This has been an extremely competitive sports market since the Wild returned the NHL to the Twin Cities in 2000. The Vikings are upping the stakes substantially in the battle for dollars and attention as they sell extremely expensive tickets and devour sponsors for the opening of the new stadium in August.

We have teams in the four major sports, a Big Ten university that pushes its customers for big dollars to watch football, men’s basketball and men’s hockey, and in 2017, a Major League Soccer team also will arrive on the scene.

The opinion here is that no significant sports entity has taken a greater hit when it comes to public interest than Gophers hockey.

Admittedly, I still judge this by the need the local dailies and TV outlets feel to cover a team or an event — a view that could be looked at as antiquated with the endless availability of specialty media on the Internet.

It has to be an indicator, though, that for roughly my first 40 years [1968-2008] as a Twin Cities sportswriter, the local dailies felt obliged to have beat reporters that were fully engaged with Gophers hockey during the season, and now both do the best they can to get a staff member to home games.

I arrived at a reason for this in the middle of this past week, while working on a column on South St. Paul naming its hockey arena in honor of Doug Woog.

The Big Ten has accelerated the decline in Gophers hockey interest, for sure, but the falloff was taking place before that, and here’s my reason:

It’s no fun anymore.

Gophers hockey has gone from being part of a cult of amiable characters to another sports business with onerous pricing.

Looking back through the Strib’s electronic library, I was surprised at the number of columns I offered on Woog and his colorful athletes.

Now, there’s no pressure for attention to be paid to Gophers hockey because it’s all drama and seriousness, and we have more than enough of that with the Vikings, Wild, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers football and men’s basketball.

PLUS THREE FROM PATRICK

Phil Hughes runs into pitching coach Neil Allen at TwinsFest:

Allen to Hughes: “Man, you look good. You lost two people. Seeing what you’ve done is the best thing that’s happened to me this weekend.’’

Hughes to Allen: “Come on … I wasn’t that big last season.’’

What happened? Hughes: “I took a hard look at 2015 and knew I didn’t want to be that pitcher again.’’ Allen: “Dang, this is great.’’

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Tom Kelly received a plaque and told the truth (as always)

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