“Build it and they will come” is how the University of Minnesota approached the building of TCF Bank stadium, clearly, the fans and students expect more…and it’s not just about winning more games, it’s about creating a lasting game day experience that fosters school pride, passion for the Gophers, and the creation of lifelong memories. So far after 3 years, our beautiful TCF Bank Stadium has done little of that.
It reported in the Star Tribune by Mike Kaszuba that The University of Minnesota has only sold 2000 of the 10,000 Gopher student football tickets http://www.startribune.com/sports/gophers/166352516.html . This quickly became a national story having stories from CBS Sports to The Big Lead, to many other media outlets. This is not the kind of press that the Gophers want to be known for going into their fourth season at TCF Bank.
There was a lot of criticism brought to this story, since there could be a number of tickets purchased in the next few weeks, before the Sept. 8th home opener against New Hampshire. Jason LaFrenz, the Gophers assistant athletic director, said "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.” He also said that still hopes to sell 8,000 student season tickets this year. The last time we came close to that was in 2010, so I found this from the Minnesota Daily: www.mndaily.com/2010/07/28/student-ticket-sales-slump-half-unsold which states that as of July 28th, 2010, 5500 tickets were sold out of the 10,000. They ended up selling 7800 that year. It's about 3 weeks later in the year, and we're at 2000. If we follow in that same pattern, it looks like we'll end up selling about 1400 more tickets, for a total of 3400.
When you look at the decreasing ticket sales it went from:
2012: Currently 2000 with 3 weeks to go
This is what the student section with 6000 tickets sold looked like last year at the beginning of the Iowa game:
And this is what it looked like during the 2nd quarter of the Illinois game, the last game of the season (both games were Gopher victories):
This is really unacceptable, any way you look at it. So you ask why? This is an absolutely beautiful new on campus stadium, that many of dreamed about, and others lobbied for for years. There are many reasons for the decline in Gopher Football Student ticket sales:
· We lose, a lot. Trust me, I've heard the argument time and time again, that winning will cure all. And I believe it will, however, you can't run a college athletic program relying on that. There will always be down years, and to counteract those, you have to develop the experience, and make people love going to the games regardless. This one is in the hands of Jerry Kill, and I do believe it will come, but in the meantime, administration can focus on things in their control off the field.
· Cost. Currently, students tickets are $84 for the season, with a $7 handling fee, so a total of $91. That's not out of line, but it is a bit of a sacrifice for students to pony up that much money.
· Lack of tailgating options. I don't have a lot of good things to say about the Dome, but the tailgating options were plentiful compared to campus, and affordable. We tailgate at the Ski-U-Mah lot, and it's $1000 to tailgate there for the season, the spots across the street in the stadium lot are $2500. If $91 for tickets are too much, this is so far out of the realm of pricing for students, they could never imagine getting a spot. The way pricing was set up in general was very short sighted. Instead of filling up these lots (I have heard they are sold out, but I know our lot is about 1/2 full, and has not been full since the Air Force game) they wanted the quick big price tags, instead of creating an entire community of tailgating. It's really a class system, where they've alienated students and discouraged them from coming to campus until game time, because there's nowhere to go for them. So more often than not, they pre-game at their apartments, frat houses, dorms, etc. and end up having so much fun, the ones that even have tickets don’t attend.
· The overall game day experience. There is none. I know I have a blast at Gopher Football games, but it is simply because of the group I tailgate with that I love. We have a blast, we're typically the first ones in the lot six hours before game time, but we are usually amongst about 10 other fans for the first hour or two. This is not the culture that Jerry Kill wants, he has expressed many times that he wants this to be an all day party, that people get excited for, and the entire state of Minnesota can enjoy and participate in.
I don't think that anyone denies that this is clearly a problem, a school with over 50,000 students and more than 30,000 undergraduates should have no problem filling up a student section, or at least be pretty close. There's no point in focusing on blame at this point, what we should be focusing on is solutions. It's easy to recognize the issues, and pick apart everything done wrong in the past 3 years since TCF Bank opened, but it's a lot more difficult to come up with ways to rectify the situation. Here are some ideas that I've seen on GopherHole.com www.forums.gopherhole.com/boards/forumdisplay.php, spoke to about with friends, or came up with on my own:
· Lower ticket prices. It's a short time hit to get more people interested and have less of a financial burden on them. 2000 tickets at $91 is $182,000. 8000 tickets at $40 is $320,000. Not only would it create more revenue, but you would have a home field advantage, and a great college football experience with so many students there. This doesn't mean the tickets need to stay $40 - it's simple supply and demand. If interest in Gopher football increases, ticket prices can too.
