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U Basketball Ticket Sales Take a Hit


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.

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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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