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U Basketball Ticket Sales Take a Hit

October 27, 2021 - (0) comments


Interest in University of Minnesota men’s basketball has been trending down for years as fans watched a parade of coaches fail to develop winning Big Ten teams. Ticket sales generally have been declining for decades as the U falters in duplicating the success of its national power teams of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Following coach Richard Pitino’s dismissal in March, passionate and knowledgeable patrons salivated over thoughts of a blue ribbon hire like Brian Dutcher (couldn’t have been more transparent in his strong interest) and Eric Musselman, also a prominent college coach and native of Minnesota who knows the past glory of the program. Instead U president Joan Gabel made the abrupt and controversial hire of Ben Johnson, a Minneapolis native and longtime college assistant coach with no head coaching experience.

A lot of Gophers basketball fans feel anger and disappointment with Gabel’s decision. Adding to the gloom is the 2021-2022 team is predicted to be the worst in the Big Ten.

Ticket sales totals obtained from the U by Sports Headliners show a continuation of the long decline in interest. The U said 5,503 public season tickets have been sold, with the first official home game coming up November 9 against Kansas City. For the 2019-2020 season 6,805 tickets were sold for games at Williams Arena (capacity 14,625).

That’s about a 20 percent decline from 2019-2020. No figures for 2020-2021 are reported because the pandemic prevented fans from attending games.

The number of accounts holding season tickets is down from 2,396 to 1,949. A minimal number of new season ticket sales are expected to occur in the coming weeks and month.

Ticket totals through the decades were requested by Sports Headliners but information provided goes back only to the 2009-2010 season (the beginning of digital records). For that season 9,946 public season tickets were sold, the most on digital record in one year. Eleven years ago, for the 2010-2011 schedule, season tickets totaled 8,931.

It’s believed that decades ago over 12,000 public season tickets were sold in multiple years, and Minnesota (at least once) led the nation in average attendance per game. During the 1980s Gophers basketball was so popular its TV ratings were the best in Minneapolis for any local sports team except the Vikings, per former Minnesota coach Jim Dutcher.

Part of ticket sales this fall includes mini-plans (combining multiple games together). The U reported 370 total tickets sold so far, adding such sales will increase when the season begins in November. For the 2019-2020 season, tickets sold in mini-plans totaled 1,970.

The current student allotment for season tickets is sold out at 2,105—that figure contrasts with a total of 1,332 two years ago. The record (dating back to 2009) for student season tickets is 2,199 for the 2013-2014 season.

The U said there have been no changes in the pricing of either public or student tickets from 2019 to now.

A crowd of 7,000 to 8,000 is expected for a November 1 exhibition game at Williams Arena against Concordia-St. Paul (tickets start at $5), with similar announced attendance likely for Kansas City November 9, according to the U.

Announced average per game attendance has declined in three out of the four most recent years.  Only once in that span have the Gophers averaged over 11,000 per game.  In 2019-2020 the average was 10,232, the lowest figure since 1970-1971.

Worth Noting

It was 30 years ago today the Twins won the 1991 World Series, defeating the Braves 1-0 in Minneapolis behind the seventh game pitching of series MVP Jack Morris.

Former Twins designated hitter Nelson Cruz is the winner of the 2021 Roberto Clemente Award. The annual honor goes to the MLB player who best represents the game on and off the field.

Kyle Rau, the former Gopher star, and Nick Swaney lead the Iowa Wild (3-1-0-0) in scoring with five points.

Ryan Field 2017

Word is secondary ticket sellers are offering seats at $6 each for Saturday’s Gopher game at Ryan Field in Evanston against the host Wildcats. Crowd support is minimal most seasons for the Wildcats and when there is inclement weather the stadium is all but empty. See the adjacent photo taken prior to the second half kickoff of the 2017 Minnesota game at Ryan Field.