· Reduce pricing for early ticket sales. Make it worth it to buy early, then you're not scrambling with 3 weeks left before the season trying desperately to sell them (and getting a lot of bad press for it). Offer a $20 discount if they buy before August. As a college student, that's a pretty nice incentive.
· Giveaways. Everyone that purchases student tickets is offered into a raffle for a new iPhone, or an MOA gift card, or gift card at Sally's.
· Give Gopher Points credit for student ticket. They know when they graduate they will get Gopher Points for it. During my undergrad and grad school, I had student season tickets for so many years, and I got credit for none of them with Gopher points.
· Bundle tickets. The first year I was on the Barnyard board (The Men's Basketball student section) they had sold 300 season tickets. The next year, it grew to 1700, and one of the big reasons was bundling tickets. If they got just basketball tickets it was $99, if they got football and basketball it was $59 for basketball. Do this with basketball and hockey. This way, when one sport is stronger than the other, they can feed off each other. Another option is giving priority tickets to those who buy more than one sport, that's what Indiana did to sell over 12,000 football tickets, and they are no Ohio State or Michigan, they are struggling at football as much as we are.
· Have others sell your tickets for you. We also had a referral program for basketball. If a student can sell 10 tickets to their friends (even 5 at this point) let that student get their student ticket for free. You can roll this out to Resident Assistants, chairs or organizations, presidents of fraternity and sororities, etc.
· Young alumni tickets. Let recent grads buy student season tickets if they're available. Many 23 year olds can't afford to buy full prices public tickets. And I know as a recent grad, I didn't want to sit the whole game and get yelled at for standing and cheering, let them buy these, and one step further, contact all recent alums under two years out and offer this...NOW.
· Guest Pass. You can no longer buy a guest pass for someone at the same price as a student ticket. At this point, loosen those rules up. I don't care if someone is bringing their friend, Dad or cousin, it's a body in the seat. This is another thing they can change if they sell out, but as for now, let any student buy two tickets for the $91 price point.
· Give away free food. Last year, Jerry and Rebecca Kill bought the entire student section lunch. Why not do this for 7 games. To get students in there early (since they aren't coming for kickoff) offer free food 30 minutes before kickoff. It would at least incentivize some students to get there early. Dan Monson did this for an entire season, he actually funded it and it was called "Monson's Meal." He wanted that energy from the students from tipoff, not halfway into the 1st half. It worked. It's amazing what a motivator free food is for college students.
· Cheap tailgating options. The U has a ton of contract lots, why on earth can one or more of these not be given to students? Have them pay $5 or $10 a car, which is more than what they're getting not letting anyone park there. If they absolutely cannot find a lot or two, just set up big tents for the students. Have flip cup tables, beer pong, beer sales (that would actually raise money for the U). If they did tents like this, it would obviously have to be monitored for students 21 and older, but that's a still a better portion of students coming to games than right now.
· Look at what other schools are doing. Copy them. Follow their lead, go to games at Ole Miss, South Carolina, and other schools that have incredible game days. No need to re-invent the wheel.
· Utilizing marketing. If the U isn't sure what to do, then enlist the help of some MBA students, and have them do case studies and offer ideas. I'm sorry, but having Norwood Teague drive around in a golf cart, and sending a video of MarQueis Gray to students is not a marketing plan. There has to be a strategy behind it, it needs to be interactive, and it needs to appeal to students. These would be great components into a marketing plan, but there is so much more to be done. And I hate to say it, but you have to spend money to make money. I know the U isn't huge on spending money and advertising, but they need to.
Quite honestly, I could blog for about 100 more pages on this, and I'm not expert, just someone with a marketing and social media background that loves the Gophers. Norwood Teague has an opportunity to shape this campus forever. It's not going to be an easy task to un-do what's been done the past 3 years, but with his vision, fundraising abilities, and track record, I hope he really does shake things up. As dedicated Gopher fans, we deserve better.
Twitter: @NadineBabu www.twitter.com/nadinebabu
Nadine Babu is the CEO and Social Media Strategist at Babu Social Networks and completed her undergraduate degree and MBA at the Carlson School of Management. She manages and writes for GopherHole.com
Update: Just in case you missed this. This was former Gopher, and current Minnesota Twin's reaction to this blog after he read it: