Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Why do you watch?

In Tuesday's Free Press I have a column that asks this question to Minnesota State men's hockey ticket buyers: Why do you watch?

Do you watch the Mavericks or do you watch their opponent? Is it more important to see a win or to see a so-called power opponent?

The answer may have a big impact on how you feel about the future of MSU hockey once the yet-to-be-named Breakaway League and the Big Ten start play in 2013-14. As others have suggested this week, the new WCHA may end up being OK for the leftover teams, as their chances of winning conference titles and earning NCAA berths will improve.

Even if MSU becomes the best of the rest, will Mankato's hockey fans follow?


• Over the last five years, Minnesota State is 16-49-9 (.277) against teams going into the Breakaway League.

• The Mavericks are 11-18-4 (.394) against Big Ten members Minnesota and Wisconsin over the last fiv years.

• Over that same span, MSU is 33-19-9 (.615) against the rest of the WCHA — St. Cloud, Bemidji, Anchorage and Tech.

If Minnesota State can continue to bring in quality nonconference opponents (i.e.: ex-WCHA members) regularly, they might be able to draw those big crowds and help their Pairwise ranking. That's a big if, though, as all three western leagues will be seeking quality nonconference games, and I've already heard worries about the possibility of an interlocking schedule between the Big Ten and the Breakaways.

Meanwhile, here's another statistical curiosity: Miami has been one of the nation's best teams over their last several years, and its desire to leave the CCHA makes some sense with that conference's Big Ten losses. But why is that school more attractive to the Breakaways than the current WCHA programs? The RedHawks play in a new arena, albiet one that seats just 3,600 people.

Last year, Miami drew an average of 3,024 per game. Minnesota State in a down year drew 3,711. (In 2008-09, MSU had an all-time high of 4,552, ranking 15th in the nation; Miami was 32nd that year with 2,491.)

Lets look at some college hockey average attendance figures from last year (ranking is overall national place):

Big Ten
1. Wisconsin 13,226
2. Michigan 12,291
4. Minnesota 9,544
11. Michigan State 5,353
18. Ohio State 3,829

3. North Dakota 11,756
5. Nebraska-Omaha 7,994
6. Colorado College 6,687
9. Minnesota Duluth 5,810
12. Denver 5,292
25. Miami 3,024

8. St. Cloud State 5,935
17. Bemidji State 3,876
19. Minnesota State 3,711
22. Alaska-Anchorage 3,319
36. Michigan Tech 2,345

26. Alaska 2,954 (possibly going to WCHA)
27. Western Michigan 2,926 (waiting for Notre Dame's move)
29. Notre Dame 2,801 (courted by Hockey East, Breakaways)
32. Northern Michigan 2,541 (possibly going to WCHA)
39. Bowling Green 2,169
40. Lake Superior 2,103
44. Ferris State 1,734


Sam said...

As much as I'd like to believe that everybody loves a good winner, I worry that a large contingent of MSU hockey followers care just as much about the opponent as the hometown Mavericks.

Thus, I think the Mavericks are going to have to see a significant leap in the win column if they hope to make up for the attendance drop they'll surely face when they stop competing against Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin on a regular basis.

Add in the fact that this is likely to kill recruiting, and that only adds to the concern. To me, the only silver lining that may exist is the chance for the Mavericks to regularly contend for conference championships and national tourney births. We'll see if that becomes a reality, though.

Also, I'd be interested to see what Michigan's average attendance was last year, if you remove the novelty outdoor game they hosted at their massive football stadium. I would imagine without that game, their average attendance would be much, much smaller. I could be wrong, though.

Hagar said...

I am a season ticket holder who goes to watch high quality hockey. If I decide to miss a game it's always one of the conference bottom feeders. Normally, I would never miss a game with Denver, ND, or any of the conference or(national) powers. Even if I know that we have a better chance of winning against a crappy team, I would rather watch us play a great team and hope they somehow win. This also show in the attendence numbers and the excitment level in the arena against the various teams. The marketing department at MSU has their work cut out for them. I wish them luck in trying to fill Verizon on a regular basis once this all goes down. Another concern is the quality of recruits we will get with the new look WCHA. That is the big question I have.

Todd said...

I love to see MSU play no matter the competition. We need more real fans who will support the Mavs no matter the team in all sports, not just the big name teams. It is kind of depressing to see them not sell out a basketball regional championship even though it was well attended.

When it comes to hockey, I believe people will come if they are winning against no matter the competition. They also need to find a way to get onto Fox Sports North somehow as the Gophers will be stuck on the Big Ten Network, leaving a void, and the others will most likely end up on Versus. Then recruiting will still be up, especially in the Twin Cities area, where most the players come from anyway. Only one request after this is all done - NEVER SCHEDULE NORTH DAKOTA AGAIN!!! They have lost all my respect. I hope the students really let the teams leaving know their displeasure this year and next by coming out and booing them, making sure the ushers usher out the non-MSU people from the student section during these games.

Troy said...

The more I think about things, the more I can possibly seeing a workable solution.

Nine Leagues:
Eastern Super League with Notre Dame, Boston College, Boston U and three others (6 teams)
Western Super League (6 teams)
Big Ten (6 teams)
WCHA (6-8 teams)
CCHA (6-8 teams)
Atlantic Hockey (some defections over to the CCHA and/or ECAC bring them down to 8)
Ivy (6 teams)
ECAC remainders (6-8 teams)
Hockey East remainders (6-8 teams)

You still end up with three leagues controlling a lot of the $$$ involved in college hockey, but you have five other leagues that would be somewhat equal, six if Atlantic Hockey ups their commitments financially. Outside of the three Super Leagues, you could create six geographic clusters (outside of the two Alaskas and UAH), minimizing travel costs and also opening up non-conference dates for everyone.

NCAA Tournament time rolls around and you have nine autobids and seven at large bids. That makes winning your conference tournament mean a lot more, or, if you want to grab one of the at large bids, you need to be a pretty good second (or third) place team in your league and have a strong non-conference showing.

Sam said...

To follow-up on what Todd said, I absolutely love MSU hockey, and enjoy going regardless of who their opponent is. Of course the atmosphere is more intense and enjoyable, however, when the big name hockey schools come to town.

In reality, I would have to assume that just about anyone that follows this blog follows Maverick hockey pretty seriously. Folks that read and/or comment on this board are likely going to continue showing up, no matter what. It's the casual fans and students who are likely going to start shying away when the big-time opponents stop coming. And I have to believe those are the two biggest groups the school relies on to boost attendance numbers. That's very concerning.

All in all, it doesn't surprise me in the least that none of MSU's sports receive an overwhelming amount of support. After all, the school insists on being a mediocre Division II university in athletics.

The big thing the hockey club still has going for them is the fact that they're the only Division I sport in Mankato. Regardless of how big or small a university is, or how new they are to the DI scene, interest in DI sports always trumps interest in DII or lesser levels.

I'm still holding out hope that the school's administration will figure it out and take the bold leap into a full-blown DI era, but until then, moderate interest is about all anyone should expect when it comes to MSU sports.

PurpleSeats said...

There were rumors circulating MONTHS AGO about this "Super Conference." This was NOT a complete surprise to those close to the situation (Buisman)