Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where the Rose Bowl is within sight.
Any of my regular readers are aware that I’m a die-hard Minnesota Golden Gopher sports fan, due to my having gone there and having been so involved in the band and other things. So what I’m about to say hurts me to the core: Gopher football is broken and needs serious help.
Why do I say this? It goes way beyond that the team hasn’t been to the Rose Bowl since the early 1960s. Despite preseason on-the-field optimism, a new athletic director and a second-year coach who is clearly making a positive impact, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported today that only 2,000 student season football tickets ($84 for 7 games) have been sold to date, with the first home game just three weeks away. That’s a sharp drop from just under 6,000 last year. And overall attendance in the U’s new, 50,805-capacity TCF Bank Stadium is down almost 10 percent since it opened in fall 2009.
It’s an appalling reality, even though there should be a bump when incoming freshmen arrive. It’s even more startling when you consider that Wisconsin sold out its allotment of 13,000 student tickets in 30 minutes…and Indiana, a team with fewer wins than the Gophers in recent years, less tradition, a much smaller market base and less hope/prospects for success in the short-term future, has even sold 12,000 student season tickets.
A primary reason for this undoubtedly is the fact the team hasn’t been very good recently, or very fun to watch. But I think these numbers speak to an underlying and bigger concern – people, young and old, alumni and not, simply aren’t invested in Gopher athletics and/or having a good time at/around the games like they used to. THIS is where I think progress can be made quickly…and where PR and marketing can have a real impact.
Tons of marketing literature/research suggests that people buy into products/organizations when they have a positive experience with it. For people like me, re-upping my (full-priced) season tickets is a relatively easy decision because of my involvement with the program. But what is the University and the athletic department doing to ensure that new/casual Gopher fans enjoy their experiences with the team? While wins and losses matter, so too (or even more) does the band, the pre-game tailgate, the community, the atmosphere and everything else that the gameday experience can feature. Giving away tickets might get people there once…and having football players exhort their fellow students to come out looks and sounds good. But none of that ensures that students will have a good time or a positive experience. This is where investments need to be made, before the trends hold and numbers add up and there isn’t a next generation of Gopher football fans to support the program.
Of course, there are also the residual effects of non-attendance. Parking spaces aren’t being filled. Local businesses aren’t being patronized. Merchandise and in-stadium concession revenue could be much higher. The noise level and overall atmosphere suffers…and the 12th-man effect is minimized. And – ultimately – the players notice and underperform. Recruits love the stadium…but notice all the empty seats and choose instead to play somewhere else where they feel their efforts are valued more and they have a better chance to win. It’s all happening at the U of M. Today.
This story – and these facts – should be the last straw. The red alert. The defining moment that shifts Gopher football, Men’s Athletics and Gopher football die-hards everywhere into quick, bold and absolute action.
That’s all for now. I’m out like Tyrann Mathieu.