Thursday, Nov. 22, 2018


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Results Mixed on U Season Tickets

 

It looks like Golden Gopher ticket buyers are excited about new women’s basketball coach Lindsay Whalen, but not as much with football’s P.J. Fleck.

Back in January of 2017 athletic director Mark Coyle hired Fleck to upgrade football recruiting and compete for Big Ten championships. After 18 months the 37-year-old Fleck has improved the recruiting, according to experts who rank major college programs. The winning? Minnesota’s record was 2-7 in Fleck’s first Big Ten season and no one is predicting a big year in 2018. However, Fleck boosters, and there are many, believe the Gophers will be competing for West Division and Big Ten titles in a few years.

The University of Minnesota Athletic Department reports that as of June 21 public season football ticket sales totals have declined from 2017. The number of accounts on June 21 of this year was 6,031 and the total number of tickets was 20,673. That compared with June 21, 2017 totals of 6,457 and 21,418.

How did the Gophers do in total football public season tickets last year? They sold 22,131 public season tickets.

Public season ticket prices for football begin at $249, compared to the least expensive price of $310 a year ago. The DQ Club season ticket price has been reduced by $300.

Mark Coyle (photo courtesy of Minnesota Athletic Communications)

Although Whalen, 37, had no previous coaching experience and is still playing for the WNBA Minnesota Lynx, her hiring is one of the most popular moves the Gophers have made in a long time. Whalen, a Hutchinson, Minnesota native, was a legendary player for the U. An Athletic Department spokesman told Sports Headliners when Coyle is out speaking and mentions Whalen’s name, the audience bursts into applause.

As of June 21, the Gophers had 803 public season ticket accounts for women’s basketball with 2,038 tickets sold. Those totals are major increases since June 21, 2017 when the figures were 480 accounts and 1,295 tickets.

Last season the total number of public season tickets sold was 1,338. Although there has been an $8 increase per season ticket, the Gophers are on track to easily exceed last season’s total.

Gopher women’s basketball has mostly been mediocre since the Whalen era ended in 2004. Her hire, though, has created expectations of not only winning championships, but perhaps even making the program financially profitable for the first time in U history.

Consider Whalen’s resume. She was the first three-time All-American in program history, a three-time All-Big Ten selection and three times made Academic All-Big. She led the Gophers to their only Final Four in program history in 2004. Her jersey, No. 13, hangs in the rafters of Williams Arena. She is also a four-time WNBA champion with the Lynx and is playing in her 14th WNBA season.

Despite a disheartening season in 2017-2018, public season ticket sales for Minnesota men’s basketball remain stable. As of June 21, there were 2,118 accounts and 6,256 public season tickets sold, compared with totals of 2,256 and 6,255 a year prior.

The Gophers sold 7,174 public season men’s basketball tickets for the 2017-2018 season.

Minnesota entered last season coming off an 11-7 Big Ten record and a first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2013. Preseason predictions last fall had the Gophers as a nationally ranked team and contender for the conference title, but things collapsed in January with Reggie Lynch’s suspension and Amir Coffey’s injury. Minnesota finished with a 4-14 league record, barely avoiding last place in the league standings.

However, there is optimism about the 2018-19 season because coach Richard Pitino appears to have enough personnel to compete for an invitation to the NCAA Tournament. Forwards Jordan Murphy and Coffey will be on most everyone’s list of candidates for preseason All-Big Ten teams. Other experienced players who can contribute return, and the incoming freshmen class of all Minnesotans appeals to U fans. Another factor motivating repeat season ticket buyers is they don’t like the idea of giving up seating priority at historic Williams Arena.

In addition to Whalen, Coyle made another high profile hire earlier this year when he named Bob Motzko head men’s hockey coach. Motzko, 57, made a name for himself leading the St. Cloud program for 13 seasons including a Frozen Four appearance in 2013.

Motzko’s hiring, though, hasn’t so far been enough to prevent a slide in public season ticket sales. As of June 21, total accounts were 1,636, with 4,644 tickets sold. That compares with figures of 1,900 and 5,352 as of June 21, 2017. The Gophers sold 5,502 public season tickets for the 2017-2018 season.

A $100 decrease in pricing in one seating zone at 3M Arena at Mariucci has been offered to incentivize public season ticket buyers.

With an overall record of 19-17 last season, the Gophers didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Fan apathy was alarming with large numbers of seats empty in the arena. The record and disinterest were painful for a program long billed as “Pride on Ice.”

Although the renewal periods for existing basketball, football and hockey public season ticket holders closed in May, the totals reported here will increase with new buyers. Sales of new season tickets will continue into the beginning of the seasons in each of the four programs.

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David Shama

David Shama is a former sports editor and columnist with local publications. His writing and reporting experiences include covering the Minnesota Vikings, Minnesota Twins, Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Gophers. Shama’s career experiences also include sports marketing. He is the former Marketing Director of the Minnesota North Stars of the NHL. He is also the former Marketing Director of the United States Tennis Association’s Northern Section. A native of Minneapolis, Shama has been part of the community his entire life. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota where he majored in journalism. He also has a Master’s degree in education from the University of St. Thomas. He was a member of the Governor’s NBA’s Task Force to help create interest in bringing pro basketball to town in the 1980s.

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