Good Question: Why didn’t Gonzaga build the McCarthey Center with more seats?

It’s the hottest ticket in Spokane, but if you’ve ever tried to get a seat to a Gonzaga men’s basketball game you know: getting a seat in the McCarthey Center is much easier said than done. The Mac only seats 6,000 people and has been sold out since the arena opened in 2004. So, we wanted to know: why didn’t they just build it with more seats?

We took this week’s Good Question to Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth. Sitting comfortably in the den of GU Basketball, we told him the Spokane sports-fan dilemma. You can’t get a seat to the game unless you’re a student or a season-ticket holder. Or, you have some really good friends.

“No, you’re not wrong,” says Roth. “That is pretty much correct. Unless you have a friend or a relative or a neighbor that is a season ticket holder, it’s hard to get to see a men’s basketball game, that’s for sure.”

The McCarthey Center is the biggest arena in the West Coast Conference, seating 6,000 fans. It is the smallest of any top-25 team, but Gonzaga is a smaller school than most of the other top-ranked teams. Gonzaga modeled the arena, in part, after Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke. Even though that program is a perennial powerhouse, Cameron only seats about 9,000 fans.

The Mac sells out every game, no question. And, Roth knows it would probably still sell out if it held 8,000 or even 10,000 fans. So, why didn’t they just build it that big to begin with?

“To go from 6,000 to 8,000 at that time was going to be at least 10 million more dollars because the footprint would have had to get much bigger,” explains Roth. “The overall size of the building, the number of restrooms, the number of parking places… the whole footprint would have to be much larger.”

That $10 million dollars would have been a challenge. Already, the project cost $25 million – and, because Gonzaga is a private school, no state money was available. Then-president Fr. Robert Spitzer also told the athletic department they needed to raise 80% of the funds before breaking ground.

Roth admits, they were also a little nervous about building a bigger arena. At the time they were designing the arena, Gonzaga had only been to the NCAA Tournament twice. They couldn’t know for sure the success they were experiencing would continue – and, wanted to keep the arena as full as possible.

“Being sold out is a great problem to have,” Roth says. “In our business, we like that and we would always want to have that happen.”

But, a lot of fans in Spokane don’t like it. Some criticize GU for “pricing out the average fan.” Gonzaga keeps season ticket prices close to the vest, but it doesn’t matter anyway. Season tickets rarely become available. You’re more likely to make the team than to buy season tickets! And, Gonzaga has no plans to expand. They like the intimate setting at the Mac – and, the fact that even the ‘nosebleed’ seats are still just 30 feet off the floor. Roth also says expanding the current building would cost nearly as much as building a new arena altogether.

So, if you ever want to see the Gonzaga men play at home in Spokane, you better be nice to those season-ticket holding friends.