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Ticket sales soaring for UConn basketball

Expect UConn fans to fire off some social media fireworks over the next few days and beyond.

And it has nothing to do with the Fourth of July.

The Huskies will be celebrating a new holiday of their own on Wednesday.

UConn will officially become a Big East Conference member again on July 1st, much to the delight of Husky fans who've been in a state of euphoria ever since the news was announced about a year ago.

Its move from the American Athletic Conference back to the old Big East neighborhood has created a buzz and fueled a significant surge in demand for men's and women's basketball season tickets.

Call it the Big East Bump.

"I certainly think the Big East effect is visible in the numbers," said Neal Eskin, who oversees the UConn ticket office as part of his job as UConn senior associate director of athletics/external relations. "To date, we've sold about 1,300 brand new men's basketball season tickets, which is obviously impressive. I think people are excited about our re-entry into the Big East and the familiar names and that's reflected in the new season ticket sales.

"We're excited about it."

No doubt fans prefer watching league games against old rivals like Georgetown, St. John's and Providence over Tulsa, Houston and South Florida.

The numbers back up that.

Even though men's and women's basketball season tickets were available later this year than last year — the middle of May compared to early April — because of the coronavirus pandemic, UConn has seen a massive jump over the same 49-day span from when sales began.

Through Monday, UConn sold or renewed 11,865 season tickets compared to 2,488 during that time period last year.

Men's basketball has received the biggest boost. Numbers jumped from 325 sold or renewed season tickets at Gampel Pavilion in 2019 to 2,211 so far this year while climbing from 552 to 4,217 at the XL Center in Hartford. Women's basketball season ticket sales also are higher than last year at both arenas.

Those totals are even more impressive when factoring the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

The crisis hasn't tempered UConn basketball fans' enthusiasm and thirst for season tickets.

"You might think that people are just going to be hesitant and just wait," Eskin said. "I think at least for now we haven't seen that. We've seen a real excitement from the moment we've gone on sale until (Tuesday) and the numbers reflect that excitement."

"... We certainly haven't seen a reaction like this in some time in terms of people's excitement and anticipation for the coming season. It's even more amazing and exciting given the pandemic that we're dealing with right now."

UConn is allowing for maximum flexibility for season ticket holders, offering payment plans as well as refund opportunities if the pandemic disrupts the college basketball season or impacts a fan's ability to attend games.

"That's probably given people some comfort that they're certainly not going to lose their money," Eskin said.

Count Eskin as one of those fans delighted about the move back to the Big East where UConn resided since the league's inception in 1979 to its move to the AAC in 2013.

Eskin started working at UConn in 1998 and the following spring the men's basketball team won its first national championship. He witnessed UConn's Big East glory days for both the men's and women's programs.

"Every night was a battle," Eskin said. "The teams, the names, the rivalries, the anticipation of playing familiar foes juiced up the team, the fans and everyone."

The buzz is back again.

Eskin expects another surge in season ticket sales when the basketball schedules come out in late August or early September.

Tickets for individual games will go on sale this fall for what is one of the most highly-anticipated basketball seasons in UConn history. The men's team is on the rise and an already strong women's program added an impressive recruiting class.

"We're hoping over the summer we'll continue to see positive progress on sales as more stuff comes out related to the coming year and the Big East...," Eskin said. "People are anticipating and hopeful about a basketball season, both on the men's and women's side, that has a lot of promise."

g.keefe@theday.com

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