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U Basketball Ticket Sales Minimal

 

The University of Minnesota athletic department sold 138 new public season tickets for men’s basketball from March 23 through May 23 of this year. There are 64 new accounts for the 138 total.

The information was emailed to Sports Headliners following a request to the U regarding current and past totals for season tickets. The March 23 date was a day after Ben Johnson was named head coach.

During past weeks the media has consistently provided coverage of the new basketball leadership and the athletic department has been promoting season ticket appeals via mass emails. The department has also worked at publicizing Johnson, his new assistants and new players. But all of this has prompted minimal season ticket commitment, and that shouldn’t surprise those interested in the program.

After Richard Pitino was fired in mid-March, Johnson was the hurried replacement choice of U president Joan Gabel. Johnson, a Minneapolis native and former Gopher guard known for his high character and likeability, arrived in March with no previous head coaching experience. The 40-year-old’s resume includes assistant roles at multiple schools, including two Big Ten jobs (the U and Nebraska) and one stop in the Big East. To most fans in the general public there isn’t enough excitement about the hire to ponder buying tickets, and the verdict on Johnson as a head coach won’t be known for at least a couple of years.

Since Johnson’s arrival there has been a near 100 percent turnover in the roster. Player turnover is always anticipated when coaching regimes change and in these times many college programs see a lot of flux because of the easy-to-use transfer portal. Those players moving on at Minnesota include the only two from last season’s team with ticket buying appeal, guard Marcus Carr and center Liam Robbins.

Most fans are unfamiliar with the present roster of players who have transferred to Minnesota. Early media predictions are for the Gophers to finish toward the bottom of the 14-team Big Ten next year. The 2021 club placed 13th in the standings with a 6-14 record.

The athletic department has a June 10 deadline for renewal of season tickets. In the days and weeks following the U will know whether the trend of recent years in declining sales will continue. The pandemic prevented fans from attending games last season but the three prior years the public season ticket totals were 5,944 (2019-2020), 6,155 and 6,524.

About 15 years ago season tickets totaled over 9,000. Long gone are the days when Gophers basketball was a tough ticket. Sellouts are rare at 14,625 seat Williams Arena. The average attendance of 10,232 for the 2019-2020 season was the lowest since 1970-1971.

In the glory days and winning years of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s home sellouts were common and season tickets were even passed from one family to another. The Gophers back then were leaders in Big Ten attendance and basketball revenues (pricing tickets higher than most other programs). The decline now in season ticket sales is a blow to a cash-strapped, largely self-supporting athletic department that depends on the profit making sports of football, and men’s basketball and men’s hockey, to pay the bills.

The season ticket base that remains is an older demographic that remembers the successful programs of coaches Bill Musselman, Jim Dutcher and Clem Haskins. Those ticket buyers have remained loyal and stayed through the 21st century failed eras of coaches Dan Monson, Tubby Smith and Pitino. Others have given up their tickets, discouraged by the product on the court and preferred seating fees.

Younger ticket buyers are in the minority at Williams Arena, a near 100-year-old facility loved by many but disparaged by others. Buying season tickets requires a commitment of time and money that many Minnesotans aren’t willing to make right now for Gophers basketball.

The proof is in the numbers.

Worth Noting

Filling up Big Ten football stadiums is challenging. Despite a winning program and minimal competition for the sports dollar, Iowa is offering three-game mini-plans starting at $150.

Potential number: It might take a new deal that pays about $23 million in the first season to satisfy Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter.

Among the over 100 campers at P.J. Fleck’s Minneapolis football camp last week was quarterback Kyle McCormick from California. While there are highly recruited high school players at camps like Fleck’s, many preps like McCormick are trying to get noticed.

“He (Kyle) absolutely loves P.J. Fleck and (offensive coordinator) Mike Sanford,” said Kyle’s dad. Lee McCormick, a 1980 graduate of Golden Valley High School, became a fan of Fleck when the Gopher head coach was leading Western Michigan to prominence.

Lee admires Fleck’s energy, values and success, and he told Sports Headliners it would be a “dream” to have Kyle, who has an offer from Yale, play for Minnesota. Kyle, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound pro style passer heading into his senior year, will compete for the starting quarterback job this summer at La Costa Canyon High School in San Diego County.

The Minnesota Football Coaches Association is hosting the 57th annual Football Hall of Fame August 13 at the Doubletree, 1500 Park Place Blvd. Inductees are Bill D. Bailey, Starbuck; Karl Deis, Mora; Terry Horan, Concordia College; Mike Plinske, Bethel University; Richard Robinson, Minneapolis North.

Karill Kaprizov

Minnesota Wild owner Craig Leipold talking about three key players his team plans to re-sign before training camp begins: “Kirill Kaprisov, (Kevin) Fiala, (Joel) Eriksson Ek are three players that you go, wow, what exciting players. What potential going forward.”

Two words not often associated with the NHL: Gentlemanly conduct. Minnesota Wild captain Jared Spurgeon is a finalist for The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy presented annually to an NHL player “adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

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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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