Last night, a bit after 11:00 PM Eastern, Michigan Tech’s Jake Jackson slipped a puck past MSU Mankato’s Connor LaCouvee in OT to lock up a berth in the WCHA playoff game at Northern Michigan this coming Saturday. Less than nine hours later, tickets are already on sale, but only in person at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. TV6 posted a video to Facebook showing a line looping around the arena concourse this morning, as fans tried to get tickets for the matchup.

While normally a line like that for any event would be a good thing, it’s a line that was created with literally nine hours of notice, and a line that severely limits the ability of out-of-town and road fans to get tickets, many of whom would travel not just from Houghton, but from various cities around the region. At this time, reports are that NMU only has to release a minimum of 150 tickets to MTU, and that that number includes the 25 band seats (UPDATE: 150 tickets plus tickets for player families and the band). According to Northern Michigan’s own website, the Berry has a maximum ticketing capacity of about 4,260 for hockey. In all, this means that they only have to sell ~3.6% of seats to MTU fans. That’s good for the Wildcats—it’s an easy way to ensure a home-friendly crowd—but it seems to run counter to the league’s own statements when they announced the new playoff format:

“Much of what makes the WCHA so special are our passionate fan bases and fantastic in-arena atmospheres, which will only be heightened in a playoff series or in a single game with a championship and NCAA Tournament berth on the line.

“The opportunity to compete for the Broadmoor Trophy* in a unique, frenzied atmosphere promises to be a fantastic experience for our student-athletes, our institutions and our fans. We look forward to watching a new WCHA tradition grow and flourish.” – Bill Robertson, WCHA President and Men’s Commissioner

* It’s not the Broadmoor Trophy anymore, but it was when this release was sent out in May 2016.

That this is probably the strongest rivalry in the conference makes this particular championship a good litmus test for the presence of a “frenzied atmosphere.” While I’m hardly advocating that the seating should be evenly divided among the home fans and the road fans—it would be pretty unfair to the team that earned home-ice advantage—I think it should be self-evident that allowing only 3.9% of tickets to go to road fans is definitively a poor balance.

Let’s leave home-ice advantage aside for a second. Even for the Wildcats’ fanbase, this sales policy can be rather inaccessible. They gave only nine hours of notice and put tickets on in-person-only sale at 8:00 AM on a Monday. This easily excludes non-local fans and fans who have to be at a job at 8:00 AM. The school has made accommodations for students, however, reserving some tickets to be distributed on campus to students from 11:00-1:00. Regardless, the number of fans left out in the cold on this (metaphorically, of course; the line at the Berry is at least inside) is large.

By contrast, for last year’s series, tickets were made available online and by phone, and were more equitably available to road fans. While some seats were reserved (season ticket holders had until 5:00 on Wednesday to claim their seats, and 650 student walk-up tickets were held back), the rest could be purchased by anybody, anywhere. While I acknowledge that as the editor of a site called Tech Hockey Guide, I might come off as having some bias, but these are two very clearly different models for ticketing the same conference’s championship. One model is incredibly restrictive and works against out-of-town fans of any team, while the other preserves home-ice advantage by explicitly reserving some tickets for select groups of home fans while allowing the remainder to be freely purchased on a much more accessible marketplace. That more open model worked, with a sellout crowd of 4,466 providing “fantastic in-arena atmosphere” for fans of both teams.

Such disparity in models is entirely allowed by WCHA policy. Matt Hodson, WCHA Associate Commissioner of Marketing and Communications, told THG by phone that the WCHA Management Council and the Tournament Committee set a number of tickets that must be made available on consignment to be purchased by the road team’s box office. The road team may do with those consignement tickets as they see fit, and it is up to the home team’s box office to determine what to do with the remaining tickets in terms of distribution. When asked what the minimum consignment was, he confirmed that it was a fixed number (as opposed to a percentage) and said, “It is WCHA policy that I cannot disclose that number.”

