Cats fans flock to the Arena
Cats fans flock to the Arena

In a year in which Australian sport has been rocked by scandal, there have been few genuine good news stories around.

The Perth Wildcats' return to prominence on the WA sporting landscape has undoubtedly been one of the few.

The continued success of Rob Beveridge's team on the court and an aggressive marketing campaign that began at the end of last season have both played their part in the Wildcats' dramatic increase in popularity.

But the Cats' return to the heart of the city has arguably been the biggest factor in crowds flocking to games in numbers never seen before.

The Wildcats have seen a surge in memberships and record crowds have filled Perth Arena since the move to the new world-class inner-city venue this season.

Challenge Stadium was considered a fortress. It was one of the most intimidating venues in Australian basketball. But with a capacity of about 4500, the Wildcats had outgrown the venue.

The move to the Arena has allowed an extra 100,000 people to attend Wildcats games this season.

Average crowds have rocketed from 4298 last season to 11,292.

Only a few more people can fit in the venue, but that number is expected to rise when the play-offs start with a semifinal series opener against Wollongong tomorrow.

Remarkably, the increase in Wildcats attendances has almost single-handedly driven NBL crowds up 26 per cent this season.

The average at games around the league has risen from 4168 to 5248 despite many teams attracting smaller crowds than they did last year.

The move to the Arena has paid healthy dividends for the Wildcats both on and off the court.

Wildcats players are adamant the massive crowds give them an unrivalled home-court advantage and their 13-1 home record in the regular season adds weight to the argument.

A shock loss to Adelaide in the home opener in round seven was the only blemish on the record.

Importantly, the bigger crowds also result in a healthier bottom line.

This year the Wildcats have enjoyed a significant increase in corporate support and club owner Jack Bendat, who took over in 2006, confirmed the club would make a profit for the first time under his watch.

Memberships have reached an all-time high with more than 8300 fans signing up.

But Wildcats commercial manager Troy Georgiu said the growth of the club would not stop there.

"There has been a significant increase in corporate support and general interest but we've still got a fair way to go before we reach the levels we know we are capable of achieving," Georgiu said.

"Ultimately, we want to reach a level of corporate and membership support similar to clubs in other sporting codes where maximum capacity is reached and sustained over a long period of time.

"We have come a long way in the last 12 months but are aware a lot more effort and hard work is required if we are to reach our desired goals and I am confident we have the right internal structures in place to make this a reality."

Beveridge said the move to the Arena had given more WA sports fans the opportunity to see the Wildcats play.

He felt the public had identified with his team's up-tempo style of play, never-say-die attitude and personable nature.

"It's all about how we compete," Beveridge said.

"When AFL or NRL teams are getting smashed, you see all the fans walking out of the stadium, but I never see people walking out of Perth Arena. Everyone knows and identifies with the players.

"After games we make a big point of getting our guys to walk up into the stands to thank the fans for coming to watch us play.

"I think they really respond to that and appreciate that."

While the past year can be considered an overwhelming success for the Wildcats, the next year promises to present a new set of challenges, including maintaining and growing the wave of support that greeted the move to the Arena.

One thing is for sure; the club will not rest on its laurels in pursuit of on and off-court success.

The West Australian

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