Tubby Smith already attracting fans

The new Gophers basketball coach has already led to higher ticket sales.

Mark Remme

Last Friday’s official announcement that Tubby Smith would helm the University’s men’s basketball program caused shocked fans to snap up season tickets in a hurry.

University officials are hoping those ticket sales will offset the nearly $1.8 million they shelled out to get him in the program.

The athletics department, aggregating funds from reserves and loans, offered Smith the largest coaching contract in school history when it landed the former Kentucky coach last Thursday.

Smith’s contract is a seven-year deal with an option for two or more additional seasons if the University decides to extend it.

He’ll receive roughly $1.75 million guaranteed each season, which breaks down to a $600,000 base salary with an added compensation of $1.15 million for broadcast media, endorsements, community involvement and fund raising. An optional retirement plan is also included.

The contract also comes with performance-based incentives.

Smith will receive anything from $100,000 for an NCAA tournament appearance to $250,000 for a Big Ten regular season championship to $500,000 for a national title.

With two coaching contract buyouts within the last six months – former football coach Glen Mason and Smith’s basketball predecessor Dan Monson – and money spent on the newly hired Smith, funds are currently streaming in and out of the athletic department at a rapid pace.

But athletics director Joel Maturi said there’s a simple plan for paying off the contract expenses.

“From the buyout standpoint, we’ve taken out a loan with the University, and we will pay that back with interest,” Maturi said.

As for Smith’s salary, Maturi said he hopes the boost in season ticket sales will pay for that in itself.

“We’ve already sold 800 season tickets since last Friday,” Maturi said. “We’re thinking the increased ticket sales will make up the (difference) from last year’s coaching salary.”

Maturi called back to say they had passed the 900-ticket mark, adding that he wanted to be sure it was known Smith was a good investment.

According to Jason LaFrenz, director of marketing for the athletic department, the past week’s new season ticket sales are nearly four times as large as a normal offseason.

“By this time a year ago we probably sold a handful of new season tickets Ö we sold just over 200 (total),” LaFrenz said.

The recent increase in season tickets sales bumps the total amount for next season, already exceeding 10,000, LaFrenz said.

Those increased ticket sales prove Smith’s hiring hasn’t gone unnoticed with the Gopher basketball fan base, especially students at the University.

First-year architecture student Nick Olson, who admitted he doesn’t follow the men’s basketball team too closely, said the large sum of money he’ll be paid could be worth it.

“If it brings a winning team I’d like to see that,” Olson said. “But it’s kind of what Glen Mason got and he didn’t bring too good of a team here. Hopefully, it works out better.”

Mason signed a four-year extension in 2006 worth $1.6 million annually. The University ended up buying out that contract almost exactly a year later for $2.2 million.

Josh Mortensen, a sophomore sports management student, said coming off a 9-22 season with a disappointing three wins in Big Ten conference play is enough incentive to shell out the big bucks.

“We’ve got to change something,” Mortensen said. “It seems like a lot of money, but obviously Tubby Smith has a lot of good history; he has a lot of prestige coming along with him.”