Puck Swami: DU Hockey Attendance Needs Help

Empty seats at DU’s Magness Arena/Photo: University of Denver

In October of 2010, Defending NCAA Champion Boston College came out to Denver to kick-off the DU hockey season with a weekend series. Capacity crowds of over 6,000 people jammed Denver’s Magness Arena on both Friday and Saturday nights. DU was swept in that series, but the DU crowds were rabid and engaged. It felt like playoff hockey.

Fast forward six years to October, 2016 – another opening DU weekend. Fifth-ranked Boston College, coming off a 2016 Frozen Four appearance, and Ohio State, a big sports name brand, were in town to face the Pios for the Icebreaker Tournament, with Denver also coming off its best season in 10 years with its own Frozen Four appearance and sporting a top three national ranking.

You would think that Magness would be rocking with a sellout crowd, right?

Nope.

Not even close.

More like moribund.

The Friday night game attendance for DU vs OSU, which lists tickets distributed, was only 3,984 (66% full). A night later on Saturday, against major draw Boston College, only a few hundred more fans found their way into the house at 4,286 (71% full). The same October time frame (home opening weekend), and essentially the same top-level opponents, with the bonus of both DU and BC as Frozen Four teams last year. But six years later, we had nowhere near the same crowd size – over 2,000 people less on each night.

What is going on? Conventional logic says when you win more games, more fans will come out. But that’s no longer true for DU Hockey. DU’s Frozen Four Season last season averaged only 5,123 per game (85% of capacity, a drop of about 1,000 people per game from the capacity crowds DU was drawing about 10 years ago.  DU Season ticket renewals were less this year after a Frozen Four appearance then they were the year before (about 80%).

A lot has changed in 10 years.  DU has been a winning hockey program in all of those years, but a controversial coaching change in 2013 may have something to do with the reduced crowds in recent years. DU game-night costs (tickets/parking/concessions) have risen, too, but are not out of line with general inflation and still a huge bargain compared to pro sports. At the same time, Denver’s student population has grown a bit since then, as has the Colorado population (by over 400,000) since 2010.

A broader look reveals that top college hockey programs in major metro areas have seen similar attendance drops over the same time period. Boston College averaged less that 5,000 per game last year, despite multiple NCAA titles over the last 10 years, as BC averaged about 5,300 10 years ago. Boston University, another successful program, has dropped from 5,400 per game 10 years ago to 4,300 per game last year.

Certainly competition for those urban crowds has grown in those 10 years, with more sports and entertainment offerings, including better Internet/social media, smartphones, 500-channel cable and satellite TV, HDTV, streaming film/video, and immersive video gaming as well as a more cosmopolitan city and recreational options.  In short, while we have more population to draw from, we also have more competition, unlike college teams in smaller cities or towns.

And you’ll always hear from many that Fall is football season in Colorado, and hockey doesn’t even come on the radar here until the snow falls. That certainly shows in Denver hockey crowds, which tend to grow as the season moves on, but the fear now that full arenas are now rarities, when they should be certainties.

From a student standpoint, student crowds are dropping, too. While the DU student section can hold up to 700 fans (and usually does for rivalry games vs. Colorado College), the typical student crowds are now around 300, and sometimes less for some opponents. Why? Skiing and other easy residential entertainment is always an issue here, but the other big factor is DU’s student body has become much more studious over the last 10 years, with entering freshmen now averaging a 3.77 GPA, with 40% this year’s class having 4.0 averages or better in high school. Sports likely just don’t matter to as many of them. Greek houses, whose members used to attend DU games en masse, no longer do so. More disturbingly, the majority of DU student hockey crowds have been leaving games early, even when games are close, especially last weekend.

This isn’t unique to DU, either. Student crowds around the country have also been declining in football and basketball in recent years, some 7% between 2009 and 2014, according the Wall Street Journal.

So we know the issues, and we know the probable causes. What can be done to turn this around? Here are 10 quick ideas off the top of my head:

1. Advertising/Promotion– DU used to do much more of this, but it’s a bit less visible now. Be creative.
2. Cultivate group attendance – people follow peers. Way more could be done here.
3. Campus buzz – having coaches and players who can get students out to games could really help
4. Pre-game Tailgates – harder for hockey due to cold, but its worked well for lacrosse. Perhaps a big tent might work if campus buildings are off limits.
5. Increase communications – Social media has improved, but there can be more done here, too.
6. Dial back the ushers – DU has done better on game night experience, but Magness still can be over-strict at times. Let the fans have fun, within reason.
7. Ticket access – free is nice for some students, but it may affect perceived ticket value and may be contributing to early game departures.
8. More traditions/collegiate experience – DU can always do more with its sports traditions to create more DU-specific memories, unity and meaning. Invest more into game day experience (band, cheer, dance team, displays, videos, etc)
9. Technology – Look into using ticket scanners for exit as well as entry, and reward those who show up and who stay for the whole game. Create an in-game app to enrich the experience for people who are already on their smartphones anyway.
10. Cut down the game schedule – Counterintuitive, but some fans complain that there are just too many home games (19 this year), making it easier to say no to using season tickets and yes to other weekend activities. College sports leaders across the country are also mulling the idea of a 10% schedule reduction as tool for student-athlete welfare, cost reduction and creating more scarcity of events to drive demand. NCAA Hockey coaches may not like that, as they compete for top recruits who also can choose 80-game schedules in Major Junior hockey.