Gophers coach P.J. Fleck likes what he sees from veteran quarterback Tanner Morgan but knows his receivers need to play better. “Tanner is playing better than he was at the beginning of the year,” Fleck said. “Our catch radius has to continue to improve which I know our guys have accepted that challenge. …”

Fleck talking about booing fans in the closing minute of the first half in last Saturday’s home game against Maryland when patrons wanted the Gophers to pass the football: “…I don’t have a chance to explain it to everybody over the intercom exactly what I am thinking in the final 40 seconds of the half. They just have to trust me that we’re going to do the right thing and go score points.”

As of yesterday morning Mike Nowakowski from Ticket King said the least expensive ticket for Sunday night’s Vikings-Cowboys game at U.S. Bank Stadium is $175 (upper level corner location). On the 50-yard line lower level club seats were selling for $799 and on the upper level at midfield the price was $250.

Nowakowski also said demand is picking up for the November 6 Illinois-Gopher game at Huntington Bank Stadium. The stunning Bowling Green loss, he said, was a major hit to Gopher sales this fall.

Former Vikings guard Steve Hutchinson, inducted in August into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be honored at Sunday night’s game. He speaks to the Twin Cities Dunkers Friday.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen admits there are times during games when players on the sidelines don’t do as much as they could to create energy for one another. “…I am literally pointing all of the fingers right at myself because I have a habit to kind of go into my own little zone and to just kind of focus on the next play, right?”

Legendary ex-Vikings coach Bud Grant, 94, is articulate as ever but deals with a painful back.

Mike Grant, Bud’s son, has his Eden Prairie Eagles chasing a 12th state football title but injuries have been a challenge including to four-star Golden Gopher recruit and defensive lineman Trey Bixby.

Eden Prairie defeated 6A power Stillwater last week whose junior quarterback is Max Shikenjanski, son of former Gophers basketball center Jim Shikenjanski.


Ex-GM: Playoffs Toss Up for Vikings

October 25, 2021 - (0) comments


Former Vikings GM Jeff Diamond has seen enough of his old team to predict it’s 50-50 whether Minnesota makes the playoffs.

With a bye on the schedule yesterday, the Vikings sit at 3-3 with 11 games remaining starting with next Sunday night’s game against the 5-2 Cowboys. “When you look at it right now you gotta say, yeah, probably 9-8 or 8-9 is most likely. But if they got hot they could go to 10-7,” Diamond told Sports Headliners.

A St. Louis Park native, Diamond was GM of the 15-1 Vikings in 1998. After leaving the organization he became president of the Titans who played in the 2000 Super Bowl. He has more than 20-years experience as an NFL executive, and is now self-employed.

Vikings fans are focused on a key stretch of the schedule with four upcoming games against the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers and Packers. Diamond, though, cautions the 49ers, the opponent after the Packers, are “no slouch.”

“If they can get through that 3-2, or even 2-3, I think they’ll be okay to still make a run at the playoffs,” Diamond said. “If they’re 1-4, or 0-5 (in that stretch of games), it’s going to be tough.”

It will almost certainly require a winning record for the whole season to make the playoffs.  Perhaps even 10-7.

Forecasting the outcome of games is often tricky as anyone who has ever wagered on football knows. Diamond recalled how Vikings legendary coach Bud Grant talked about the timing of when an opponent shows up on the schedule and how important that is in determining results. Whether your team, or the foe, has key players injured, weighs heavily on the outcome of games. Other factors are how teams match up physically and in scheme.

Kirk Cousins

Diamond finds plenty to like about the Vikings who he lists between 12 and 15 on his NFL power rankings. Asked what’s right about them, he first mentioned Kirk Cousins. “I think what’s right is, the quarterback is playing great. He’s playing the best he’s ever played.”

Diamond referenced the offense’s “terrific” three wide receivers including Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen. “I think K.J. Osborn is probably the surprise guy of the year on the team to me, compared to what the expectation was going into the year after his rookie season (2020),” Diamond said. “…He’s been so impactful as we’ve seen including the winning touchdown in Carolina (October 17).”

