SJU President: On-Court Success Key To Improving Fan Experience

In an exclusive interview with The Torch, St. John’s President Brian Shanley shares his thoughts on the state of the basketball program.

Torch Photo / Sara Kiernan
Torch Design / Brady Snyder

As the St. John’s University Men’s Basketball program continues to fall short of expectations, University President Brian Shanley says that on-court performance is the key to improve the fan experience at basketball games. 

After falling to Villanova (10-11, 4-6 BE) and narrowly defeating Georgetown (6-16, 1-10 BE) at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm currently hold a 14-8 record overall. The Johnnies sit at eighth in the Big East conference with a 4-7 record in league play, and are likely to be on the outside looking in on the NCAA Tournament picture.

“I am completely committed right now to helping head coach Mike Anderson be successful,” Shanley said when asked about the current coaching situation in an interview with The Torch. “I see flashes of it, like the UConn game, I thought this is the team that I thought we had. At the Villanova game, [I thought] we came out flat and didn’t play well.”

In part, Shanley attributes the Men’s Basketball team’s recent struggles to the evolving college sports landscape. With the emergence of name, image and likeness (NIL) deals and new transfer rules, collegiate teams experience routine roster turnover.

“College sports is changing so dramatically because of the NIL stuff right now and the transfer portal,” said Shanley. “Everybody’s going through this. I don’t mean to use this as an excuse, it’s just that I’ve never seen a more complicated situation in college athletics than right now.”

The success of the program is more important than ever, because as Carnesecca Arena ages and fails to meet current fan expectations, winning is the solution. “I wish we could rip everything out and put new stuff up, but we just don’t have the money to be able to do that,” Shanley said. 

“I wish they were better than they are, but we can only do cosmetic things right now,” Shanley said when asked about Carnesecca Arena’s current facilities. “So it’s either put lipstick on it, which is what we’re doing, or if we were to do something substantial we would be talking tens of millions of dollars.”

Considering that recent donor funds and capital investments have been allocated to academic improvements, like the construction of the upcoming Health Sciences Center, generating revenue through the athletics department looks to be the only viable solution.

“I think demand for tickets is very much tied up to the performance of the team,” Shanley said. “If we were winning consistently, there’d be more demand for tickets. So we have to figure out how to win more games.”

Although Shanley and athletics director Mike Cragg have both said on-the-record they do not plan on replacing Carnesecca Arena in the near future, there could be another solution. The Red Storm have played in three professional sports venues in the last two years: Madison Square Garden, UBS Arena and the Barclays Center

A basketball fan himself, Shanley is particularly fond of playing in “The World’s Most Famous Arena.” But moving campus sporting events off campus poses a similar issue to building a new arena.

“I would love to have more games at Madison Square Garden, but we need to sell a lot of tickets at MSG to really make a profit off of playing there,” Shanley said. “So if we can generate the kind of on-the-court success that drives up demand for tickets, we would certainly think about playing more games in ‘The Garden.’”

Considering the basketball program’s financial situation, the University intends to focus on improving the student-athlete experience before investing in the fan experience. 

“If we had a big wad of cash, we could do both,” Shanley said. “But if we’re going to make decisions on where to invest, the well-being and success of our student athletes is the most important thing for us.”