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U at 858 New Football Season Tickets

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May 21, 2019

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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.

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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.

(2) Readers Comments

  1. avatar
    Joe
    May 21, 2019 at 5:58 pm

    As a season ticket holder I love the enthusiasm and believe in Coach Fleck’s vision. I would have dropped my tickets if Coach Claeys had been retained. The issue is the scholarship seating fee instituted by Norwood Teague.

  2. avatar
    Tom Benemann
    June 10, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    U R right. Weather, local competition for fans, and student apathy are major challenges for increasing Gopher football attendance. The good news is attendance tracks winning. Win games and they will come.

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