College football is in a tough spot. Schools, players, and fans alike all want the 2020 season to happen. With or without fans, we all just want to cheer our Papa Fleck and the Minnesota Gophers.
Yet COVID-19 is putting universities into sticky situations. Whether it is figuring out how to deal with positive coronavirus tests (like Clemson or Kansas State) or how schools will handle fan attendance, there is a lot to pin down before the season begins… if it starts at all.
THE GOPHERS’ PLAN
It is no different for the University of Minnesota. Coming off a stellar 11-2 season which saw them climb all the way to 7th in the AP poll and 8th in the College Football Playoff rankings. The Gophers were hoping for sellout crowds at TCF Bank Stadium in 2020. They were likely to get it too, because the Gophers saw 81.6% of tickets used in 2019 compared to 59.8% in 2018.
But we live in a “new normal” (what a crappy phrase) and the Gophers have to anticipate the best and the worst. They are planning for every scenario, with regard to attendance at TCF Bank Stadium. Whether it is 100% capacity, 75%, 50%, or 25%, they want some form of fans in the stands.
The latter two capacity limitations would drastically impact who gets to see the Minnesota Gophers play in-person. Especially when looking at their stadium capacity of 50,805.
|Capacity Percentage||Number of Attendees|
So how does the athletic department decide who gets to come and who has to watch from the couch? With a season ticket base of around 22,000, any capacity limitation under 50% would likely lead to some being turned away.
According to associate athletic director Mike Wierbicki, they could look towards the department’s “Gopher Score” loyalty program. The program grants points to ticket holders based off everything from donation levels to tenure. So while the department is likely to want students in the stands too, money talks.
IS THIS FAIR?
Absolutely. While having students in the stands is an integral factor of game day atmosphere, they aren’t the big money donors. Granted they pay tuition and fees on top of their tickets, it is important to keep your donors happy.
As Wierzbicki told the Star Tribune, “the reality that [fan attendance] is probably dwindling by the day as we get closer [to the season].” So to maintain any form of revenue is important.
“Hopefully, we’re in a spot where we can take care of season-ticket holders and then still have the ability to leverage that Gopher Score system for single-game sales. With the season we had last year and where the momentum is at, there’s tons of positivity. So we were on pace to sell our largest number of new season tickets than we ever have with Gopher football. And I think that we’ll still hit that. Last year, we finished renewals right around the 90% mark. That’s kind of where we’re trending at right now.”Mike Wierzbicki, Gopher Associate Athletic Director to the Star Tribune
While the university was expecting a $1 million surplus for the 2019-20 year, they are now anticipating a $4 million deficit. With an annual budget of around $123 million (8th in the Big Ten), football accounts for over $9.3 million in ticket sales alone. That does not include media rights, bowl games, or guarantees.
Some may complain, saying the students deserve the first shot at tickets… but they aren’t the ones bringing in the money that floats non-revenue sports such as rowing, swimming and diving, or tennis.
Obviously, it isn’t an ideal situation… but nothing is “ideal” this year and every university is having to adjust. It will be important for the university to prepare for both the best and worst scenarios. And it will be interesting to see how they go about each. Either way, the Minnesota Gophers will just have to plan ahead and figure out every possible avenue for their fans to remain engaged. Whether it is in TCF Bank Stadium or at home.
All we can hope for is the ability to watch college football in any form come Labor Day weekend… so we can see the Gophers take down Wisconsin.
Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan