Minnesota hockey the latest victim of athletic departments chasing dollars

Submitted by UMxWolverines on March 14th, 2019 at 10:49 AM

http://www.citypages.com/news/an-empty-arena-delivers-last-rites-to-minnesota-gophers-hockey-dynasty/506957241

The premier program in the state of hockey no one would have ever thought the gophers would struggle to fill their arena. They had a large waiting list similar to what we had in the early 2000s. But combine a slight decline in play with the other smaller Minnesota schools rising up, abandoning many years of tradition in the WCHA, and a greedy athletic department their wait list is gone. 1,900 was the announced attendance for our second game against them this past weekend and that's probably being generous. 

Read some of the comments, they sound an awful lot like what we have heard in recent years. If athletic departments keep this up half empty arenas will be the norm sooner than they think. 

Comments

UMAmaizinBlue

March 14th, 2019 at 10:55 AM ^

But you forgot the benefits of half-empty arenas:

- Choose your own seat, eventually

- Good chance of echoing, so try out your yodeling 

- Easier to get a wave started (no guarantees on a full cycle)

- Shorter lines at concessions (prices unaffected)

- Shorter lines at bathrooms

- Become friends with the event staff, and light the beacons to signal event staff in other sections

- More leg room

Bigfoot

March 14th, 2019 at 2:11 PM ^

Hate doing this to comment at the top, but this past weekend was the Minnesota High School State Championships, and pretty much every hockey fan shuts down what they are doing to watch it.  It was dumb for MN to have a home game that weekend, but journalism malpractice not to mention it during this piece. Very hackish.

LongLiveBo

March 14th, 2019 at 2:34 PM ^

I think your reading skills are the hackish thing exposed here. 

 

 

“It stands to reason the Gophers would take a nick in attention. Over in St. Paul, the Minnesota state hockey tournament was raging. No one can truly compete with this joyous festival of retro mullets, spectacularly curated peach fuzz, and the most amazing young players this country has to offer.

But compete they have for generations, and you never saw a Mariucci crowd resemble that of a bitter man’s funeral. Diehards were quick to raise the specter of self-inflicted wounds.”

Bigfoot

March 14th, 2019 at 8:39 PM ^

Um, OK. Except the tournament doesnt draw 8k...more like 130k over its 4 days, where even a lot of the quarter finals sell out 18k+ on a Wednesday.  Most of the students are in state and are interested in the tourney too--its the main hockey event of the year in Minnesota, by far.  It's on at every bar on every corner and is a state pride of sorts. Its not just a trivial event taking place a few miles from mariucci.  It's a shitty picture to print and attack the program with even if there are other good reasons to criticize the program.  And you don't need to read the article to know that criticizing U MN for attendance during the state tournament is a bum move.

stephenrjking

March 15th, 2019 at 12:58 AM ^

The Wednesday games are all single A and don’t sell out. Not even close, typically; a couple of years ago when the tournament broke its attendance record the Wednesday sessions drew ~5k. 

It’s not terribly relevant except that it sounds like you don’t actually know what it’s like and are ignoring data that doesn’t conform to your preset opinion. 

These questions absolutely deserve to be asked. Minnesota has been the premiere college program in the state for generations and basically remains that way (Motzko left SCSU for Minnie, remember). There are enough fans to fill Mariucci and the X (and arenas around the state) at the same time. The question is why they have not done so. 

Bigfoot

March 15th, 2019 at 2:05 AM ^

Not that it means anything, its just funny, but I played in it 10+ years back. It's been a while though.  Don't know a ton about the current or even past format and haven't lived there in forever.  I just remember section finals being quarter full at Mooch and then being blown away seeing crowds completely full at XCEL for the state tourney. Funny story: my head coach is still coaching and became a big deal after I was there, but a few weeks after the state tourney on spring break I run into him drunk off his ass in Cancun one night.  He could barely say my name and his wife was taking care of him.  I don't think I've seen him since, but I told a couple of friends "hey, you wouldn't believe what I just saw"....and of course he denied it

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 3:35 PM ^

Do you live here?

The HS hockey tournament draws a lot of attention. It doesn't blot out the sun.

St. Cloud hosted a two-game series against UMD the same weekend and drew capacity both nights.

MSU-Mankato hosted a playoff series (same issue Minnesota has with tickets) and outdrew Minnesota both nights.

North Dakota, right across the border, drew over 10,000 as usual. 

