Richard Pitino’s Gophers were a hot ticket by the end of last season. That momentum has carried over into University of Minnesota men’s basketball season ticket sales for the 2017-18 season.
As of Friday morning, the Gophers sold about 1,000 more season tickets than last year to both the public and students — and more than 9,200 season tickets total.
“Our fans have responded after what they saw last year,” Gophers assistant athletic director of marketing Mike Wierzbicki said. “They’ve seen the growth in the team.”
Wisconsin announced Thursday that they sold out their student season tickets — all 2,100 — in 12 minutes. The Gophers are getting close to matching their rival Badgers.
Minnesota is close to selling out student season tickets for the first time since Pitino’s second season in 2014-15. Fewer than 200 season tickets are left for the 2,200-seat student section.
Last season, the Gophers sold fewer than 2,000 student season tickets and 6,141 non-student season tickets for men’s basketball. They sold 6,244 non-student season tickets in 2015-16.
Public men’s basketball season ticket sales are well over 7,000 this year, also already the highest since 2014 (7,225). Season ticket numbers aren’t expected to reach their final number until after the Nov. 10 season opener against USC Upstate.
Odds are in favor of the season ticket total this year surpassing any under Pitino.
On June 29, the Gophers announced they had a season ticket renewal rate of 98 percent for men’s basketball. It was the program’s highest since a 98 percent rate going into former coach Tubby Smith’s first season with the team in 2007-08.
“The excitement for this upcoming season is high, and we’re so appreciative of our loyal fans who have signed on to be a part of it at the Barn,” Pitino said in June. “We want to build on last year’s success and continue elevating our program, and we can’t do it without our fans giving us a great home court advantage.”
Students have not been eating up men’s hoops tickets like this since after the Gophers won the NIT championship in 2014. They then returned a talented senior backcourt of Andre Hollins and DeAndre Mathieu, along with senior center Mo Walker.
But that year, the U also received boosts in sales after requiring students to purchase packages of football, hockey and basketball season tickets for a lower combined cost.
The bundling system isn’t gone, but students can now purchase single-sport season tickets as well. Although packages are still popular, Wierzbicki said.
After Minnesota’s NCAA tournament run a season ago, preseason projections are for a top-20 team to be in the hunt for a Big Ten title. Pitino returns six of his top seven scorers, including starters Nate Mason, Jordan Murphy, Amir Coffey and Reggie Lynch. There’s also talented newcomer Isaiah Washington, a flashy New York point guard.
When Pitino was hired in 2013, Minnesota reported a season ticket renewal rate of 92 percent. Attendance was steadily rising until the Gophers went 8-23 in 2015-16.
They drew 10,706 fans on average in 17 home games that season. The average attendance dropped to 10,309 last season, ranking 11th in the Big Ten ahead of only Northwestern (7,008), Penn State (6,992) and Rutgers (4,680).
Crowds at the Barn grew, though, as the Gophers continued to win. Attendance went from 9,091 on average in 13 nonconference games to more than 12,000 at the end of the Big Ten season at home, including announced sellouts (14,625) against Wisconsin and Penn State.
As much as the eight wins two seasons ago caused early attendance to plummet to near record lows, the 16-win turnaround in 2016-17 is clearly making interest jump for Gophers basketball ticket sales this year.
“When we start seeing some of these preseason individual honors and team forecasting of rankings,” Wierzbicki said, “we just anticipate that hype and buzz leading into October and November continue to grow into the start of the season.”