Minneapolis, Minn. — The Gophers men’s hockey program welcomed a venue record crowd of 10,744 fans for their final home game of the season as the host of the Big Ten Tournament Championship Game. Boosted by five full sections of students in 3M Arena at Mariucci, the venue also featured a record number of 10,252 tickets scanned. Gopher Puck Live has been tracking data since 2014 and the previous high for the metric was 9,050 tickets scanned for a February 25, 2017 game vs Wisconsin. The game was the high water mark for attendance during a season where enthusiasm may have been held back by concerns about the ongoing COVID pandemic or in response to mask mandates.
The average number of tickets scanned per game overall was down nine percent from the 2019-20 season or 525 fewer tickets scanned. The trend of declining actual attendance has been fairly steady the past eight years mirroring the decline in announced attendance and season tickets sold. The scanned attendance data also shows that the percentage of ‘no-shows’ makes up a significant factor as 33 percent of ticket holders didn’t attend games in 2021-22. The highest percentage of ‘no-shows’ was in the 2018-19 season when 38 percent of ticket holders didn’t use their seats.
The product on the ice was something that certainly inspired the big crowds coming to the rink by the end of the season. The Gophers started the season boasting half of the Preseason All-Big Team Hockey Team with Ben Meyers, Sammy Walker, Jackson LaCombe, Jack LaFontaine, Brock Faber and Ryan Johnson as returners, as preseason favorites to with the conference and as the fourth ranked team in USCHO’s season opening national poll. They finished the year as Big Ten Regular Season Champions, Ben Meyers making the Hobey Hat Trick and appearing in the program’s 22nd Frozen Four — their first since 2014. It was a season that made Mariucci a great place to watch hockey again.
The crowds were modest during the first half of the season, but became a factor during the second half of the schedule and especially were big when Wisconsin came into town. The Friday night game on February 25, 2022 welcomed 7,065 scanned tickets into the building and Saturday’s 8,137 scan total was the highest of the regular season.
“We noticed it right away,” said Bob Motzko after the Friday Wisconsin game. “And maybe there a little nerves by us too, because that student section was as big time as I’ve ever seen here. Great crowd, great energy and then we gave them life. They want to see us play well and we did in spurts, but we really did in the third.”
The 5-0 win over the Badgers was followed up by an 8-0 win on Saturday as Minnesota secured its fifth Big Ten regular season title in the league’s nine year history. The fans responded by buying tickets for the rest of the league post-season tournament and then using the tickets. The game versus Penn State set a season high redemption rate of 87 percent as 5,948 of 6,856 ticket holders showed up to see Minnesota win 3-2 in the semifinal. Even more fans showed up for the championship game with 95 percent of ticket holders taking in the title game and the student section was even ‘bigger time’ than it had been for the Wisconsin series.
While winning is not a long term strategy for retaining attendance, it certainly helped this season and Gophers Athletic Director Mark Coyle is surely hoping that more fans will purchase season tickets going forward. Coyle shared with me back in 2018 in a story for The Athletic that, “It’s not other people’s problems that people aren’t coming to our games, it’s on us to figure out how to get people to come to our games, and there’s no doubt that it’s a concern for us that we’ve got to figure out.”
Season tickets once had a lengthy waiting list, but a price increase during the Norwood Teague era combined with reseating the lower bowl by Gopher Points based on donations and the move to the Big Ten burned through that list and ticked off longtime season ticket holders. The number of season ticket holders has continued a steady decline over the past eight years despite price cuts made by the University. Club level seats have been reduced in cost by 13 percent since 2017, zone 1 seats have been reduced by 20 percent, zone 2 seats have been reduced by 22 percent, zone 3 seats reduced by 25 percent and zone 4 seats by 29 percent. This year the program sold 4,055 season ticket packages, a steep decline from the 7,776 they sold in 2010-11.
The decline in ticket sales have also had an impact on revenues for Minnesota. The athletic department once counted on men’s hockey to be a contributor towards the entire unit’s budget when revenues were $7,683,129 in 2013-14. That number fell to $4,911,320 in revenues for 2019-20 and the pandemic erased the opportunity for any ticket revenue in 2020-21.
Despite some of the smaller crowds earlier in the season, Minnesota did rank third in the country for announced attendance according to USCHO. While the crowds might not completely fill the rink, it was good enough to be passed only by North Dakota and Wisconsin.
Gophers fans can expect their usual tough non-conference scheduling to continue as the Fighting Hawks come to town next year for an October 21-22 series, as well as games with Minnesota Duluth, St. Cloud State and Colorado College. It’s still undetermined if the in-state school games will be home and home affairs or true home/road two game series. The fan base also can breathe a little easier knowing Brock Faber and Matthew Knies both passed up opportunities to sign pro contracts to continue the success from the 2021-22 season, next year we will see if the fans will continue their support.
Note: ‘Tickets Distributed’ does not always directly correlate to announced attendance based on the ticketing policy implemented by the University of Minnesota.