Last year Minnesota-Duluth hosted a playoff series the same weekend as the HS tournament. Duluth East made a run to the HS final, with its stunning upset of Edina and the final against Minnetonka both taking place at the same time as the college games. UMD drew respectably in the mid 4k range for both games (80% of capacity or so, just a few hundred below what they draw for run-of-the-mill regular season games). 

Minnesota's issues are way deeper than it just being the HS tournament. 

901 P

March 15th, 2019 at 8:37 AM ^

Holy cow the pictures in that article are stunning.

I grew up in Mpls but have been away for a LONG time. I remember at one point the U shifted from fielding a team of ONLY Minnesotans to recruiting basically anywhere in the US and Canada (at least that's my recollection--I don't even know if that's accurate). Anyway, could a team that is less Minnesota-centric also play a role in declining attendance? Like, locals just don't feel the same connection to a team made up of kids from all over the place? 

I'm guessing the two biggest factors in lack of attendance are the popularity of other college teams and the fact that the Gophers aren't very good right now (brilliant insights, I know). It's amazing what a fan base will forgive if a team is winning. Price gouging? Various minor and major indignities? No problem if we're competing for championships. 

mfan_in_ohio

March 14th, 2019 at 3:44 PM ^

Have they never had a home series the weekend of the state tournament? I'm sure that it had some effect, as they'd been drawing about 8000 per game the previous two weekends, but once the tickets weren't selling the AD could have offered discounted tickets to students. Maybe for a 20 oz. coke.

Brian Griese

March 14th, 2019 at 11:04 AM ^

Two paragraphs sum up the exact problem: 

"They note that the mounting disinterest coincides with the creation of Big 10 hockey in 2014, when the U jilted natural rivals like North Dakota and Duluth for a mid-shelf league and more lucrative TV rights.

Then there were the fan-gouging schemes. The same year the team switched conferences, students who wanted season tickets for hockey were forced to buy seasons for football as well. Prices for everyone else soared, accompanied by mandatory donations with each purchase. Talk of the “Gopher Family” tends to ring hollow when the Gopher’s always trying to raid your wallet."

All the classic reasons are there:

  • Not playing rivals (local opponents)
  • Seat "donations"
  • Increased costs of season tickets (making them buy tickets for another sport as well)

For as educated as all AD's are, it blows my mind when I read these articles, see the above three components, yet then see or hear comments from the AD about how they're bewildered the attendance is down.  It looks like they might have to resort to giving 4 seats for free on each Coca-Cola purchase per the photo attached.  

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 11:40 AM ^

I was skeptical about the "not playing rivals" thing when the B1G started hockey, but it has absolutely made a difference. One thing that matters: North Dakota fans travel really well. They invade every arena in Minnesota when NoDak plays there. 

This creates demand, scarcity, and environment. You know it's going to be live, you know the game is going to be good, you know that it'll be hard to get into--it drives you to want to go. 

And the more you go to stuff like that the more you go to other games, too.

Minnesota still has Wisconsin on the schedule every year, but Wisconsin has stunk for ten years. Rivalry with a bad team just isn't nearly as fun. Big Ten teams are still Big Ten teams with name recognition, but there just isn't the friction that you get with other sports or with the smaller schools that are more local. 

College hockey fans are niche hockey fans, and fans of programs like Michigan and Minnesota are smart college hockey fans, too. When I first encountered college hockey and wondered what "CCHA" meant, I thought it was weird that Michigan was playing teams like Ferris State and Illinois-Chicago and so on. But smart fans get that stuff and learn to enjoy it. Minnesota hockey fans don't think playing UMD or Mankato is below them. They think it's cool. 

Or they would if Minnesota played them every year. 

rob f

March 14th, 2019 at 12:53 PM ^

I can tell you firsthand how much I miss the old conference set up with the CCHA.  

While I try to get to Yost once or twice a season, I actually made more road games (at WMU, MSU, Ferris, and ND) than home games most seasons while Michigan still was a member of the CCHA  My typical one-way drive time to each venue in "drivable" winter weather:

Yost: 2 1/2 hrs

WMU: 35 minutes

MSU: 2 hrs

Ferris: 2 1/2 hrs

ND: 45 minutes

And while drive time and distance to MSU and Ferris are similar to that of Yost, I have family living within a half hour or so of each which allows for me to have a place to stay and/or visit en route to or from the game, especially when winter weather became a factor. 

Ever since Michigan left the CCHA, I've gone to only three road games: one at Staee, two at ND.

