Football's still a tough sell at U

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2012 - 3:47 PM

An on-campus stadium hasn't sparked student interest in season tickets.

Three years after opening a new football stadium, the University of Minnesota is scrambling to get students -- and fans in general -- interested in going to the games.

Student season-ticket sales have steadily dropped from 10,000 in the first year at the 50,800-seat TCF Bank Stadium, to 7,800 the second year to less than 6,000 last year. Now, with the team's first home game on Sept. 8 less than a month away, roughly 2,000 student season tickets have been sold for the $288 million on-campus stadium that was seen as a key to rekindling passion and attendance after almost three decades in the Metrodome.

"We lose a lot, so there's not really a reason to go to a game," Jessica Shudy, a sophomore from Minneapolis, said as she sat in the school's student union. She said she thinks she went to three games a year ago -- she can't recall, exactly -- and is not sure she will go to any this year. "It was pretty bad," she said of watching the team last year. Among her friends, she added, the football team is "not really a big thing."

With student support for football at other Big Ten schools forming a stark contrast, the trend in Minnesota is troubling. The University of Michigan has sold 21,715 student season tickets so far this year, and the University of Wisconsin sold its 13,119 student season-ticket allotment in just 30 minutes.

Gophers officials insist they are holding onto fans, and that 90 percent of all season ticket holders at TCF Bank Stadium have re-upped for this year. But average football attendance at the new stadium has declined from nearly 51,000 fans a game in the first year of 2009 to 47,714 fans a year ago.

"We've dipped a bit," Norwood Teague, Minnesota's new athletic director, acknowledged in a speech on campus last week.

With Teague wanting a major upgrade in athletic facilities at the Twin Cities campus, the revenue loss associated with the lack of fans in the stands for football looms as a potential roadblock. Even as Teague talked last week of building new facilities for several sports -- "we are behind" compared to other schools, he said during a lunchtime speech -- a man in the audience stood up and told him it was "disappointing" to see the "student section half-filled" for football games.

School officials, with Teague looking over their shoulder, are racing to reverse the trend.

Reaching out to students

A new marketing plan will include a video of quarterback MarQueis Gray that will be e-mailed to the school's 40,000 students, and linebacker Keanon Cooper stood at a season-ticket signup table on campus on several occasions during the summer. The message to students will come in a variety of others ways -- from inserting fliers in napkin holders in school dining halls, making pleas to parents and having Teague ride through campus in a golf cart giving away free tickets.

The school, however, has already tried to entice students with free tickets, and last year Gophers football coach Jerry Kill also rode through campus in a golf cart with tickets.

Kyle Severson, a junior, said he bought a student season ticket during his freshman year, but he decided not to last year to save money -- student season tickets for seven home games this year are $84. He said he again plans to skip buying season tickets this year. "It'd be helpful if they won more often," said Severson, as he sat reading a book outside on campus.

But a winning football team, he added, is "not all that makes up a good school. It's not necessary to make it a good school."

The appears to be more passion for football on other Big Ten campuses. Even at Indiana, which like Minnesota last claimed a share of a Big Ten football title in 1967, the school has so far sold 12,315 student season tickets for 2012. Indiana's football stadium, with 52,929 seats, is roughly the size of TCF Bank Stadium.

Ohio State, which is not bowl-eligible this year because of penalties for NCAA infractions, has sold more than 26,000 full and partial student season tickets. At Iowa, students have so far bought 9,700 season tickets and Mike Osmundson, Hawkeyes assistant ticket manager, said he is confident the 10,500 student season-ticket allotment will be gone when classes start next week.

"For the past five or six years, we've sold out of our student tickets, and we anticipate getting there" again, Osmundson said.

Still expecting a bump

Jason LaFrenz, the Gophers assistant athletic director, said the school still hopes to sell 8,000 student season tickets this year, believing the current total will rise when students return to class.

"Other than that first year in TCF Bank Stadium, we've traditionally sold the majority of our students tickets in the 10 days before the first home game," he said. "That's when we sell all of our tickets."

