Tuesday, May. 21, 2019


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U at 858 New Football Season Tickets

May 21, 2019 - (0) comments

 

With more than three months until the University of Minnesota’s first 2019 home football game, it’s uncertain whether the sale of public season tickets will surpass last year’s total of 21,663.

Based on a request made by Sports Headliners, the University reported 20,297 season tickets had been sold as of May 13. Included in the total are 858 new sales. Two years ago the U sold 817 new season tickets through May 1.

The Golden Gophers’ impressive 2019 late season results on the field has prompted some increased interest in the program. Playing against four quality opponents, Minnesota went 3-1 while averaging 31.5 points per game and giving up 14.75 points. Among the wins was the program’s first since 2003 over Wisconsin. U marketers have used the reclaiming of Paul Bunyan’s Axe as a centerpiece in promoting the team during the offseason.

The U also reported that 89.73 percent of last year’s season tickets have been renewed. Tickets have been available for renewal since late November of last year.

Interest in Gophers football has declined since popular and successful head coach Jerry Kill resigned during the 2015 season. The Gophers sold 27,885 public season tickets in 2015, a year when Kill resigned after seven games because of health issues. He was succeeded by defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys who was fired after the team’s surprising bowl win in December of 2016. The public season ticket totals in 2016 and 2017 were 22,785 and 22,131 respectively.

P.J. Fleck

Head coach P.J. Fleck arrived in Minneapolis in January of 2017 gushing with enthusiasm and bubbling with expectations including one day winning Big Ten championships. So far he has an overall record of 12-13 and is 5-13 in conference games, but optimism is higher now for a successful season than at any time since 2015. Minnesota is getting hyped this spring as a possible top 25 team nationally and a serious contender to win the Big Ten West.

A step forward with an elite 2019 season will juice future ticket sales and that’s a high priority for athletic director Mark Coyle. Football is the big cheese in producing revenue in the 23-sports athletic department, with men’s basketball and men’s hockey the only other sports that are profitable at the U. Even Fleck isn’t immune to department revenue concerns with the coach saying this spring his program had to reduce its budget by five percent.

There are seven home games this season starting with the August 29 opener against South Dakota State. Marquee games will be against Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin. A season ticket, of course, guarantees the same seat location for all seven games, with prices ranging from $249 to $1,500. All but two of the eight season ticket locations in TCF Bank Stadium require a per seat contribution, in addition to the ticket price. A monthly payment option is offered to buyers.

Despite a flexible selling approach by the U, there are many challenges in season ticket sales. Team performance over the years has often been disappointing and Fleck’s personality resonates with some followers but not others. Game parking and traffic near the stadium is a common consumer complaint. Those facts discourage some fans from investing a lot of money and time in the purchase of season tickets and attending games.

Then, too, potential customers, whether serious or casual followers of the program, know that in a 50,805 seat capacity TCF Bank Stadium there will be single game ticket availability. And another option is to watch all games at home on HDTV and avoid the expense and hassle of going to campus.

The Gophers also have a challenge with the weather for about half of their home season. At the Purdue game last November, temps were frigid and the actual turnstile count at TCF Bank Stadium was 14,950. Rain, snow, wind and cold are problematic for ticket sales at Minnesota’s outdoor stadium. For almost 30 years fans were weather-proofed inside the Metrodome. Now the Gophers don’t offer that comfort, while their football ticket selling rival, the Vikings, play indoors at a stadium within walking distance of the U’s West Bank.

Part of the anticipation in moving from the Metrodome to TCF Bank Stadium was that student support at games would be strong at the on-campus facility. But annual totals for student season ticket sales have been mixed and sometimes less than best totals at the dome. Instead of pushing on an allotment of 10,000, student season sales last year were 4,730.

There might not be anything like the on-campus atmosphere of college football to many adult and student fans but there are not enough right now in a marketplace overwhelmed with sports and entertainment options. Box office rivals to Gophers football include the Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Wild and Loons.

College football administrators are concerned about attendance nationally. Cbssports.com reported in a March article (citing preliminary numbers) that in 2018 attendance was the lowest in 22 years. The average college football attendance last season was 41,856 for the 129 FBS programs. Minnesota averaged 37,914 in announced attendance, reportedly the lowest figure since 1992.

