The University of Minnesota had sold 25,317 public season football tickets as of last week, a record total during the coach P.J. Fleck era. With the seven game Golden Gophers season not beginning until August 31, aditional public season tickets will be sold and further surpass last year’s total of 24,551.
This year and in the past Sports Headliners requested and received ticket sales information from the University through the discovery process. In Fleck’s first three seasons with the Gophers of 2017-2019, the totals for public season tickets (not including student season tickets) were in the 21,000 to low 22,000 range. This year is the third consecutive year where totals will exceed 23,500 at the 50,905-seat capacity Huntington Bank Stadium. (Note: the public couldn’t attend games during the COVID season of 2020).
The Gophers have the fourth best winning percentages for nonconference and league games among Big Ten teams dating back to the 2019 season, as pointed out this summer by Lindy’s Sports in its Big Ten football preview. The Gophers trail only Ohio State, Michigan and Iowa with their .696 percentage in all games and .618 against Big Ten opponents.
The Gophers are 21-13 in league games during this stretch. Minnesota’s 21 Big Ten wins over four years is the most ever for the football program that began in 1882, although it needs to be noted that in this era of expanded schedules college teams are playing more games than they often did in the past. The Gophers are 32-14 overall, including three consecutive bowl wins during the last four-years. Throw out the COVID season of 2020 when the Gophers were 3-4 (all Big Ten games) and the numbers are even better.
Riding the winning seasons and popularity of head coach Jerry Kill, the Gophers sold 27,885 season tickets in 2015. That was the year he resigned in late October for health reasons. The next year, under first-year head coach Tracy Claeys, season ticket sales declined by several thousand.
In 2015 Minnesota had a home attendance average of 52,355, the best in stadium history for the facility that opened in 2009. Capacity was larger than now because of expanded seating back then in the west bleachers.
The 2023 public season ticket total includes 1,002 tickets sold via the Gopher Pass and 1,197 to the faculty. Those totals last year were 737 and 1,170. The Gopher Pass is a mobile ticket that allows fans access to all home games with either a reserved seat or standing room if the game is sold out.
The U attributes the increase in public season ticket sales to the program’s consistent winning (nine or more wins three of the last four years) and attractive schedule of opponents including Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Nebraska game is sold out and anticipation is the other three games will sell out or come close. The most recent sell out at Huntington Bank Stadium was in September of 2021 against Ohio State.
Season ticket prices didn’t increase from 2022 but average single-game price is up. That’s because prices vary per game based on the opponent, date and demand.
As of last week, 6,886 student season tickets were sold, but that total will increase. Last year 8,370 student season tickets were sold. Free tickets to first year-students are being distributed for Thursday’s season and home opening game.
A student football season ticket costs $99. Packages that include season tickets to other sports are priced at $175 and $272.
If the Gophers are in on a close game Thursday night the outcome could be decided by Dragan Kesich who has only one previous field goal attempt in his college career. The 6-4, 240-pound senior, the team’s kickoff specialist last season, is replacing the departed Matthew Trickett for field goals and Fleck said the Wisconsin native has improved in “leaps and bounds.”
Fleck added that while Kesich must prove himself in games, his specialist has a “huge leg” and made himself into a “really good, solid, reliable kicker.”
Kesich averaged 64.6 yards on kickoffs last season, tied for best in the nation. His 59 touchbacks ranked third.
Minnesota does have its punter returning, 30-year-old Australian native Mark Crawford whose parents have been visiting him. “Talk about a mature person being able to handle that role,” Fleck said about his punter who has added two percent hang time and four yards further on punts.
Fleck also said last week he had a “pretty healthy team” headed into the opener, but he wasn’t going to detail injuries.
Fox brings its lead TV crew of Gus Johnson, Joel Klatt and Jenny Taft to call the Minnesota-Nebraska game before a national TV audience.
Bryce Benhart, the Lakeville North alum, has started most games the last three seasons at right tackle for Nebraska and is expected to be part of the first-team offense Thursday night.
Omar Brown, a Nebraska defensive back from Minneapolis North who played three seasons at Northern Iowa where he was an FCS All-American, is back for a second season with the Huskers and is an expected starter at safety.
Emmett Johnson, the 2021 Minnesota Mr. Football from Minneapolis, and Holy Angels, is a reserve running back expected to return kickoffs Thursday night.