 I miss those local CCHA rivalries and those nearby road trips.  I know it's not going to happen, but PLEASE BRING BACK THE CCHA!!!

RAH

March 14th, 2019 at 10:26 PM ^

“miss the old...CCHA”

The CCHA was nothing! The old WCHA - now that was a hockey league!! North Dakota, Denver, Colorado College, Minnesota-Duluth, Michigan Tech, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan, Michigan State!! 

Oops! Guess I really am getting old!

mbrummer

March 14th, 2019 at 11:41 AM ^

Forcing to buy Football tickets to get Hockey tickets?

That's crazy! Are football tickets almost free at Minnesota?

"I'd like to buy some season tickets for Hockey."  

Great that will be $1000

Also your mandatory Football tickets that will be 1400 more..

That's like saying if you want Wings season ticket, you have to purchase a Tigers package too.

Strike that I don't want to give Illitch any ideas.

lhglrkwg

March 14th, 2019 at 4:33 PM ^

Truly amazing to watch the love of money corrupt and ruin college sports. Minnesota and everyone else in the Big Ten is riiiiiiiiiich. Stupid rich. So what do they do with all that sweet, sweet TV money coming in? They turn around and gouge their fans for every last cent they can get out of them

I can practically hear the AD meetings where they are bewildered as to why attendance and fan interest is down. I imagine there's also old guys in suits bemoaning "millenials" and "why doesn't everyone come to games like they used to? It must be smart phones and instagram"

BornInA2

March 14th, 2019 at 11:04 AM ^

The in-person experience has declined in nearly all aspects with college football and hockey, from my perspective. Prices are up. Music blares from loudspeakers, TV timeouts are frequent and interminable, crowds and enthusiasm are down.

The in-vain attempts at careful camera framing of college football games with 1/2 full (and often less) stadiums of regular season games, and much worse for the over-abundance of increasingly meaningless bowl games and "conference championship" games, is both obvious and pathetic.

More of a good thing isn't always an improvement. More games, more TV coverage, more TV contracts, more post-season play in the form of idiotic conference tournaments that lead to national tournaments...it seems to be headed to a predictable low point.

MZNBLUE

March 14th, 2019 at 10:21 PM ^

Half the bowl games need to go away and never come back.  Imagine players calling home - "Guess what mom and dad - we're playing in a bowl game - it's the Idaho Potato Bowl in the middle of the week in mid-December".  Dial tone.

The other one that's been driving me nuts is the contract the MAC has with ESPN where there are 2-3 games played during the week in November.  These games draw fewer fans than HS football games.  Outside of the mid-west, who the heck is even watching these games on ESPN?  I've heard that local businesses are very unhappy with this - big surprise, not a whole lot of people doing dinner/drinks, etc. on a Wed night before/after a football game.

I don't know how long it will take but I do think changes will have to come.  I'm guessing a lot of folks here have seen the same as I do with regards to football games - there are still a lot of older folks who come to games out of tradition - it's just what they've always done.  I've actually been a bit shocked at the age of some of the folks at the game (and rather worried at some of the Nov games).  The younger generations generally don't have a tradition/legacy mindset and they've grown up in a very different world with respect to access to viewing games.  I know that's a gross generalization but I think it's pretty accurate.

I'm quite certain that the only reason I was able to score season football tickets for Harbaugh's first year was the perfect storm of Brandon's nonsense with regards to ticket prices and "donations" and the decline in the product on the field.  If only one of those happens, people don't give up their season tickets.

Jibbroni

March 14th, 2019 at 1:01 PM ^

True.  However, I truly feel that money in physical form is the manifestation of what we as humans refer to as evil.  The “devils” greatest trick wasnt convincing the world of anything. His greatest trick was disguising himself as currency.  It embodies all seven deadly sins in one convenient physical form. 

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 11:20 AM ^

There were signs of this a couple of years ago at the second B1G tournament in St. Paul. I went to the Michigan-Penn State game, which was the early matchup, and it was a tomb. And there weren't that many more for Minnesota's game there. Granted, the B1G tournament was a dramatic step down from the Final Five, but Minnesota is finding itself un-exempt from the wider trend of decreasing interest in attending live sporting events.

So, why is that? 

It starts with prices. I went to the Friday regular season Michigan-Minnesota game at Mariucci with a bunch of my friends. The cost? $40 per ticket. Want food? You're spending over $50 per person. We carpooled, so we only spend $20 for two vehicles to park, but we still spent $20 for two vehicles to park. 

