Scoggins: Winning just a first step in regaining Wild fans' loyalty

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 17, 2011 - 10:32 AM

After an assessment of its operations and with a new coach, the Wild is determined to see Xcel Energy Center's seats filled again.

hide

Minnesota Wild fans cheered for the team in 2009.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

The Wild returned home from a long, successful road trip Wednesday with the most points in the NHL. The opponent that night, the Chicago Blackhawks, owned the second-best record in the conference.

Wild officials publicly predicted a sellout, which is why they probably watched nervously at the start as Xcel Energy Center had large pockets of empty seats and as much energy as Siberia.

The place was full and full-throated by the end of the first period, however. Presumably, the latecomers forgot the nationally televised game started 30 minutes earlier than normal. And judging by eyewitness tweets, rush-hour traffic ranked among the worst on human record.

Ultimately, the Wild got its sellout, announced at 19,254, the sixth-largest regular-season crowd in team history. The Wild hopes it's a sign that fans are ready to return to the Xcel Center en masse to support the NHL's surprise team.

"Ticket sales over the past month have mirrored the team's outstanding performance," said Matt Majka, the Wild's chief operating officer. "The building was jampacked for the Blackhawks game, and the games for the foreseeable future are looking much more healthy than the October games did. Having said that, our work is not done. As an organization, we'll continue to work on earning the support of our fans."

A full Xcel Energy Center used to be standard fare for Wild games. Beginning with its inaugural season, the team announced 370 consecutive regular-season sellouts. The streak became a source of organizational pride, highlighted by a special announcement during games.

The sellout streak ended early last season, and attendance has been hit or miss ever since. Wednesday's game marked the third sellout this season. The team announced sellouts in 25 of its 40 home games last season (one game was played in Finland).

The Wild once ranked in the top half of the NHL in home attendance. The team is 17th so far this season, according to ESPN data. At its peak, the Wild sold more than 16,000 season tickets. The team wouldn't confirm its current figure, but it is believed to be approximately 13,000.

Reasons behind the decline aren't difficult to decipher. Fans no longer were content with simply having a cool venue and hockey back in the market. Poor management decisions and three consecutive seasons without a playoff appearance tested their patience and willingness to fork over their cash blindly. The team seemingly escaped the harsh economic realities that affected other professional franchises. Bad, boring hockey eventually caught up with the Wild.

"We have passionate, really committed fans here, but they want and deserve something more on all fronts, not just on the ice," Majka said recently. "Off the ice, we have to be better as well on the business front. They voted last year and we heard them. Now we're in a mode of winning them back and it's starting to come."

The Wild saw a similar uptick last season as all but four of its 25 sellouts came after Christmas. This Wild team certainly is a more attractive draw than any in recent years.

That's because winning is the ultimate driving force for ticket sales. It's not cheap for families to attend professional sporting events, especially in this economy. Fans demand more than just a nice arena. They need to believe in the product, too, or at least feel things are moving in the right direction.

Fans have that now. The Wild hired the right coach in Mike Yeo, who installed an entertaining and aggressive brand of hockey. Management showed a willingness to shake things up by trading for Dany Heatley. The Wild has more talent and better prospects in the farm system. And the organization has an overall plan and vision that makes sense.

The team dissected and analyzed the entire operation, Majka said, hoping to identify ways to improve, including gameday experience. He doesn't believe the Wild necessarily became substandard in that regard, but a team must constantly evolve and stay fresh, even if its building is packed game after game.

"I think after 10 years we needed to take a look in the mirror and make sure that we were not just doing what we always did but continuing to improve," Majka said. "We really challenged ourselves in the past year to reset the bar and to be better.

"Yeah, we want to win hockey games, and that helps for sure. But I do believe we're going to get back to where we were, and I don't think it will take that long, either."

Chip Scoggins • ascoggins@startribune.com

  • related content

  • Band-Aids run short, but Wild presses on

    Saturday December 17, 2011

    Mikko Koivu and Pierre-Marc Bouchard are among the key forwards out with injuries, prompting more calls to Houston.