At times the offensive line has been shaky in protecting Cousins but overall the unit’s play has surpassed expectations of many close observers. Diamond likes the possibility of rookie Christian Darrisaw replacing veteran Rashod Hill at left tackle.

“I think he’s much more athletic than Rashod Hill,” Diamond said. “He’s a wider body in there. He’s harder to get around. He’s got better feet. …I think he’ll just get better, better and better.”

The Vikings drafted Darrisaw in the first round last spring and he’s a confident rookie. “I never shy away from anything,” he said. “It really doesn’t matter who you are, I’ll be ready.”

In the 2021 draft the Vikings selected guard Wyatt Davis in the third round as another potential piece to bolster the ongoing rebuild of the offensive line. Davis has yet to play but he intrigues Diamond.

“One of the things I’d like to see is can he play center, perhaps if they ultimately make the decision that (Garrett) Bradbury is not coming along as they hoped,” Diamond said.

The Vikings used their No. 1 selection on Bradbury in 2019 and his struggles are well documented. “I still have some concerns about Bradbury when he goes against some of those really tough, big, strong nose tackles…and defensive tackles,” Diamond said.

The Vikings have been mixing newcomers with returning players on defense. No doubt that has contributed to inconsistency including the unit faltering at the end of games. A bright spot is the Vikings’ ranking among the sack leaders in the NFL.

While talking about the pass rush, Diamond said the return of potential all-pro defensive end Danielle Hunter (injured last season) makes a “humongous difference.”

The other defensive end opponents sometimes must deal with is 33-year-old Everson Griffen who signed on for a second career stint with the club in August. “Everson Griffen has been a surprise with how well he’s played,” Diamond said.

Another offseason acquisition was talented veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson who will miss the next few games because he is on injured reserve. With a list of who’s who quarterbacks coming up on the immediate schedule, the timing of Peterson’s hamstring injury is unfortunate. Diamond speculated Peterson might be back for the Packers game November 21, after his replacements see gifted passers like Dak Prescott, Lamar Jackson and Justin Herbert.

Jeff Diamond

Replacements Bashaud Breeland and Cameron Dantzler have been inconsistent. Peterson’s absence also impacts cornerback depth. “That’s gotta be a big question mark,” Diamond said about the cornerback situation.

November and December look like a nail-biting time for the Vikings and their fans. There are things to fret about including kicker Greg Joseph who could end up being tasked with pressure field goals that determine whether Minnesota makes the playoffs. In the pressure department he’s been inconsistent so far.

“It’s a little bit up and down with Greg Joseph, and I think he’s still gotta be a question mark as we go forward,” Diamond said.


U Goal to Lead League in ‘High Fives’

October 20, 2021 - (0) comments


New University of Minnesota basketball coach Ben Johnson puts his team in front of a Williams Arena crowd for the first time in less than two weeks when the Golden Gophers play an exhibition game against the Golden Bears of Concordia-St. Paul.

The November 1 game will provide first impressions of a roster with two returning players from last season. That total of two comes with an asterisk. Senior redshirt forward Eric Curry, who has struggled through injuries during his college career, is back and available for limited playing time but junior forward Isaiah Ihnen is out for the 2021-2022 season with a knee injury.

This Gopher team is not only new to the fans but also to themselves. The arrival of 13 new players with different backgrounds, skill sets and personalities makes Johnson’s crew among the most transitional in the college basketball world.

This roster is loaded with players who before transferring to Dinkytown were members of mid-major and lower division college programs. The collective talent, judged by past performances, looks modest. As expected, media forecasts have Minnesota finishing last in the Big Ten standings.

For the Gophers to win games, Johnson preaches unselfishness to his players. They have to sacrifice on the court for one another. Do the little things and the most important ones to make the whole better than the parts. Be a unit that plays with a togetherness the opponent can’t match.

