With the Big Ten programs so spread out, attendance may never be as great as we want it to be. But the attendance from the Big Ten tournament in Detroit were embarrassing.
Michigan played in all three games this weekend, including two weekend nights. Despite the local program’s presence, fans didn’t come out the Joe Louis Arena. Not even when Michigan and Michigan State faced off on Friday night.
If two local teams, featuring players like Zach Hyman, Dylan Larkin (a Red Wings prospect), Zach Werenski, Jake Hildebrand, Josh Jacobs, can’t draw fans of teams in their own state, there’s a problem.
Attendance was much better last year in St. Paul, with Minnesota as the local team. Wisconsin is a little further away, but Badgers fans still came out to support their team. And some Gophers fans took the trip to see the championship game on Saturday.
After this weekend, I assume the Big Ten tournament will not draw well outside of St. Paul. I loved last year’s tournament, from Minneapolis to the X. But having the tournament in MSP each year isn’t fair to the other four teams that have to travel.
Which is why they should move it to Chicago.
I’m biased towards Chicago because I love that city. But it’s central to the core of the conference (sorry, Penn State). It has easy-to-use public transportation, is a great city, provides opportunities for fan engagement and it’s where the conference is headquartered. There’s more to do in Chicago on a Saturday than there is in Detroit or Minneapolis, giving fans an added reason to travel (Most fans, would have to travel anyway).
Honestly, I’m not sure if the attendance issue can ever be fixed. But there are steps the conference can take to make the tournament more fan-friendly, easier to get to, and more fun to attend. Because right now, there’s not much incentive to go.
The B1G has to work for it
When the conference was founded for hockey, it threw a bunch of brand-name programs together. But having historic, winning schools doesn’t equal attendance success – especially if the conference is having a down year. The conference can’t expect fans to spend money and time on travel to see Big Ten hockey. It’s expensive as is, but especially for college students. If fans are going to go, it needs to be worth their time.
Take the Frozen Four. Yes, it’s a more important event, but they do a great job of keeping fans entertained with a fun atmosphere before the games. This would be great for the Big Ten – hosting an event or two around the city for fans to attend.
And then there’s marketing. Last year I didn’t see much advertising around the city, and this year all I saw were sporadic posters with the conference colors and logo. This is a conference that’s shown hockey isn’t a big priority, but they need to make it one. Spend some money on advertising. Draw in the local crowd.
(Side note: I saw more advertising from the Red Wings for the Big Ten tournament than I saw from the conference.)
Take away the Thursday game
Both years the Big Ten has drawn poor attendance for the Thursday game. Traveling for a first-round game is a low priority for fans, especially when they’re traveling far. But even when they’re not traveling far. Michigan fans didn’t show up on Thursday. But I don’t blame them, since they were almost a lock to beat Wisconsin.
I said this before the tournament, and it seems others have similar opinions. The Thursday game, featuring the four lower seeds, is better suited to a best-of-three series played at the home of the higher seed a week before the actual tournament. The schools, as hosts, have a much better chance of drawing attendance for that game than an NHL arena does, especially when it’s far away.