Schools are looking at options to enhance revenues including sale of alcohol. With alcohol being sold at TCF Bank Stadium since 2012, the Gophers are already ahead of many programs with that fan amenity.

As for 2019, there is still a lot of ticket selling time remaining for Gophers promoters. Season ticket sales are ongoing, and June 24 mini-plans and group sales begin. Single game tickets–excluding Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin—are available for purchase starting July 15. Single game tickets for all games go on sale August 12.

Here is a bright note to end on: Minnesota has won 15 of its last 21 games at home.

 

GM Levine Says Twins Can Play Better

May 19, 2019 - (0) comments

 

The Minnesota Twins finished last season with a disappointing record of 78-84 after playing in the postseason in 2017. During the past offseason, front office decision makers Derek Falvey and Thad Levine reshaped the club’s roster, and shook up the managerial and coaching leadership.

The performance so far of the hometown team has been stunning.

The Twins have key personnel who were on the roster last season, but three quarters of the usual infield lineup and multiple pitchers, particularly in the bullpen, are newcomers. Collectively, along with manager Rocco Baldelli and his staff, they have made the Twins’ performance one of the success stories in big league baseball this spring. As of this morning the Twins had compiled the second best record in MLB at 30-15 and a .667 winning percentage, just behind the 31-15 Astros.

Minnesota is 5.5 games ahead of second place Cleveland in the Central Division. The Twins have been in first place since April 21. In March-April their record was 17-10 versus 9-15 in 2018. So far in May the Twins are 13-5 (compared with 13-15 for that entire month a year ago), and the club is on a five-game winning streak including an 18-4 win over the Mariners last night in Seattle when Minnesota led 10-0 after three innings behind five home runs.

Consistency? The team is 15-8 at home and 15-7 on the road. The Twins have a winning record against opponents from the AL Central, East and West divisions.

Before the season started there were plenty of predictors who thought the Twins were a division contender, with the most optimistic hinting Minnesota might play something like 18 games over .500 and finish with a 90-72 record. However, that was an extreme outlook, and now the team is already 15 games over .500 with slightly more than 25 percent of the schedule having been played.

No one should crown the Twins the best club in the majors yet, but this does look like a coming out party where Minnesota just might be among baseball’s royalty by season’s end. Everyone likes what they have seen including Levine, the club’s impressive and intellectual general manager. He admits to the team exceeding expectations.

“I think when you look at the record we have, it’s hard not to say that this is a little bit further along than what we expected,” Levine told Sports Headliners Wednesday. “But when you look at the performance of the team, I think there is another level this team can reach. So in saying that, I don’t think this is necessarily that far exceeding expectations.

“I think (before the season) we thought very highly of this group of individuals and certainly what they could do collectively. I think the best baseball this team has is ahead of them, not behind them. … I think the future is very bright for the Minnesota Twins.”

Levine clearly likes the potential of his team, but dreams can get derailed by injuries and last week the Twins put two of their more productive offensive players on the 10-day disabled list. Catcher Mitch Garver is off to the best start of his MLB career with nine home runs but now is on the DL. DH Nelson Cruz, who joined the Twins last offseason, went on the DL having hit more home runs than anyone in the big leagues since 2014. His bat and leadership have helped fuel a long ball trend that seems likely to result in a franchise season record of more than 225 home runs this season.

Miguel Sano (photo courtesy of Minnesota Twins).

The Twins are also counting on their stingy pitching—four starters have won four games or more and five core relievers have ERA’s at 2.00 or less— and depth of positional players to keep them winning. Miguel Sano, as recently as two years ago viewed as the slugging centerpiece of the team, just rejoined the Twins after missing the first 40 games. Sano can play third base, first base and DH. He is part of a versatile and mostly under age 30 roster that includes players who can man multiple infield and outfield positions. They have performed well at bat and also with team defense. The club’s fielding percentage is among the better ones in baseball at .985.

Worth Noting

Twins home attendance will be surging between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with club president Dave St. Peter telling Sports Headliners: “…I think you’re going to see huge crowds here at the ballpark night after night.”

It looks like Vikings first round draft choice Garrett Bradbury will take over as the team’s starting center. Pat Elflein will move to guard. “He (Elflein) is a much better guard than center,” former Viking Pete Bercich told the CORES lunch group earlier this month.

