Gymnastics: Red Rocks rolling in the green
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Before he made his routine disappearance into the depths of the Huntsman Center to hide out during his team's balance beam rotation against BYU, Utah gymnastics coach Greg Marsden paused for a minute and soaked in the sight of seeing an overflowing audience in the arena.

"Nice crowd, isn't it," he said with a very satisfied smile.

It was, with 15,447 in attendance at the regular season finale, a mark that not only gave the Utes a new national attendance record for a collegiate gymnastics meet but also served as the exclamation point of what has been Utah's most successful season at the ticket office.

The Utes finished with $323,500 in ticket revenue for a season in which they averaged 12,771 fans, the second-highest average for the program behind the 1993 season when the Utes drew 13,164 fans a meet.

As the victories came, so did the fans.

"I learned a long time ago in sports marketing that the No. 1 way to succeed is to win," Marsden said. "It doesn't matter what else you do, you have to take advantage of the success of the program."

Utah's success started with a win over top-ranked Georgia and continued through a season that saw the Utes lose only once, at Florida. Utah held the No. 2 ranking for most of the season and for the first time in the program's history didn't count a fall in the regular season.

The season finale against BYU was held before a crowd that broke the old attendance record of 15,238, set in 1991, and was the first sellout at the Huntsman Center since a men's basketball game against BYU sold out on Feb. 26, 2005.

"I never would have predicted we'd sell out that meet," Marsden said. "We had a great year, Ashley [Postell] has become so well known and people picked up on her last opportunity to see her compete and it was BYU. It all came together for a special evening."

Zack Lassiter, Utah's assistant athletics director for ticketing, attributed part of the increase in interest as carry over from the 2007 NCAA Championships hosted by Utah. The Utes' ticket sales were strong from the start of 2008, with 13,339 attending the season opener against Georgia.

"Any time you have a championships, it exposes the sport to new fans, and they did a good job of keeping them," he said. "It was a strong season, and with Ashley here, everything helped."

It was a much different season than 2007, when spills and shaky routines were the norm. Senior Jessica Duke isn't surprised the gymnasts weren't the only ones who noticed the difference.

"We look happier and people can see that," she said. "We've done things so well, and whether it's Ashley getting a 10.0 or beating Georgia, that wowed some people, you can see the enthusiasm. We've had great crowds and it has made a difference."

Marsden acknowledged after the season the Utes enjoyed, there is pressure to do well at regionals and nationals, maybe even more so than in 2007 when Utah struggled in the regular season than finished second at the NCAA Championships.

The Utes begin their postseason Saturday at Minnesota in NCAA regional competition where they will go against No. 11 Arkansas, No. 14 Arizona, No. 23 Iowa, Southern Utah and Minnesota. The top two teams advance to the NCAA Championships, on April 24-26 at Georgia.

"No one wants to have a good regular season end with a bitter taste in their mouth," he said. "We'd like to finish it off and do a good job in the postseason and have some success."

While the gymnastics revenue pales in comparison to football and men's basketball, Marsden takes pride in that gymnastics is the third-largest contributor in ticket revenue at Utah.

"I've been doing this a long time and I can remember the very bitter feelings when Title IX was implemented, which is how this program got started, and there was a lot of animosity and one of the things said is we'll never pay for ourselves," he said. "To contribute to the revenue pot and that we're not a complete drain has been important to me."

lwodraska@sltrib.com

Football

Season Total revenue Per game

2005 $3,879,863 $646,644

2006 $4,491,514 $748,586

2007 $4,306,808 $717,801

Men's basketball

Season Total revenue Per game

2005-06 $2,368,491 $139,323

2006-07 $2,120,416 $124,730

2007-08 $2,040,706 $120,042

Gymnastics

Season Total revenue Per meet

2006 $253,400 $42,233

2007 $265,886 $44,314

2008 $323,500 $53,917

For single season average attendance:

Year Attendance

1993 13,164

2008 12,771

For single-meet attendance:

Date Opponent Crowd

March 28, 2008 BYU 15,447

Feb. 11, 1991 Cal St. Fullerton 15,238

NCAA regionals

Saturday at Minnesota

Utah vs.

* No. 11 Arkansas

* No. 14 Arizona

* No. 23 Iowa

* Southern Utah

* Minnesota

Top two advance to NCAA Championships, April 24-26 at Georgia