Gophers football fans have long been fickle in their attendance, flocking to games when there is a reason -- new coach, new stadium or that rare winning team -- but staying away when there was no obvious reason to attend. Athletic director Joel Maturi said that is certainly linked to the competition for the entertainment dollar in the Twin Cities, a market that includes teams in all four major professional sports leagues as well as being home to world-class theaters and concerts.
"I think we've all found that winning breeds winning and keeps fans interested," Maturi said. "It's an environment where fans have other options. Look at what happened to the Lynx [attendance up] and the Twins [attendance down] in the past year."
Fluctuations in Gophers attendance have become commonplace. There have been 13 separate instances since 1950 when the average football attendance dropped at least 5,000 fans in a single year. There have been 10 such instances since 1967, after the arrival of the NFL's Vikings in 1961.
There are two historical parallels that, at this point, most closely resemble the current situation -- a new stadium in 2009, a new coach this season and the promise of several more rebuilding -- read: losing -- seasons:
• The Gophers moved into the newly constructed Metrodome in 1982, which resulted in a huge attendance spike, from 43,035 the previous season at Memorial Stadium to 58,898 in the first year at the Dome. But Joe Salem's team went 3-8 its first year off campus, then slipped to 1-10 the next season as attendance plummeted to 48,735.
• Lou Holtz ignited fan interest with his arrival, attracting an average of 60,985 fans to the Dome during his second season in 1985. But he departed for Notre Dame at the end of that season, and attendance four years later, in 1989, had declined to 39,607 -- a decline of 35 percent in less than five years.