Bob Hughes, president of the University of Minnesota's Goal Line football booster club, said the school has yet to recover from the loss of student support that came from playing nearly three decades at the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis.

"This whole generation of students now at the University of Minnesota, they didn't grow up with that college [on-campus] football experience," he said. "We lost a lot with the Metrodome."

But Hughes, despite the sagging numbers, is optimistic. "I easily see seven victories this year," he said. "I've never been so excited in my life."

Teague said he is confident the season-ticket sale tide can be turned, and that the problems will not impact his push for updated athletic facilities. "Part of it is winning," Teague said of what will get more fans at the games. "But I do think that you have to have quite a bit of promotional strategy.

"We're doing a lot. We just got to keep doing it, and stay persistent."

Melissa Cassel, a sophomore at the school, is an example of the ambivalence the school is fighting. Cassel said she went to "quite a few" games as a freshman, and this year will be at some games as part of a group fundraising effort. But she doubted she would be buying tickets because "it's expensive, and I'm really not much of a football fan."

She appears to have plenty of company in that regard.

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    A look at student season-ticket sales at eight of the 12 schools in the Big Ten Conference for the upcoming football season:

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Minnesota 16 FINAL
Buffalo 17
Atlanta 7 FINAL
Baltimore 29
Tennessee 17 FINAL
Washington 19
Seattle 26 FINAL
St. Louis 28
Cleveland 6 FINAL
Jacksonville 24
Cincinnati 0 FINAL
Indianapolis 27
Miami 27 FINAL
Chicago 14
New Orleans 23 FINAL
Detroit 24
Carolina 17 FINAL
Green Bay 38
Kansas City 23 FINAL
San Diego 20
Arizona 24 FINAL
Oakland 13
NY Giants 21 FINAL
Dallas 31
San Francisco 17 FINAL
Denver 42
Houston 7:30 PM
Pittsburgh
San Diego 10/23/14 7:25 PM
Denver
Detroit 10/26/14 8:30 AM
Atlanta
Boston 95 FINAL
Brooklyn 90
Minnesota 112 FINAL
Oklahoma City 94
Golden State 83 FINAL
Houston 90
Charlotte 96 FINAL
Chicago 101
Utah 91 FINAL
LA Lakers 98
Minnesota 1 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
San Jose 0 FINAL
NY Rangers 4
Calgary 4 FINAL
Winnipeg 1
St. Louis 0 FINAL
Anaheim 3
TX-San Antonio 20 FINAL
Louisiana Tech 27
Syracuse 30 FINAL
Wake Forest 7
Purdue 38 FINAL
Minnesota 39
Western Ky 38 FINAL
Fla Atlantic 45
(12) Baylor 27 FINAL
(22) West Virginia 41
(11) Kansas State 31 FINAL
(17) Oklahoma 30
Iowa 31 FINAL
Maryland 38
So Florida 38 FINAL
Tulsa 30
Tulane 13 FINAL
UCF 20
Virginia 13 FINAL
Duke 20
Akron 20 FINAL
Ohio U 23
Western Mich 26 FINAL
Bowling Green 14
Eastern Mich 14 FINAL
Massachusetts 36
Appalachian St 53 FINAL
Troy 14
(25) UCLA 36 FINAL
California 34
Texas A&M 0 FINAL
(4) Alabama 59
Army 17 FINAL
Kent State 39
Kansas 21 FINAL
Texas Tech 34
UAB 22 FINAL
Middle Tennessee 34
Rutgers 17 FINAL
(13) Ohio State 56
(8) Michigan State 56 FINAL
Indiana 17
New Mexico 31 FINAL
Air Force 35
NC State 18 FINAL
Louisville 30
(21) Clemson 17 FINAL
Boston College 13
Ball State 32 FINAL
Central Mich 29
Cincinnati 41 FINAL
SMU 3
(9) Georgia 45 FINAL
Arkansas 32
Oklahoma State 9 FINAL
(10) TCU 42
San Jose St 27 FINAL
Wyoming 20
Miami-Ohio 41 FINAL
Northern Ill 51
New Mexico St 17 FINAL
Idaho 29
Colorado 28 FINAL
(20) USC 56
(23) Marshall 45 FINAL
FIU 13
Southern Miss 30 FINAL
North Texas 20
Georgia Tech 43 FINAL
North Carolina 48
Tennessee 3 FINAL
(3) Ole Miss 34
Utah State 13 FINAL
Colorado State 16
Missouri 42 FINAL
Florida 13
Kentucky 3 FINAL
(24) LSU 41
