Not hosting games hurts U, WCHA

by Aaron Kirscht

For the first time in 12 years, Mariucci Arena will not be the site of a postseason series. And while that will surely leave some egos bruised, the pocketbooks of both the Minnesota athletics department and the WCHA will also take a hit.
To guarantee patrons their usual seats in the postseason, tickets for three first-round playoff games at Mariucci Arena have already been sold as part of season ticket packages. Traditionally, some season ticket holders have donated the cost of the third ticket to the University when the best-of-three series lasted only two games.
This year, however, that isn’t likely to happen. The cost of those three games comes in at just under $60, and will have to be refunded. Men’s athletics director Mark Dienhart estimated the University’s share of ticket losses at between $15,000 and $20,000. Those totals don’t include parking or concessions. On top of that, Minnesota could receive less money from shared league revenues.
“But that really pales in comparison to what it means to have the games here for our fans and the competitive advantage of having the games here versus having to go away,” Dienhart said. “The money part is really the least important part.”
The University’s loss is not nearly as significant as the WCHA’s potential loss, league commissioner Bruce McLeod said. The WCHA operating budget relies solely on playoff revenues, and Mariucci Arena — the largest college hockey facility in the country, with some of the highest ticket prices — has historically been a big part of that equation. McLeod said the WCHA’s take from last year’s two playoff games at Mariucci came to around $160,000.
The Mariucci factor will be offset somewhat by the series at other schools, particularly Wisconsin’s Dane County Coliseum (seating capacity 8,100) and the new Colorado Springs World Arena (7,700).
“I wish we could have those other things going on and have Minnesota at home, too,” McLeod said. “We don’t want to be greedy about it, but certainly from a league standpoint we are going to miss the revenue from a building like Mariucci.”
The five home teams in the first round of last year’s playoffs (North Dakota, Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Colorado College and Denver) had an average maximum seating capacity of 5,870 and an average ticket price of close to $12.
This season, repeat champ North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Wisconsin, Colorado College and Minnesota-Duluth will be at home in the first round. With Minnesota out of the mix, the average capacity drops to 5,580 and the average ticket will cost less than $11.
Roughly, that could mean a $9,000 loss for each of at least 10 playoff games. But the WCHA’s playoff format is a best-of-three series; thus, it’s in the WCHA’s best financial interests for several of those series — particularly those in the bigger buildings — to go to the limit to minimize the losses.
“It’s hard to put a concrete number on anything at this point,” McLeod said. “It could be a significant loss, but it could end up a wash, too.”