The Sin Bin

September 12, 2009 11:39 PM

Economics of college hockey and banking on rivalries.

College hockey is built on tradition and driven by storied rivalries; these are the game(s) that college hockey fans mark on their calendar and look forward to. These games are also the ones that college hockey programs count on to make their most money.  These rival games are also the ones that college hockey programs charge the most money, its these division hockey programs meal tickets that can make or break the bottom line for athletic department. So naturally college athletic departments are going to bank on these rivalries and charge accordingly.


For example; if you were going to walk up the arena box office at my favorite school UND, Ralph Engelstad Arena would charge you more money for the premiere match ups than the not so premiere match ups. I digress; for example if you lucky enough to get a chance to buy tickets to Sioux Vs Gophers series (They sell out in like 10 minutes) they would cost you $45.00 a piece. Next in the ticket price progression; if you were to buy tickets for Pioneers Vs Sioux and or Badgers Vs Sioux they would run you $40.00 a piece. I believe that the University of North Dakota could charge $45.00 for both of these series as well and sell out. Shhhh! Please don't tell the arena box office.


On the flip side of that you only pay $25.00 to watch a proverbial doormat team like UAA, Merrimack or MTU. Granted in some cases the arena will be just as full but it cost you less to sit in the same seat. Don't worry though the concessions are going to be the same price for either series, and yes it will cost you an arm and a leg regardless. That's another story for another day.


It's not just Ralph Engelstad Arena that has these types of ticket price policies. I know it's like that at other arenas because if I was to travel down to Saint Cloud to buy a ticket to the National Hockey Center (aka the Concrete Center) to watch a Sioux and Huskies game I know that I am going to pay more money for that game than I would If I was going to buy a ticket for SCSU Vs MTU game. That is not meant to disrespect MTU that just the brutal reality. The same would be true for the Gophers and Huskies game. That's the economics of the college hockey game and there are some schools making obscene amounts of money on their division one hockey programs. In fact some of these programs are using this revenue to pay for their schools other sports programs.  


What does your program charge for a rival hockey game? I would imagine that B.C. Vs BU is going to cost more money than BU and Merrimack College (no offense to Merrimack). I would also bet that Michigan Vs Michigan State would cost more than Michigan Vs Lake Superior State University.



Not all are equal


I think that might be an understatement of facts, but think about this, American International, Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac, Bowling Green University, LSSU or the University of Connecticut are not making as much money on their division one college hockey team as teams like Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, North Dakota or OSU for that matter. It's a historical fact.  


In the WCHA for example there are a three schools that have huge advantages financially over the other school in division one hockey with their gigantic arenas that can provide huge paydays for their schools, examples are Minnesota 10,000+, Wisconsin 14,000+ and UND 11,500 you do the math. On the flip side of that other schools are playing in half empty arenas. Another factor is that isn't talked about a lot is that teams like Wisconsin, Denver University, Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State, Boston University, Boston College and North Dakota also have a good number of their games on television and thanks to local deals as well as Fox Sports/FCS/NESN  you can see a lot of these team's games on television. I can watch D.U. almost as much as I can watch my own team thanks to FCS. Some of the other programs in college hockey not so much.   


Taking it further there are two other schools that have bigger arenas than the fore mentioned WCHA teams; but put up significantly lower attendance numbers last season. These two teams are UNO which plays in the Quest Center 16,680 averaged 6216 fans per game last season; the Mavericks should improve their attendance numbers when they officially join the WCHA in 2010-2011. On the other hand Ohio State University plays in Value City Arena 17,500 average attendance was 4181 per game and they had a decent team that made the NCAA playoffs as an at large bid.


UNO fortunes will of course probably change as they are joining the WCHA led by former UND and Fargo Force head coach Dean Blais. The move to hire Dean Blais by UNO brought immediate credibility to the UNO hockey program and probably will mean bigger and better bigger pay days for the UNO program. The WCHA has is known for having impressive attendance figures and WCHA teams are used to playing in large sold out arenas. There are also a few of their WCHA rivals which are known for having bigger crowds than some of the other big four conferences. One of the main reasons is that they will have a better on ice product because of their new coach and some of the WCHA teams fans travel pretty well i.e., Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota. With adding UNO to the WCHA DU and C.C. fans will also have a drivable trip to Omaha where they don't have to fly to. I could see a mid-winter vacation in Omaha myself.


Economic concerns and travel were some of the reasons that the CCHA gave for denying UAH's application for membership, there had been pontifications about the some of the teams in the CCHA suffering from financial woes and wanting to be able to capitalize on playing the Michigan and Michigan State teams more because they draw more at the gate.  I guess I can see what they are getting at to a certain degree because I don't blame the have not like WMU, LSSU, FSU, and BGSU wanting to pad their bottom line to put butts in the seats. Teams like Michigan, Michigan State, BU, B.C., Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota are big draw teams that puts fans in the stands, especially if your school is suffering from economic woes.  



Who are your favorite team's rivals?


Examples of good college hockey rivalries that are also big time money makers; SCSU Vs UMN, UMD Vs UMN, DU and C.C. (Gold Pan), UND Vs UMN, UW Vs UMN (Border Battle), UND Vs UW, MSU-M Vs UND, BSU Vs UAH (Who hates Huntsville), MTU Vs NMU (Battle of the UP), BU Vs B.C., UNH Vs BU, UNH Vs Maine and U-Mich Vs MSU. If I missed any rivalries I apologize. I have a western bias of course. What is your favorite college hockey match up?


It was not my intention to disrespect a particular league or particular team.  Personally, I don't watch the ECAC (aka the EZAC) very often so I might have missed the Cornell and Yale match up. Also, college hockey is very regional and I  like many other WCHA  or CCHA fans might not consider the fore mentioned game a premiere match up or a must see. I mean I do live in the west. That's not to say that I haven't watched said match up such as that. I have been known to watch match ups like this if these games are on CBS college sports (aka the CCHA television network) or FCS. That is another discussion for another day. None the less, these big time rival games are the games that you as the college hockey fan mark on your calendar and incidentally you may pay a bundle of money to attend these games. For that we give you rube cred.

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