Bercich, a radio gameday analyst for the Vikings, also said veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph is “not a very good blocker.” Rudolph could see his starting position go to rookie Irv Smith Jr. if he is traded or cut from the roster because of salary cap challenges.

Bercich played at Notre Dame for legendary (and flamboyant) coach Lou Holtz. Bercich said Holtz needed a strawberry shake at halftime of Notre Dame games “so he could get his sugar.”

Word is when Holtz coached the Golden Gophers he also ordered milkshakes during games.

CORES emcee and well-known public address announcer Dick Jonckowski ordered the printing of another 500 copies of his 2018 book It’s All About Me, Dick Jonckowski: A Minnesota Treasure.

Former Gophers football coach Jerry Kill, now athletic director at Southern Illinois, has landed the largest corporate naming rights agreement in school history. The 10-year deal will offer up to $10 million in the renaming of SIU Arena to the Banterra Center (Banterra Bank).

The Golden Gophers softball team can win the Minneapolis Regional today and continue to impress in the NCAA Tournament. So far this weekend Amber Fiser has pitched 15 innings, allowing five hits and one earned run, while striking out 20 and walking three batters.

WCCO Radio Sports Huddle co-host Dave Mona, along with his wife Linda Mona, are promoting their 10th and final Camden’s Concert. Popular country western singer and song writer Suzy Bogguss will entertain. Tickets are on sale now for the July 16th event at the Hopkins Center for the Arts. More at Hopkinsartscenter.com. Money raised from the concert helps research to find a cure for Cystic Fibrosis.

The annual Karl-Anthony Towns ProCamp will be July 18 and 19 at Providence Academy in Plymouth. The camp is open to boys and girls of all skill levels in grades 1-12. Participants will learn fundamentals and interact with the Minnesota Timberwolves star center, according to a team news release.

Former Gophers golfer and New York Times best selling author Harvey Mackay quotes this Arabic proverb in his syndicated newspaper column last week: “Write the wrongs that are done to you in sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble. Let go of all emotions such as resentment and retaliation, which diminish you, and hold onto the emotions, such as gratitude and joy, which increase you.”

 

Twins’ Sano Seems a Trade Prospect

May 16, 2019 - (0) comments

 

Enigmatic Miguel Sano is back in a Twins uniform after missing the first 41 games of the season with a right heel laceration, and it’s worth speculating whether he will finish the year with the organization.

Before being recalled yesterday, Sano had played in 10 games on his rehab assignment. The goal had been 20 games but an injury to catcher Mitch Garver forced an early recall of Sano, who with Single-A Ft. Myers, Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Rochester, hit .316. He had two home runs and nine RBI.

The Twins lead the AL Central Division with one of the best records in baseball, 27-15. In the first quarter of the season the club has excelled in various ways including hitting home runs, a Sano specialty. Minnesota is on pace to break the club record for homers in a season, 225.

Sano has teased both the fans and the front office with his power and potential since signing with the team for a reported $3.15 million bonus as a 16-year-old in 2009 while living in his native Dominican Republic. However, in four seasons with the Twins the 6-foot-4, 270-pound third baseman has struggled with his weight, injuries and consistency. In 2017 he made the AL All-Star team and hit a career high 28 home runs, despite only playing in 114 games.

The Twins have thrived this spring without Sano, who fell back in his production last year hitting just .199 with 13 home runs in 71 games. When multi-positional newcomer Marwin Gonzalez plays at third he gives the Twins a better fielder than Sano, and since May 2 he is hitting .372.

It’s conceivable that because of new found success without him, Sano might not become a full time starter and centerpiece with the Twins like in the past. He seems likely—at least initially—to be in and out of the lineup while playing third base, first base and filling in at Designated Hitter.

During an interview yesterday, Twins GM Thad Levine wouldn’t single out Sano as someone the club is targeting for high expectations this season. Rather, he said it’s a “big season” for a core of younger players who have been around for awhile, including Jose Berrios, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco, Garver and Sano. “I think we feel like his (Sano’s) future bears a lot of promise,” Levine said.

Sano’s achievements and perceived potential should have value on the trade market if the Twins want to part with him. “I think it’s our responsibility to at least listen, but right now we’re not in a position where we’re looking to trade Miguel Sano,” Levine said.