I can pay a cable/internet bill for scarcely more than the cost of two people to attend a game.

Now, that's an enjoyable experience for a one-time thing. Building memories, taking in the experience, all that. Mariucci is a fantastic arena.

But who wants to do that 20 times a year? The answer is, not as many people as used to want to do it when it was cheaper. And then you have to pay extra ($30 per seat, in this case) for playoff tickets. For a first-round game between mediocre teams. When you could stay at home at flip between that game and the high school tournament (Greenway was a great story in single A, and the AA final was very exciting) on your big-screen television.

Sports franchises have found the market limit for what they can make off of fans who attend their events. Since they think only in short-term results, they're fine with losing some attendance in exchange for making some extra cash. 

But they are also weaning people off of attending games regularly. And, in some cases, weaning people off of being fans at all.

These choices will be regretted. 

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 12:34 PM ^

Easy example of this: Michigan State, which used to have an incredible sellout streak for hockey. That set of fans got too old to attend or died off, and nobody replaced them; tickets are now readily available at Munn, and Michigan fans were famously able to pack the place in 2010 for that road playoff series. What happened? They didn't develop a younger fanbase, particularly with student enthusiasm so diverted to Breslin for their perennially contending basketball team. 

I think the same thing could happen to Michigan hockey down the road. 

redhed

March 14th, 2019 at 3:40 PM ^

The death blow for MSU Hockey was when Ron Mason retired.  I hate everything green & white, but I had a lot of respect for Mason and what he meant to college hockey.  And let's be honest, B1G Hockey was nothing more than a money grab.  Saturday night games at Yost when Lake State or Western would come to town with CCHA playoff implications, were special.  Those kids played with an extra jump in their step, and I would much rather attend one of those games, than watch Penn State.

Rufus X

March 14th, 2019 at 11:24 AM ^

Holy hell...  They forced students who wanted to buy hockey tickets to buy football tickets as well.  It's not a giant macaroni noodle, but it's close.

Rasmus

March 14th, 2019 at 11:52 AM ^

Actually that seems quite a bit worse than corporate-sponsor excess. Like completely insane to the point where I wonder if it is in fact true.

I can see offering discounts on hockey tickets if you have football tickets, and vice-versa, but requiring hockey fans to buy football seats is just plain weird.

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 12:22 PM ^

Here's an article bemoaning the policy for documentation; it's not clear to me if this policy is still in effect. Indiana is known to do this for basketball tickets. 

The issue is that there is higher demand, but lower supply, for sports like hockey and basketball at certain schools. Minnesota has something like 25,000 available student seats at football games, but they are rarely able to fill up that space. 

Naked Bootlegger

March 14th, 2019 at 11:28 AM ^

The Kohl Center, while not quite as empty as this picture, has also experienced precipitous attendance declines in recent years due to underwhelming on-ice performance.   But that facility is at least shared with men's and women's hoops.   

 

trueblueintexas

March 14th, 2019 at 11:31 AM ^

The ridiculous part of all this? It's all by choice. While a good chunk of the money flowing in athletics comes from donations, that money typically only covers the up-front costs. There are on-going costs associated with every new thing you build and every new bar which gets set in salaries. 

When you hear about water falls (Alabama) and mini golf courses (Clemson) and million dollar position coaches (Michigan), you really have to question the business acumen of the people making the decisions. 

It's not just the above and beyond things. When your weight room is twice as large as it used to be, that requires more staff to keep it clean. When you build exclusive nutrition centers, you have to have people to staff it and clean it. When you build out athlete only dorms, there is a whole infrastructure required to keep that running. Those are all AD dollars committed and sunk now. 

It's going to be really interesting to see what happens when the revenues from attendance start to really fall and TV payouts start to flatten and then decline. They have created an unsustainable system and it all trickles down. Food vendors will pull out when no one is at the game to buy their food. 

Reggie Dunlop

March 14th, 2019 at 11:54 AM ^

Exactly. Just yesterday I read that Indiana "doubled" the price of young alumni football tickets.

https://www.crimsonquarry.com/2019/3/13/18264337/indiana-doubles-price-of-football-tickets

Now, I don't know exactly what they're talking about. Who constitutes a "young alumni". I didn't care enough to take a deep dive. And it turns out the tickets were dirt cheap and this is only making them less dirt cheap. Tickets went form $10 per game to $20 per game. Still a deal.

