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After 5: It's Hip to be Bear

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Missouri State Bears basketball games are drawing more fans than the team’s previous home court could hold.

With an average attendance of 9,083 per conference game, the Bears are on track to break the MSU record for conference attendance and, according to athletics Communications Director Rick Kindhart, have topped the 10,000 mark twice this season.

Winning will do that.

The Bears’ record as of Feb. 3 was 17-6 (9-3 in the Missouri Valley Conference), and at one point this season, the team owned a 19-game winning streak at JQH.

Adding to the hype, the Bears earned a spot in ESPN’s BracketBuster series, a Feb. 18–20 men’s college basketball event pitting NCAA tournament hopefuls. MSU plays Valparaiso University in Valparaiso, Ind., on Feb. 19 on ESPN2, in a rematch of conference foes from when the teams played in the Mid-Continent Conference.  

“What I enjoy the most with Cuonzo (Martin) being the coach is that I really have the sense that we can beat anybody,” says 1992 MSU graduate John Brinkmann of Brinkmann Insurance and Financial LLC.

The high point for Brinkmann this season was the 67-66 win Jan. 22 against Creighton University, which he compared to the Bears’ 2008 win against the University of Arkansas, the first game in JQH Arena.

Not to be outdone, the Lady Bears were 16-5 overall (7-2 in the conference).
The Lady Bears 71-41 win Jan. 21 over Wichita State, also a perennial Missouri Valley contender, drew a season-high 4,583 fans.

“Like the Bears, they’ve been at or around first place in the conference,” Kindhart says, noting the team’s average attendance of 3,353 in the first 12 home games.
“That’s a program that has traditionally been among the nation’s top 20 in home attendance. There’s been no yo-yo effect over the years such as with the men’s program.”

Along with attendance, Kindhart says corporate participation is rising for both programs.

“We’ve supported the programs since the early ’80s, since (former Bears coach Charlie) Spoonhour was there. I was a ball boy for Charlie and (former Bears coach) Mark Bernsen,” says Tyler Thompson, general sales manager for Springfield-based Thompson Sales Co., a longtime booster of both the Bears and Lady Bears basketball programs.

The community is continuing to warm up to the Bears’ and Lady Bears’ new den. The suites at JQH Arena have been sold out since it opened in 2008. Depending on variables such as length of contract, the 24 suites cost as much as $37,500 a year.

JQH Arena, which is in its third season, cost $67 million and opened in November 2008, has a capacity of about 11,000 – 2,000 more than Hammons Student Center. Springfield businessman John Q. Hammons donated $25 million to fund the JQH Arena project.

JQH offers opportunities for corporate backing such as luxury suites and use of the Prime Overtime Club for social events before games. The club is named for Springfield trucking company Prime Inc., in recognition of owners Robert and Lawana Low’s $1 million gift commitment to JQH Arena.

“People are discovering (JQH Arena) for the first time, which is a great thing. I think it will help the community and help our program,” Kindhart says.

Great Southern Bank committed a gift to help fund the purchase of JQH Arena’s $1.5 million to $1.8 million scoreboard.

To some degree, it is difficult to put an exact return on investment, says Teresa Calhoun, the bank’s marketing director. “We kind of liken it to any outdoor billboard, be it digital or whatever, that’s the category that we put it in.”

Great Southern has between 12 and 20 tickets and a suite for both teams’ games, and Calhoun says all available seats are spoken for. “Everything is gone from now until the end of the season,” Calhoun says.

Teresa Ollis has been attending Bears games since the 1980s with her husband, Richard of Ollis & Co. Both are MSU alumni.

“It’s my wintertime outlet to get excited,” she says, noting the couple has already bought their tickets to St. Louis in anticipation of the Bears playing in the conference tournament.
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