Andrew LaCombe of TV6 has tweeted that representatives of both teams will be on a conference call with the league office this afternoon to discuss the game. Joel Isaacson, MTU’s Associate Athletic Director for External Relations, confirmed with THG by phone that he only expects 150 tickets at this time. A call with the MTU box office confirmed that all 150 tickets have been allocated, and there is no waitlist being kept at this time. We can only hope that the league puts pressure on the NMU athletic department to make tickets more accessible to potential buyers. Unfortunately, it may be too late to do anything, as over 2,000 tickets were sold in the first 90 minutes, and there are still fans waiting in line after 3 hours, while we are hearing that only SRO tickets remain.

So let’s say that all of the tickets sell out before this conference call, what should the WCHA do?

  1. Accept and address the oversight. It happens. The WCHA Championship is still a new format, and this is only the sophomore effort. Mistakes happen, and the best way to convince the fans that you care is to acknowledge that it happened and address what you will do moving forward.
  2. Require off-site sales. Home fans aren’t always located at home. Tickets need to be available to people willing to travel to the game. As a resident of a metro that just spent a lot of money on hosting a Super Bowl, I hate to say “It will stimulate the local economy,” but it’s true. You get all of those out-of-towners coming in and patronizing local hotels and restaurants, and it will make for a good weekend for local business. It’s also a great chance for a WCHA member institution to show off to their alumni and make a case for donations, perhaps even to their hockey program.
  3. Increase the mandatory minimum ticket consignment for the road team. This is a no-brainer. 150 tickets is a pittance in many WCHA arenas. The minimum should be increased to 10% of total seating capacity. Again, teams shouldn’t have to give away home-ice advantage, but the idea that a crowd of less than 5% opposing fans can showcase “passionate fanbases” is clearly problematic.

It’s certainly time to accept that the change to on-campus playoffs and championships was a positive move both in terms of finances and in terms of fan experience, but there’s still clear and obvious room for improvement. So many fans are being ignored in a way that’s easy to correct with some instruction from the league. It’s hard to celebrate college hockey when college hockey is inaccessible to so many fans.

UPDATE (12:30 ET):

We’ve now had reports from two separate sources who were at the Berry (one MTU and one NMU source) that while there was a limit of 10 tickets per transaction, multiple season ticket holders were simply getting back in the much shorter STH-only line to purchase more tickets as a separate transaction—including one report of a fan buying as many as 40 tickets this way. On top of that, THG staff have also seen posts on social media of fans in Marquette attempting to resell their tickets. This makes it clear that on-site-only sales have been at most a speed bump to potential scalpers, while harming traveling fans of any team.

UPDATE 2 (2:20 ET):

A few more things to add now:

  • TV6 is now reporting that the NMU Public Safety are looking into reports of scalping. It is against state law to scalp tickets for higher than face value, and offenders face up to 90 days of jail time or a $100 fine. This doesn’t stop tickets from being resold at face value, though.
  • A woman declared in a comment on Facebook that her family’s allotment of tickets through the season ticket priority program was sold to another season ticket holder without permission or checking ID. She is also a third source to comment on people going through the line multiple times to make multiple 10-ticket transactions.
  • We checked in with Drew Evans of BGSUhockey.com, and he had this to say about last year’s ticket sales: “There was a lot of frustration for how tickets were handled. MTU ticket office was telling BG fans to contact the BG ticket office, but our office was telling people they didn’t have any tickets. Otherwise I think fans liked the format and those who traveled to Houghton enjoyed the trip.”

On the whole, it seems like there needs to be pressure on league member institutions to have plans in place for ticket sales well before they lock up home ice, as there was even some frustration with how Michigan Tech communicated last season’s ticket sale methodology (increased accessibility aside). It is also now very clear that on-site-only sales did nothing to curb scalping, and that doing them that way was meant to exclude away fans, even if it meant collateral damage by leaving out home fans who couldn’t be at the Berry at 8:00 this morning.

Cover photo credit Bob Gilreath.

15 COMMENTS

  1. Yes NMU and the WCHA really dropped the ball on this one. They all but ensured a Marquette-only crowd. A shame. This after I heard from multiple people that on the radio broadcast last night they said there would be online sales beginning last night which never happened. Miscommunication? Poor planning? Probably too late to fix anything for this game, but let’s have a better strategy next year no matter where the championship is held. I was personally lucky this morning; I got my 10 tickets which will be distributed between 7 Husky fans and 3 Wildcat fans. Go Tech!

