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U Football Renewal Percent Increases

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July 10, 2017

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Based on figures provided by the Gophers athletic department late last month, the renewal percentage for public football season ticket accounts was up from 2016, but the total number of tickets sold was down by about 1,000.

For the upcoming 2017 seven-game home schedule, 87.7 percent of public season ticket accounts had renewed as of June 22, compared with 79.3 percent on that date in 2016. The Gophers reported a total of 6,518 accounts and 22,462 season tickets, compared with 6,898 accounts and 23,494 tickets in 2016.

The Gophers didn’t provide student season ticket sales, with an athletic department spokesman noting via email that while those tickets are available now the campaign marketing doesn’t begin until next month.

Another sales number provided was that 1,310 new season tickets were sold as of June 22.  No comparable figure for 2016 was offered but it seems fair to draw some conclusions about the 1,310 total and the other public season numbers.

The improved renewal percentage is almost certainly impacted by the applauded decision last year by new athletic director Mark Coyle to eliminate a scheduled 2017 price increase on tickets referred to as “scholarship seating.”  Prior implementation of extra pricing on tickets had annoyed a lot of buyers.

While fans aren’t storming box offices for Gophers football tickets, the hiring of new coach P.J. Fleck probably slowed the apathy toward the product that was visible in 2016.  The Gophers averaged 43,814 for seven home games.  That was the lowest average since TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009.

Also provoking attention were the large number of empty seats at all games.  Many of the seats were located in prime locations at TCF Bank Stadium.

P.J. Fleck

Fleck’s reputation and outgoing personality hasn’t resulted in a lot of new sales yet, but he may have pushed back some of the malaise about Gophers football while creating at least a potential group of ticket buyers who have been wearing “Wait and see hats” for awhile.  The Gophers will be selling season tickets for a couple more months and they don’t play their first game until August 31.  That means the athletic department will add additional season ticket buyers, but not a lot—perhaps, though, pushing past 2016 final numbers for total accounts and tickets (unavailable today).

If Fleck shows he can coach, he will be the second coming of college football Hall of Fame dynamo and Mr. Marketer Lou Holtz.  When Holtz was at Minnesota in the mid-1980s he arrived as a proven winner and a big name in the coaching business.  The state accepted Holtz and his hype from day one.  Within two years he had season ticket sales at 56,000.

Holtz came here from Arkansas, and had a national following for various reasons including his appearances on Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show.”  By contrast, the 36-year-old Fleck arrived in Minneapolis in January from Kalamazoo, Michigan—coming off a Mid-American championship but with a modest career resume at Western Michigan that included only four years as a head coach and 30-22 record.

But like Holtz, Fleck has big goals for the program.  Holtz talked about turning Golden Gophers football into one of the better coaching jobs and programs in the country.  Fleck—gulp—has spoken of eventually competing for national championships.

Fleck even got in front of an audience of state high school coaches last spring and shared his vision of expanding the seating capacity of TCF Bank Stadium—one of the smallest Big Ten football venues with its (embarrassing?) 50,805 seat capacity.  He told the group that “three years down the road” he wants to expand the stadium to 85,000 seats.

Spend time around Fleck and may well be convinced he believes in his dreams of creating championship teams and large fan followings.  But things aren’t going to magically happen within a few months.  Can’t possibly, right?

The 2017 Gophers don’t represent a program rebuild but there are reasons to see this fall as a .500 season.  Minnesota doesn’t have the talent at several positions to measure up with the Big Ten’s better teams.  But Fleck, like Holtz, regards himself as a salesman, and there’s no target group, including fans, more important to him than high school recruits.  Fleck knows success eventually will be realized if he can consistently bring superior talent to Dinkytown.

That’s not an easy task when your brand includes no championships since 1967 but Fleck has impressed recruiting analysts so far.  His 2018 recruiting class ranks No. 27 in the 247Sports composite rankings.

Finalizing a top 30 recruiting class for 2018 won’t be easy, but Fleck knew what he was taking on when he accepted the Minnesota job.  If he needed a recent reminder of the challenges, all he had to do was summon the ticket numbers referenced in this story.

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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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