On Thursday, the Gophers hosted #8 ranked Purdue at the Barn. We started off the Big 10 season 1-3, and for a 25th ranked team, that’s not exactly a stellar record. Purdue was our chance to prove that we deserved to be in the top 25, that we could beat a top team, and to build confidence in our players. You would think for a game like this everyone would show up, fired up, ready for the game and the win…well, our players and our student section showed up – I’m not sure about the rest of the fans.
There has been a lot of debate about whether or not our fanbase has just gotten too old, I sure have made many jokes about it. If you saw any of the games from Puerto Rico, you’d be hard pressed to find more than a dozen fans that weren’t of retirement age. So, is age the problem? I don’t think so. I think it’s more an attitude than it is age.
Case in point, for the last two years I sat in the student section. One of my friend’s parents sat with us, they are 61 and 62 years old. They didn’t want to be amongst the hoity-toity fans that never cheered, yelled at people for standing up, and really didn’t get into the game that much. This couple stood throughout the entire game, cheered as loud, if not louder than the students half their age, were extremely knowledgeable about the team, and really cared about the Gophers.
Two of the people I currently have tickets with are 50, and 60 years old. And quite honestly, the woman I sit with is probably one of the only people in The Barn that cheers as loud as I do.
Is our fanbase getting older? Yes. There’s no doubt about that. And frankly, with season tickets being $600 a pop (for the cheapest seats), many younger fans in their 20’s and 30’s drop off and don’t have the funds for season tickets after they graduate. We are losing our younger fans that have been very loyal and active during their college years. The ones that waited in the Williams Arena corridor for 1-2 hours (sometimes crammed in) before the doors even opened to ensure a great seat for the game.
Honestly, I think this is a passion issue, more than an age one. With most of the lower level being occupied by the high rollers, you have it filled with a lot of corporate seats. Those are not the die-hard fans that are going to intimidate the other team and cheer the Gophers on. They are the ones using seats for business or networking, that are taking their clients out to see a basketball game. Do we need their money? Obviously we do. But we also need a home court advantage. About two-thirds of games are won at home, and in many cases the home crowd can be a critical 6th man. That’s precisely why it’s so hard to win a road game in the Big 10, which means that you need to win most of your home games to go to the NCAA tournament. Let’s face it, winning programs generate more revenue, if it’s from the tournament, advertising, ticket sales or in other ways.
So, what is the answer to getting The Barn back to being one of the most intimidating places to play college basketball? The Barnyard needs to fill up the entire baseline, like it did when I was in school. I would love for the student section to me moved to the sideline, but we all know the chances of that are slim to none when Gopher Points takes effect in 2012. So, at the very least, give students that entire section. Right now, only section 110 is really loud and intimidating. That is not even behind the basket, so has little or no effect on free throws. Section 111 has the band, and while they do a great job, they aren’t allowed to be as loud and crazy as the fans, so move them over to section 112 where they are off to the side. You can see the current seating illustrated in this photo:
Another thing that I have been preaching for the past decade (until I’m maroon in the face) is having a young alumni, or Superfan section. You know, where you can actually stand and cheer without getting yelled at by the person behind you. You could do something like this: recent graduates would have the opportunity to purchase tickets for basketball & football at a price that's slightly higher than the student rate ($150 each). There'd be two ticket options; student section seating & normal seats. There'd be two total blocs; first 250 seats for 1st year grads, 2nd 250 seats for 2nd year grads. The 2nd year seats will see a slight increase ($200 each) but will still be less than normal season tickets. If there are still unused seats, you can extend this to a 3rd, 4th and 5th year. Any appropriate Gopher points would be earned obviously. This whole plan would be contingent on availability, but as of now, The Barn, and The Barnyard have not been sold out, so it’s a great way to fill up Williams Arena, while retaining loyal fans that are recent grads.
There are many other ways to get The Barn back to the way it was when I was in school, and well before then. These are just a few ideas I wanted to share because it’s one thing to complain about things, it’s another to propose solutions. I’ve always been a more solution based person.