  2. This one really worked me up. Why? Because it is bad for hockey and fans. Sure protect home ice, yes allow more ticket access to NMU fans, but don’t shut out the rest of us!

    I live in Illinois, have a son attending MTU and a daughter going to NMU. We wanted to attend the game, a great life experience and bonding moment for us. Stolen away because of some reason(s) that do not promote hockey or benefit fans. A bad precedence to set (or continue). Wars start this way and are harder to end than avoid.

    I won’t even bring up the fact that NMU took advantage of their ticketing policy knowing it was Spring Break week. For shame.

    In the end, for me, it just tarnishes the reputation on NMU and their athletics department. It shows me that petty differences are more important than promoting the sport. Very sad indeed.

    Just my two cents.

    • I am calm, but thank you. What I said would equally apply to Tech if they had done it. Perhaps you missed my point that hockey suffers and I do have one at tech and one a NMU, so I come in with no bias.

  3. So this is the best response: Win the Broadmoor Trophy on the Wildcat’s home ice, securing an NCAA playoff berth in the process, and celebrate the victory in front of their 4000+ fans. Go Tech!

  4. Three points: 1. You are rewarded for having a better regular season record, if you don’t like the ticket policy do better during the regular season. 2. People complaining might ruin a good thing. I don’t think anybody wants to see the league playoffs go to Green Bay or Grand Rapids or some other neutral site. 3. This was the perfect storm. If it was NMU or BG going to Mankato there wouldn’t be nearly the same demand for visitors tickets.
    One more, GO TECH!

  5. If NMU had filled a rink for most games that would be one thing but watching video from the other playoff games the attendance was pathetic. This had nothing to do with students on break either. The only games they had decent attendance was when they played Tech. They are denying lots of knowledgeable hockey fans throughout the UP a chance to attend.

  6. What were the reported attendance records for the 3 BGU games this past weekend. On Friday & Sunday it appeared that the side opposite the cameramans panning a was easily 60%+ Devoid of fans . The announcers stated a better crowd on Saturday nite statin some of the students were returning early from spring break. Mankato’s announcers applauded and complimented the Tech fan base that traveled almost to the Iowa border. No problem nearing capacity all 3 nites. Sad performance for Northern drops my opinion of the entire Institution.

    • Per box scores posted in USCHO: Game 1 – 2,690, Game 2 – 3,376, Game 3 – 2,373. Per Wikipedia, capacity for hockey is 3,902. What I don’t know is whether NMU was on break that weekend, which would’ve hurt the attendance. I also looked at their last two home series (other than Tech) – they seemed to draw around 2,000 for the Friday games and 2,600 for the Saturday games. Both were against bad teams (Lake State & Alaska), so that probably didn’t help attendance much.

  7. Hmmm. As I write this, StubHub has nothing for this game. That surprises me, since they *do* seem to have plenty of seats for the B1G championship in South Bend. Then again, they did have the extra day. From the sounds of the article, tickets should start showing up any time now.

    • Update: As I write this, there are still *no* tickets on offer on either StubHub or SeatGeek. Very interesting…

  8. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with how the tickets were split. There’s a ton of Tech alumni and fans living in the Mqt area. I’m sure when the game starts, there will be 15-20% of the crowd rooting for Tech. Which is appropriate. NMU did mess up on the 10 ticket limit and not having a system in place restricting STH from making multiple purchases.

  9. It is history now. But for the record, Tech did host this game last season and Tech did not do the same thing. Tech asked Bowling Green how many tickets they wanted set aside and Tech provided that amount. After Bowling Green sold what they could, they returned the unsold ones to Tech to sell. That is a good sportsman way to handle it. I don’t know where Tech might have capped it if BG had asked for an excessive number. What they did provide to BG was much higher than what NMU offered up this year. If teams cannot be a little more generous in this, the league will need to act to set down some rules. it would be nice if that was not necessary.

Comments are closed.