Stadium sees empty seats in 2nd year

After a full house in 2009, the Gophers only sold out one game at TCF Bank Stadium this year.

by Andrew Baker

Attendance at Gophers home football games dipped along with the teamâÄôs performance in TCF Bank StadiumâÄôs second season.

In 2009 the Gophers sold out every home game, and students snatched up all of the approximately 10,000 available student season tickets before the season started. This year the team sold about 8,400 student tickets and sold out only one game.

This, combined with the teamâÄôs well-publicized struggles and the worn-off novelty of the stadium, led to a less jubilant atmosphere in the student section, sophomore and second-time season ticket holder Mikal Nelson said.

“Last year everybody I think was more excited about the new stadium,” Nelson said, “and the team was doing decently well but itâÄôs a lot more negative this year.”

HeâÄôs up in the air about a third year of tickets and said it will depend on how many of his friends buy in.

Even the seasonâÄôs lone sellout âÄî the season-ending win over Iowa on Saturday âÄî was underwhelming, with the cold keeping many ticket holders at home and a large faction of the crowd wearing black and yellow in support of the Hawkeyes.

“I felt like there was definitely a larger proportion of Iowa fans than there would be for visiting fans at other games,” said Nelson, whose roommate and fellow season ticket holder Charlie Preston skipped the game altogether.

Although the Iowa game turned out to be MinnesotaâÄôs biggest win of the season and their first trophy victory since 2006, Preston didnâÄôt think the ticket purchase was worth it and doesnâÄôt plan on buying again next year.

“I went to six [games],” he said. “I think I left three of them at halftime.”

Tickets were left unsold for even the games normally considered more important.

The Sept. 16 game against perennial powerhouse USC fell just short of the stadiumâÄôs capacity of 50,805, while the homecoming game against Northwestern had an official turnout of 49,228, about 1,600 shy of capacity.

The home opener against South Dakota, which ended up as the first of nine consecutive losses, also failed to crack 50,000, a sign that the excitement of a new stadium might be losing its capacity to attract sellout crowds.

Associate athletic director of external relations Jason Lafrenz pointed out that average attendance only dropped from 50,805 to 49,513 from last year, though the fact that every game sold out suggests that the 2009 games couldâÄôve attracted larger crowds if more tickets were available.

The Gophers have the advantage, from a selling out standpoint, of playing in one of the smaller venues in the Big Ten. Conference foes Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State play in three of the four largest football stadiums in the country, NFL included, and the Buckeyes and Wolverines routinely sell out.

“What we can do to remedy [the situation],” Lafrenz said, “is sell all of our student tickets.

“If we sell out the student section, weâÄôll be in the same boat as we were last year.”