Levine didn’t label any players in the organization as untouchable regarding trades, but he said there are individuals the Twins “would never make a call to another team” about, and bring up their names. He didn’t say who the players are, and whether Sano is included in the group.

Sano is 26 and in the last year of his contract. The Twins could look at Sano as having too much potential to cast away, or they might have seen enough during his spotty career to take the gamble of sending him to another organization either for immediate help or prospects.

In addition to Gonzalez, the Twins can play Ehire Adrianza and Willians Astudillo at third base. With Polanco playing at an All-Star level at shortstop, the Twins might be looking to eventually move top minor league prospect Royce Lewis from short to third base. It seems Minnesota has quality options at third base if the club chooses to move on from Sano.

Levine is impressed with the total performance of the team so far— offense, defense, starting pitching and relief pitching. “There is no glaring need as we see it but I think we’re going to continue to monitor the markets and evaluate the team,” he said.

Falvey & Levine

Levine sees it as his responsibility and that of chief baseball officer Derek Falvey to both recognize the “window” the Twins have this season to be a contender for a division title, while also continuing to strategize the building of the club for the future. Player acquisitions in coming weeks could fit into either of those goals.

Despite the club’s impressive start, Levine recognizes there are a lot of games ahead on the 162-game schedule. “…You kind of use April and May to assess your team, and then the remaining months to make the adjustments you feel necessary to improve it,” he said. “I would say we’re still very much in the assessment stage of the season.”

Worth Noting

The 2019 Twins’ roster is probably the most versatile in franchise history with so many players able to perform at multiple positions. Monday night against the Angels the Twins made use of all three catchers on the roster, with Jason Castro catching, Astudillo playing third base and Garver filling the DH role.

Yesterday the Twins drew a surprisingly large crowd for a home spring game in May. The 31,919 announced attendance for the day time game is indicative of growing interest in the team. Twins president Dave St. Peter said that there is a lot of ticket buying interest including for the June 15 date when Joe Mauer’s jersey number will be retired.  The Twins will play the Royals June 15, likely in front of a sellout crowd at Target Field.

ESPN college basketball authority Fran Fraschilla has followed Alihan Demir, the 6-9 forward and grad transfer from Drexel who is the latest member of coach Richard Pitino’s Golden Gophers 2019  recruiting class.

“I expect him to be a solid role player up front,” Fraschilla told Sports Headliners this week. “Not a star, but just a good role player for them. Someone that gives them power inside. He shoots the three but that’s not really his game. He’s more of a banger, plays with toughness. Very good passer.”

Demir, a native of Turkey who averaged 14.8 points and 6.4 rebounds while making third team All-Colonial Athletic Association last season, joins a newcomers group that also includes 2019-2020 freshmen Sam Freeman (Dallas, Texas), Isaiah Ihnen (Boeblingen, Germany) and Tre’ Williams (Dallas, Texas).

Minnesota’s freshmen class is ranked No. 37 in the nation by 247sports.com.

Jeff Goodman, writing for Watchstadium.com last fall, interviewed coaches and then wrote an article ranking the best to the most difficult men’s basketball coaching jobs in the Big Ten. Criteria included tradition, national TV coverage, game atmosphere, facilities, budget, and geographical recruiting base.

Minnesota ranked No. 10—and surprisingly behind No. 9 Nebraska. Ahead of the Gophers and Huskers were (in order of No.1 thru No. 8), Indiana, Michigan State, Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, Purdue, Illinois and Wisconsin.

The Gophers softball team, a No. 7 team in the NCAA Tournament and host of the Minneapolis Regional, will play North Dakota State Friday night with the 8:30 p.m. home game seen on ESPN 2. Senior Maddie Houlian realized last weekend there is a lot of interest in her team.

“I’ve already been getting calls, ‘Can we get tickets, can we get tickets,’ ” Houlihan said in a Gophers news release last Sunday. “It’s going to be a blast. I think this state is going to get behind Gopher softball.”

Bill Robertson

Congratulations to Bill Robertson, men’s WCHA commissioner and former Minnesota Wild executive, who was among the inductees into the Mancini’s St. Paul Sports Hall of Fame Monday night. The Robertsons are the only family to have three members in the St. Paul shrine, with Bill’s brother Mike and dad Norb having previously been honored.

Sad to report that former Timberwolves executive Rob Babcock passed away yesterday from pancreatic cancer.

 

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