holds a lottery for claiming student tickets to manage high demand. Its student section is on one of the baselines in the lower level of The Pavilion and about half the size of Marquette’s student section in Fiserv Forum.

Marquette is hoping the opening of Fiserv Forum is the start of more than just an arena, but a new fan experience.

“This year is going to be even more exciting; the start of something new,” junior guard Markus Howard said. “I’m really happy for (students) that they have the experience to experience it from a closer level. I know it will be a great year in terms of our fan support.”

Wojciechowski described Fiserv Forum as a beautiful building.

“The building comes to life when people are in it,” Wojciechowski said. “Our students can help us drive that by making it fun, exciting, spirited, loud, hostile and an amazing place to play.”

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