But that's kind of my point. $10 per ticket? Who cares? The article asks my question:

Who knows how many young alumni season tickets are bought each season. If the number is 5,000, is the potential extra $50,000 worth it?

I believe the annual BTN distribution was like $50 million dollars per school in 2018. Why the hell do you need to hit your ticket holders for another $50k that will generate headlines like "100% INCREASE!"? Just a blind cash grab. Like fucking BTN+. Good lord do I hate BTN+. You've bent every cable provider in the Midwest over a barrel for an ungodly sum of money. Yet you just can't stop yourself from bleeding the fans to watch the overflow of less-popular sports online. 

The whole thing is out of control.

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 12:02 PM ^

So the math question there is interesting.

On the one hand, it's not $50,000 extra, because some young alumni will decline to renew at that price. Let's say that 25% don't renew; they wind up netting an extra $25,000. Even smaller.

However, they DO get multiple games. So we're talking about, say, $150,000. Still not huge, but not nothing. It's enough to understand why they might think that's a good idea, even though you wind up alienating fans that aren't that numerous to begin with. Oh well.

Elsewhere: There is nothing, no sporting event, no one-off random important game, that has come close to even tempting me to pay for BTN+. That they're showing hockey on there verges on a crime. They have BTN "extra" channels on many cable networks. I pay for them. I should get to watch hockey (and wrestling, and softball, and other stuff) that is already produced without paying extra. 

mfan_in_ohio

March 14th, 2019 at 11:42 AM ^

Is it fair to say that the creation of the B1G hockey conference was a disaster?    For one of college hockey's blue blood programs to not be able to draw 2,000 for a conference tournament game against another major program is beyond embarrassing.   The B1G is in danger of being a one-bid league this year (2nd place Notre Dame is 15th in the pairwise, squarely on the bubble), which would be the second time in four years.  At least Michigan still has MSU to kick around; Minnesota especially struggles because they lost North Dakota as a conference rival, and those games were always massive. 

Personally, I miss the CCHA.  I get to see more games on TV now, I guess, but having legit rivalries with a school like Michigan, and getting to host them every other year, was great for the Ferris States and Northern Michigans, but it also helped us in recruiting to know that local kids were going to play almost all of their games within a few hours' drive, so parents could see the games, and the same was true for Minnesota.  Minnesota used to be at the epicenter of their conference both competitively and geographically, but that's gone now, and it's really hurting their program.

stephenrjking

March 14th, 2019 at 11:51 AM ^

It hasn't been great.

One oft-ignored factor: The formation of B1G hockey coincided with multiple programs enduring HISTORIC low periods in the history of their programs. Wisconsin and MSU still haven't recovered; Michigan has interspersed the CCM line's quarterfinal and last year's Frozen Four with years of missing the tournament altogether after making so many in a row. 

But TV coverage has not grown appreciably (it was better but not exceptional in the second half of the season, but the first half was awful). 

I favored the B1G formation when it happened, and I still like that Michigan plays near me in Minneapolis every year (and generally after New Year's, when watching hockey is the best). But things have not been great. 

The Maizer

March 14th, 2019 at 1:43 PM ^

I still think B1G hockey has potential. You're very right to point out that part of the B1G's struggle is that we're a surprisingly mediocre league. Michigan, MSU, Notre Dame, Minneosta, and Wisconsin making up 70% of a league should make for a damn good league. The truth is we just kind of suck.

UMxWolverines

March 14th, 2019 at 11:09 PM ^

It's gonna be hard for all those programs to recover with Penn State and Notre Dame as new editions with brand shiney new arenas, OSU doing well right now, so that leaves 4th place at best. Michigan, MSU, Wisconsin, and Minnesota are all historic programs that all expect to do better than that most years. With them all in one league it's not gonna work well. 

Naked Bootlegger

March 14th, 2019 at 11:55 AM ^

This, exactly.   The old CCHA and WCHA leagues were college hockey perfection.   Hockey is such  a regional sport.   Except for UND, where college hockey rules the campus, I don't think building palatial hockey-only arenas is smart.   And modern multi-use arenas are sterile replicas of the professional world.  The Kohl Center does nothing for me.  But Yost's intimacy does.

Maybe we'll laugh at the notion that Big 10 hockey is not sustainable 25 years from now.  Maybe Big 10 hockey rivalries will eventually flourish, but it will take time for me to get excited about a Penn State or Illinois (maybe?) hockey game.