Juston Hutson named new Fresno State basketball coach
Rekindling interest in Fresno State basketball, filling seats at Save Mart Center – that all starts with Justin Hutson, and the Bulldogs' new basketball coach knows that.
He gets it. He also embraces it. "I have to get out there," he said, at his introductory news conference. "It's a great community, a lot of diversity. We have to get the old Red Wave back, and we also need to build some new Red Wave and get some excitement there."
But Hutson also will be getting some help out there across the Valley with what an athletic department official pegged as a six-figure investment to market its new basketball coach and program, a significant step up given the lack of dollars behind the team as home attendance dwindled over the past few seasons.
"We want to have people back at Save Mart Center and that doesn't happen overnight," said interim athletics director Steve Robertello, who led the Bulldogs' search for a coach after Rodney Terry left for Texas-El Paso after seven seasons.
"We understand that. We have to get out there. We have to engage, and coach talked about that. He said, 'I want to be involved,' and that's huge for our program. One of the things we talked about, we have our 30- to 60- to 90-day plan of where we're going to get him and how we're going to do it. We'll sit down and look at his schedule – we have the basketball pieces we have to deal with, too – but now we can get him out and connect and engage with some folks and that's critical."
Fresno State, despite winning 20-plus games this season for a third year in a row and a fourth time in five, averaged just 6,033 attendance at Save Mart Center.
It ranked seventh in the Mountain West Conference by average attendance and by percentage of seats filled. Worse, the 6,033 marked the lowest average attendance since the Bulldogs started playing in the 15,096-seat Save Mart Center in the 2003-04 season.
It set a record low in three of the past seven seasons: 6,520 in 2012, 6,190 in 2015 and 6,033 in 2018.
In 2008, the average attendance was 10,520.
Included in the Bulldogs' plan to boost the profile of its coach and its program is a marketing campaign, which Fresno State started to work on the moment the plane carrying Hutson to town rolled to a stop.
"We will continue to work on that video element through the end of next week and then you'll see a television campaign, a social media campaign, you'll see a billboard campaign that will come out of this," said Paul Ladwig, senior associate athletics director for external relations.
"We told him we would be tied to his hip every moment of every day when he's not coaching or recruiting, that there are things that we're going to want him to do. He didn't flinch. He understands what we need to do and he understands it's his job every day to promote and enhance Fresno State basketball."
The investment, a combination of university and athletic department dollars, is substantial. "It's a number that marketing and branding people would look at and go, 'That's real. You can make an impact with that number,' " Ladwig said.
The athletics department also will bump up its in-season marketing investment to build attendance in a building where the Bulldogs have gone 28-9 in conference play over the past four seasons.
"It starts with me and I'm excited to do it," said Hutson, who grew up in Bakersfield, played at Cal State Bakersfield and started his coaching career at Bakersfield High.
"We need a home court advantage here. There are a lot of home court advantages in the Mountain West and there is not going to be any better than the Red Wave. I remember those red cars going up and down the 99 freeway, so let's go!"