(16) Nebraska 38 FINAL
Northwestern 17
Georgia State 27 FINAL
South Alabama 30
Washington 20 FINAL
(6) Oregon 45
Iowa State 45 FINAL
Texas 48
(7) Notre Dame 27 FINAL
(2) Florida State 31
Nevada 42 FINAL
BYU 35
Stanford 10 FINAL
(14) Arizona State 26
Hawaii 10 FINAL
San Diego St 20
Arkansas State 10/21/14 7:00 PM
Louisiana
Connecticut 10/23/14 6:00 PM
(18) East Carolina
Miami-Florida 10/23/14 7:00 PM
Virginia Tech
So Florida 10/24/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Troy 10/24/14 6:30 PM
South Alabama
BYU 10/24/14 8:00 PM
Boise State
(6) Oregon 10/24/14 9:00 PM
California
North Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Rice
UAB 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Arkansas
Rutgers 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(16) Nebraska
Maryland 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Wisconsin
Texas 10/25/14 11:00 AM
(11) Kansas State
Minnesota 10/25/14 11:00 AM
Illinois
Memphis 10/25/14 11:00 AM
SMU
North Carolina 10/25/14 11:30 AM
Virginia
San Jose St 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Navy
Northern Ill 10/25/14 12:00 PM
Eastern Mich
(25) UCLA 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Colorado
Akron 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Ball State
Massachusetts 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Toledo
Ohio U 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Western Mich
Ga Southern 10/25/14 1:00 PM
Georgia State
Kent State 10/25/14 1:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
Oregon State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Stanford
Fla Atlantic 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(23) Marshall
Louisiana Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Southern Miss
(1) Miss State 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Kentucky
Georgia Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Pittsburgh
(22) West Virginia 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Oklahoma State
Texas Tech 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(10) TCU
Michigan 10/25/14 2:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Boston College 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Wake Forest
Central Mich 10/25/14 2:30 PM
Buffalo
Vanderbilt 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Missouri
Old Dominion 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Western Ky
UNLV 10/25/14 3:00 PM
Utah State
Temple 10/25/14 4:00 PM
UCF
(15) Arizona 10/25/14 5:00 PM
Washington St
Texas-El Paso 10/25/14 6:00 PM
TX-San Antonio
Wyoming 10/25/14 6:00 PM
Colorado State
Syracuse 10/25/14 6:00 PM
(21) Clemson
Texas State 10/25/14 6:00 PM
ULM
(3) Ole Miss 10/25/14 6:15 PM
(24) LSU
(4) Alabama 10/25/14 6:30 PM
Tennessee
So Carolina 10/25/14 6:30 PM
(5) Auburn
(13) Ohio State 10/25/14 7:00 PM
Penn State
(20) USC 10/25/14 9:00 PM
(19) Utah
(14) Arizona State 10/25/14 9:45 PM
Washington
Nevada 10/25/14 10:59 PM
Hawaii
Columbus 3 FINAL
Red Bull New York 1
Seattle 2 FINAL
Los Angeles 2
Ottawa 6 FINAL
Hamilton 16
Montreal 20 FINAL
Toronto 12
Calgary 33 FINAL
Winnipeg 23
Edmonton 24 FINAL
Saskatchewan 19
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Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pmX42-20
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pmX35-24
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pmX30-7
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. 3 p.m.X24-7
Sep 27 - at Michigan 2:30 pmX30-14
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern 11 amX24-17
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 amX39-38
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

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