  • Zanon reluctantly accepts rare healthy scratch

    Saturday December 17, 2011

    In a rarity, Wild coach Mike Yeo made veteran defenseman Greg Zanon a healthy scratch for the team's game against Chicago on Wednesday night.

  • Gameday: Wild vs. Islanders

    Saturday December 17, 2011

    Players to watch: C Kyle Brodziak has three goals in his past three games and leads the Wild with 11 goals. LW Dany Heatley is second on the team in...

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Baltimore 2 FINAL
Detroit 15
NY Yankees 5 FINAL
Philadelphia 5
Northeastern 1 FINAL
Boston 2
Miami-Fla 1 FINAL
Miami 7
Pittsburgh 8 FINAL
Toronto 7
San Francisco 4 FINAL
Oakland 9
Cleveland 0 FINAL
Cincinnati 10
Boston College 0 FINAL
Boston 1
Arizona State 0 FINAL
Arizona 4
Boston 79 FINAL
Cleveland 110
LA Lakers 103 FINAL
Charlotte 104
Sacramento 124 FINAL
New York 86
Houston 96 FINAL
Atlanta 104
Utah 93 FINAL
Memphis 82
Washington 92 FINAL
Chicago 97
Milwaukee 95 FINAL
Denver 106
Nashville 1 FINAL
New Jersey 3
Calgary 3 FINAL(OT)
Philadelphia 2
Washington 5 FINAL
Columbus 3
Buffalo 0 FINAL
Tampa Bay 3
Toronto 3 FINAL
Florida 2
Ottawa 2 FINAL(SO)
Minnesota 3
NY Islanders 2 FINAL(OT)
Dallas 3
Anaheim 4 FINAL
Arizona 1
Los Angeles 5 FINAL
Edmonton 2
San Jose 6 FINAL
Vancouver 2
Ole Miss 82 FINAL
Alabama 74
Eastern Mich 67 FINAL
Ball State 60
Kent State 81 FINAL
Bowling Green 80
Ohio 66 FINAL
Buffalo 93
Georgetown 60 FINAL
Butler 54
Toledo 77 FINAL
Central Mich 85
Rhode Island 59 FINAL
Dayton 75
Youngstown St 67 FINAL
Detroit 77
North Carolina 81 FINAL
Georgia Tech 49
Loyola-Maryland 45 FINAL
Holy Cross 62
Iowa 77 FINAL
Indiana 63
Akron 63 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 70
Army 52 FINAL
Navy 56
Maryland 60 FINAL
Rutgers 50
Kennesaw St 54 FINAL
USC Upstate 90
Jacksonville 63 FINAL
Fla Gulf Coast 81
Lipscomb 76 FINAL
Northern Ky 73
Stetson 67 FINAL
North Florida 81
Wright State 57 FINAL
Ill-Chicago 60
Western Mich 63 FINAL
Northern Ill 65
Nebraska Omaha 80 FINAL
North Dakota 78
Houston Baptist 71 FINAL
Abilene Christian 83
NC State 66 FINAL
Clemson 61
Texas A&M 62 FINAL
Florida 66
Kentucky 72 FINAL
Georgia 64
West Virginia 69 FINAL
Kansas 76
Auburn 61 FINAL
Missouri 63
Michigan 78 FINAL
Northwestern 82
Villanova 76 FINAL
Creighton 72
Longwood 55 FINAL
Gardner-Webb 63
Charleston Southern 39 FINAL
Presbyterian 47
Coastal Carolina 54 FINAL
UNC-Asheville 68
NJIT 51 FINAL
UMass Lowell 60
West Virginia 55 FINAL
Kansas State 59
TCU 45 FINAL
Texas 79
Fresno State 61 FINAL
Air Force 41
San Jose St 76 FINAL
Boise State 91
Nevada 61 FINAL
Colorado State 68
UNLV 61 FINAL
San Diego State 76
Wyoming 61 FINAL
Utah State 57
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: How will the Wild finish out the season?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close