Lindsay Whalen remembers what it’s like to play a game in a Williams Arena so packed, so loud, that it’s hard to hear yourself think.
And she wants to pass that on.
Whalen, in her first year coaching the Gophers women, has a lot of such memories to pull from. Most recently, the fall of last year when her Lynx, forced to relocate to Williams for the playoffs, won the deciding Game 5 of the WNBA Finals on the raised court in front of a loud house. But perhaps most powerful, is her memory of a day in early February of 2004 — Whalen’s senior year — when the Gophers whipped fifth-ranked Penn State in front of 14,363 fans.
That still stands as the biggest home crowd to watch the Gophers women play. Whalen has a picture of her and her teammates huddled before the opening tip on the wall in her office.
It’s a record that should fall in a few weeks.
Less than 500 tickets remain for Whalen’s opener — Nov. 9, when the Gophers play host to New Hampshire.
“If we sell out this game, that record is history” said Mills Armbruster, the assistant director of marketing at Minnesota. “I fully expect that number to be broken.”
Whalen and the marketing department have been working hard since she was hired last April to sell out Williams (capacity 14,625) for that night. The idea? To set the tone for Whalen’s first season, to pique fans’ interest by showing how a huge crowd can make a game special. And, for Whalen, to give her players the same experience she had.
“It’s to get that excitement back in the Barn,” Whalen said. “Just have everyone have that feeling of what it’s like when it’s full. I want our players to experience that. And I think the fans, once they’ve experienced that type of atmosphere, they’ll want to come back.”
Whalen had an opening-night sellout on her mind even as she was taking the job. A few weeks later, when she and Armbruster first met, Whalen mentioned it, only to have him say, “We’re already on it.”
Not surprisingly, Armbruster said Whalen has been marketing gold. For example: The day before the Whalen hiring, a total of 76 new season tickets had been sold for a team coming off a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The marketing department’s new goal — which Armbruster expects to meet — is to have 1,300 new ones sold. Meanwhile, the season-ticket renewal rate is over 100 percent. And while that might seem impossible, turns out that not only have virtually all season-ticket holders renewed, several added seats.
One more tidbit: Each year the program has a game where elementary and middle school fans are given seats if they can get to the arena. Last year the U campaigned for three months to get 2,500 to show up. This year’s game — Dec. 4 vs. Incarnate Word — was announced two weeks ago and already 5,000 have RSVP’d.
To get the opener sold out, the U rolled out special pricing. All non-premium lower bowl seats are $5. Upper level tickets are a buck.
“We’re bringing in 10,000 fans who weren’t here last year,” Armbruster said. “The goal is to provide them with this experience, see Lindsay’s first game, so they come back.”
When Armbruster gave Whalen the update recently on how close the sellout was, Whalen doubled down. OK, she said, now worki on Syracuse, Minnesota’s opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Nov. 29.