We’d love to hear your ideas! Please comment!

Puck Swami is the Internet moniker of a long-time DU fan and alumnus. He shares his views periodically here at LetsGoDU.

22 thoughts on “Puck Swami: DU Hockey Attendance Needs Help”

  1. When I was a student I found a majority of students had never been to a hockey game and didn’t understand the rules. They used to have an exhibition game where the students went to learn the rules.

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    1. Good point, Mike. I would love to see the DU hockey staff and players put on a short “Hockey 101” seminar for the many DU newbies to the college game. Do it in Magness and in the dorms. Give away prizes and food to get people to go. And while they are at it, perhaps a more intermediate/advanced seminar for those DU fans who think they know the game, but would like to learn those kind of expert knowledge nuances that could elevate them into better NCAA hockey fans.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think another factor is the crappy media coverage. AM1600 may come in loud and clear somewhere out there – but not where I live; nor seemingly anywhere my car is when I really want to listen to post game interviews, or the Wednesday Coach show, or even the away games. Then I thought; great; I’ll splurge for the Pioneervision- then I got screwed when NHCHVision came along… I have to subscribe to both, in order to get the games I want??? And don’t know who gets ALT2, because I don’t. And even with Pioneervision, sometimes it’s slow, or games are audio-only. No consistency. And forget it during March Madness, or Baseball finals because it gets bumped off the air. I know this is not the Twin Cities. I understand it’s about money for DU and the networks…… Is DU going to pay to be on 850KOA prime time, or Altitude Sports??? No. I get that – but it’s one factor in all of this, I believe.

        Any “fan” out there, who stopped coming because of the Coaching change – is not a fan in my opinion. Monty has proven himself. And George and Monty don’t play the game.

        But still, you ask around in “hockey circles” here, and everybody respects DU; everyone knows the stories, the heros, the wins. It’s very compelling – this little attendance ordeal they have going on.

        Another thing, the school should avoid showing empty seats in any press photos, releases, etc. Photo shop them or something; don’t post on Facebook showing empty seats when you’re promoting your athletics.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. #8 More Traditions: this really needs to be developed. DU Hockey has a proud past and those players and coaches need to be remembered. Several years ago I presented an idea to Ron Grahame about retiring some players numbers to honor past national championship teams and players; Bill Masterton, Keith Magnuson, and Matt Carle were the players I suggested to Ron and he turned me away stating :there has not been a push for this type of honor”. He was polite in watching my presentation (which I still have if anyone wants to see it) but I thought he would get behind this project.
    They should also look at a mid night madness theme, introduce the players and such, get the fans and students excited about the season and show have a hockey 101 about new rules and such.
    I think the need to look at the game experience, stop with the dumb video board presentations, kiss cam and air guitar…. really, show highlights from around the college hockey world, show more scores as well.

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  3. Make the games “fun” for the students, in time the Student Section participation will grow, the atmosphere will improve and the fanbase will grow.

    Unfortunately the administration over at University & Evans is more interested in “Inclusive Excellence” and all the baggage that comes with it, than improving the experience for students on campus.

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  4. I think some of the problems are tough to correct—all the crap to do in Denver, perhaps some nationwide drops in attendance at similar schools, etc. But where DU has consistently failed (and doesn’t appear to care one bit) is in creating a COLLEGE atmosphere. Ya know, something to differentiate the DU game experience from the hundreds of other sporting events in town. We have a school over 150 years old, with an extremely proud hockey tradition. Yet DU has done nothing to emphasize this. Their goal with the kiss cams, blasting music at every opportunity, censoring student chants,etc. seems to be to make people FORGET they are at a college game. It’s really quite ridiculous. I think it is really strange that attendance dropped off so sharply after Gwoz left, but i have a hard time figuring out a connection there with the bad attendance.

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  5. Mentions about censoring student chants is accurate. I know for a fact a member of the athletic department has gone to the student section before a hockey game and told students to tone it down and not say this or that. This turned off some students. They want to have fun but get scolded. The ushers/security people by the student section also are too rigid with the students and they act like they’re real law enforcement and not wanna-be’s.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Too bad about the censorship issue. And you can bet that the students who get turned off by the censorship and stop coming to the games aren’t going to be replaced in the stands by the eggshell thin skinned folks who can’t handle hearing that opposing goalie’s mom is whore.