“We need to be a team of all teams,” Johnson said. “We need to lead the league in high fives and butt slaps.”

Johnson’s roster has eight seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and three freshmen. That maturity could result in a buy-in all season to what Johnson and his staff are teaching and asking of the players.

The coach knows his team must not only be selfless, but also imposing. “We’ve gotta be the toughest team, especially this year. We don’t have a lot of room for error. Our mental toughness, our physical toughness has got to be on point.”

If the players are to perform the way Johnson intends for them, it will help if they like one another. He said the “chemistry,” including off the court, is there. The players are bonding. “Their personalities all meshed,” he said.

Ben Johnson

Johnson and his assistants are determined to have both player and team development be core values in their program. They want to see and for fans to witness the improvement of the team and individuals.

Playing together, toughness and improvement are to be bedrocks of the new program. “When fans walk away from Williams Arena, we want them to know what Minnesota basketball is all about,” Johnson said.

Worth Noting

Johnson talking about assistant coach Dave Thorson: “He is going to have a heavy voice in what we do defensively.”

Lindy’s college basketball magazine is among the media predicting a slow start to the new Gopher basketball era. “Ben Johnson’s dream job in his hometown should come with some grace from the fans,” writes Lindsey Willhite.

Lindy’s top 100 prep seniors for the class of 2022 includes at No. 63 Gopher commit Braeden Carrington of Park Center. Other Minnesotans on the list are No. 15 Michigan State commit Tre Holloman from Cretin-Derham Hall and No. 96 Boston College commit Prince Aligbe from Minnehaha Academy.

A tweet yesterday responding to a GopherHole post that Johnson’s team isn’t ranked in the AP preseason top 25: “Also, water is wet.”

The 3-0 Wild has only nine players on its roster who were with the club at the beginning of the 2019 season, including Joel Eriksson Ek who had the winning goal last night in overtime against the Jets. GM Bill Guerin, hired before the 2019 season, has reshaped the team and apparently the culture.

Owner Craig Leipold credited the fans for the energy that helped the Wild to the 6-5 win in front of a raucous crowd.  He said that’s “the best marketing” the club could have.

Leipold on whether his team can go undefeated in the 82-game regular season: “I don’t think so.”

The Timberwolves open their season tonight at Target Center against the Rockets and it looks like two overriding elements will determine whether Minnesota can make the playoffs for only the second time since 2004. The Wolves core players have to avoid long stretches without being sidelined. Second, this team must go from being one of the NBA’s worst defensively to at least mediocre.

Set the ceiling for wins at 45.

The public will take a wait-and-see approach. “They’re tackling people to come to games,” a sports executive said Monday.

From the Nobody Asked Department but. …James Franklin will be the next head football coach at USC. Joe Brady will take over at LSU.

Vikings QB Kirk Cousins passed for 373 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 112.6 rating in Sunday’s 34-28 overtime win against the Panthers. He now has 20 career games with at least 300 passing yards, three touchdown throws and a passer rating of 110-or-better. That surpasses the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (19 games) for the most such games by a QB in his first 10 NFL seasons.

Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen said his superb TD catch at the pylon Sunday was in the same space of the Carolina stadium end zone where he dropped a ball in 2017.

Amani Hooker, the Titans safety from Park Center, returned from the injured list to play in Monday night’s upset win over the Bills. The 2019 fourth round draft choice is considered a potential star in Nashville.

With Billy Beane and Theo Epstein reportedly turning down the opportunity to lead the Mets, have to wonder if Twins boss Derek Falvey will receive an inquiry.

Minnesota youth of the 1960s loved the Twins but many worshipped Mickey Mantle and rooted for him when the great center fielder came to Met Stadium with the Yankees. If still alive, the Mick would be 90 years old today.

Danny Olsen, a Huntington Bank communications leader, is also an assistant boys basketball coach at Eastview High School.


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