U ranks low in Big Ten football attendance

Minnesota ranks ninth out of 11 Big Ten schools in football attendance.

Than Tibbetts

At Saturday’s homecoming football game against Illinois, the Metrodome stands were a sea of maroon and gold, with an occasional spot of Illini orange.

But another color, blue – the color of the Metrodome’s seats – also filled the stadium.

The University is the second-largest school in the Big Ten, as well as the nation, but thanks to those “fans in blue,” the school placed ninth in football attendance out of 11 Big Ten schools last year. Only Indiana University and Northwestern University had lower average attendance numbers.

Athletics officials have said that if the Gophers consistently sold out the Metrodome, the increased revenue would have a significant effect on the athletics department’s bottom line.

Athletics Director Joel Maturi said athletics officials are doing everything they can to put more Gophers fans in the stands, but much of the situation is out of their control.

Big opponents draw fans

Gophers fans have traditionally shown up to see higher-profile opponents.

In 2003, more than 62,000 fans watched the Gophers play Michigan in the Metrodome.

Senior associate athletics director Elizabeth Eull said officials have projected a virtual sellout for this season’s final home game against Iowa. That would put the Gophers’ average attendance at approximately 47,000 per game, the highest average the Gophers have seen since the 2000 season. But it is short of the 64,172-seat capacity at the Metrodome.

This year, more than 50,000 people watched the Gophers play Penn State, while more than 46,000 came to the Illinois homecoming game. Maturi said this type of situation is uncommon.

Four of the top five teams on top of the Big Ten attendance list – Michigan, Penn State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State – averaged more fans per game than their respective stadium capacities last year. Michigan, Penn State and Ohio State’s stadiums all seat more than 100,000 people.

The stadium

Athletics administrators said they hope simple economic principles will fill the stands of a new on-campus football stadium.

Maturi said he proposed to build a smaller stadium than the Metrodome because it would increase ticket demand.

“The Dome is too big for us,” he said.

Mark Melody, a 1979 University of Minnesota graduate, of Bloomington, Minn., said he loves the idea of an on-campus stadium.

“It would mean more students and a better atmosphere,” he said. “It would be similar to other Big Ten schools.”

Melody said he attended Gophers football games as a child at Memorial Stadium.

“It was more of a college atmosphere,” he said.

Though many Gophers fans said they long for the excitement of on-campus college football, others said they still enjoy the Metrodome atmosphere.

Jake Grassel, a Bethel College student, said the game looked well-attended.

“There’s lots of excitement,” he said. “The students seem to be behind the team.”