    Another potential factor–DU isn’t just a hockey school anymore. This might not be a huge factor, but the fact that you can attend lacrosse games and see DU win championships in that sport makes attending a hockey game slightly less urgent (at least for me….occasionally anyway)

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  7. I’ve come to 60% of games for 10 years now. There is no incentive to buy season tickets. Price is the same, available seats are the same. No alumni or season ticket discount. Why take on the trouble of getting rid of the games you can’t make, it’s difficult to give away tickets.

    Nonetheless, I got season tickets last year solely out of support for the program. This year, no one from ticket office followed up with me to renew except maybe a mass email. I just never got around to it, and have now bought tickets to the games I can attend.

    I remember one year recently after the second game in 1st round conf playoff that forced a game 3, I was in line at the box office to buy tickets to the 3rd game. The head of ticket sales at the time was actively encouraging people to get out of line, go home and buy them online so that he and box office staff could go home. You have an active audience of excited fans and you’re discouraging sales. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.

    I understand and agree with all the issues in the article. I’m also confident that DU athletic department / sales is part of the problem. They could do a way better job.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ticket prices and concessions for single games have gotten too high. That has cut down on how many games I go to. For the price of two good tickets, a few beers, and something to eat now equal a fall (not peak winter, but fall) hotel room in the mountains. So for an early fall something to do, I’ll head up there for a weekend instead of one game at DU. This year, they offered $10 tickets to a few games, and I snapped those up. But I skipped the $35+ games.

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  9. I can’t agree more about DU failing to produce a true “college atmosphere”. It certainly feels like a pro event, but the Avs are in town and DU needs to make its experience unique. Having tons of rowdy students is a great thing, imo. It’s less family-friendly but it’s really not hard to find seats away from the student-section if someone is that concerned.

    Need to incentivize Greek life to come. Donors need to step up (I’ll put my money where my mouth is here, too) and sponsor Greek events or whatever is necessary to get several hundred of these guys to go. Once enough go then it builds on itself as word gets out and they recruit friends, etc. Not to mention these guys get very rowdy.

    NCAA needs to bring down the number of games so that instead of 19 home games we get about 14 in a year. Back-to-back home opponents gets old too, I don’t want to go to see DU play any team twice in the same weekend. Many of us have families and that’s not a productive use of time.

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  10. Yes, $45 is a lot, but those are most likely Crimson Club seats for an elite opponent (BU). Most DU hockey tickets, for most games, cost less than $35, which I think is an excellent value for the level of entertainment provided, and almost always far less than the cost of comparable NHL tickets. DU Hockey has about a $2 million budget, which it requires in order to be an effective player at the national level, and it is the only athletic program that makes a real profit at DU. The program could never sustain that kind of budget without the ticket prices we have pay. When I add it all up, few purchases in life have brought me anywhere near the joy that this program has over years. I’ve owned many far more expensive things in life that have never made me feel as good as watching the Pios…In short, the value for money is there, at least for me…

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  11. $45 for section 2. I have tickets for a game in February, the same, $45. Factor in paying to park, a drink, maybe a snack. It’s not inexpensive. I chose to pay that amount to sit there. But this weekend and February are the only games I’m going to.

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    1. A number of reasons why I rarely attend:

      Ticket prices are way too high.
      Boone fiasco
      Gwozdecky’s ouster
      DU’s incessant pushing of basketball

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  12. I was a Dallas Cowboys fan until JJ fired Tom Landry in an disrespectful manner. Likewise I was a DU season ticket holder for 6 years prior to Peggy’s treating Gwoz the same way. I know I should get over it, but I haven’t. Nothing against Monty, but my heart’s not in it.

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  13. Interesting about having no college atmosphere. UNO had that same issue at thier old arena – it felt like a minor league game enviornment, with all kinds of promotions, signage, suites, good food choices, the big venue with hotel attached. Its a wonderful arena…and I think they filled it up pretty good, too. I’d compare it to an Eagles game here. So I’m curious if they’re getting over that “stigma” there, now that they have an on-campus arena, that is smaller. Thier problem wasn’t attendance though. They did a good job orfmarketing it in a minor-league way to group sales and suites too.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. With over 500 views and 20+ comments, this story has been the most read piece I’ve ever posted here. Thank you for that! I love all the different comments this story generated and I hope the “Powers that Be” are reading all of these over at the Ritchie Center. After all, this is one of the very few places on the internet where serious DU fans do post opinions, and I think these are the most important fans DU has, other than high level donors…

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  15. Look this is the problem…I was a season ticket holder for 28 years. when they canned George G. I was done. When they canned Boone I was really done.It’s not fun anymore. Bring back “Rock and Roll part II” after a goal.That get’s people INVOLVED.
    Coombe and Peg have sterilized the game to the point of being dead. They show no loyalty or dedication to tradition. It’s almost as if they want to kill the hockey fan base and move them to a more P.C Basketball program (Diversity us to death). DU has become a snob university for a bunch of over potty trained PC snobs. Deal with it or die.

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