December 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm

Terry Foster

Take a bow, Michigan State hoops fans -- for actually filling an arena

East Lansing — The tradition after every Michigan State basketball game is for players to take a lap around the arena and slap skin with fans in the first and second rows.

Too bad they could not shake everybody’s hand. Spartans fans deserved it.

Michigan State did something Saturday no Detroit professional team can do these days.

They packed an arena on a chilly December day against an opponent few in the crowd knew about. The official count was 14,797, which was very impressive — especially considering school’s still out.

The Pistons cannot do it. The Red Wings claim they do it, but they don’t. And fans are so riled up about the Lions, there is no way they could pack Ford Field if they had another home game.

This was an impressive showing, especially when you consider a bunch of Spartan alumni are making travel plans for Pasadena to see the football team play in the Rose Bowl. There was no Izzone, because students are scattered all over the place on vacation.

The show of support impressed MSU coach Tom Izzo.

“It was fun to see little kids and new faces,” Izzo said after the 101-48 victory over New Orleans. “It was a chance for people that usually don’t get to see the Spartans play come and they took full advantage. I was appreciative of it and I was impressed by it to be perfectly frank.”

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Michigan State won’t even have media availability the next two days to preview the Big Ten opener at Penn State — because there is no media available. Most of the primary writers are in Pasadena.

In a few days, Michigan Stadium will be packed with more than 110,000 fans as the Red Wings take on the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Year’s Day. But that is a special event that has been promoted for more than a year. Of course you are going to sell that out.

But try bringing in the Columbus Blue Jackets on a Saturday afternoon between the holidays — and count the empty seats. Who wants to trek out to The Palace to see the Pistons take on the New Orleans Pelicans of Washington Wizards?

There are not many people.

Tough sell

Quick. What is New Orleans’ nickname? Try the Privateers.

Who is their leading scorer? That would be senior forward Cory Dixon, whoever he is.

Athletics are going through a strange transition. Even though teams announce sellouts, there are more and more empty seats. People are staying at home because the high-definition televisions put you close to the action; sometimes, you even feel like you are in an arena.

Fans also don’t like the unknown. An evening of Red Wings-Blackhawks draws a sellout. If you bring in Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, you might get a sellout at The Palace.

But bring in the Nashville Predators to JLA or the Toronto Raptors to The Palace, and you can forget about it.

Sports are not dying. People just are more selective in what they attend. There is more competition for our entertainment dollars, and there are less entertainment dollars for many people. So many watch on TV and avoid long lines at the bathroom and concession stands.

“We do appreciate our fans who come and support us,” Michigan State guard Gary Harris said. “Sometimes the outcome does not go the way they want, but they still come out and support us. So we think that is really special.”

Despite winter vacation and the other sporting events going on, Michigan State drew a large sellout crowd for Saturday's game against New Orleans at Breslin Center. / Leon Halip / Getty Images
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