The last Wisconsin men’s hockey game that I attended was Sunday, Feb. 24, when the Badgers took on first-year Division 1 program Penn State at a sparsely populated Kohl Center. Two out of the three things that I just stated sound completely and utterly wrong in the eyes of any true Wisconsin hockey fan, and no, one of them isn’t the fact that Penn State now has a hockey team. A Sunday, Monday hockey series? An almost, if that, half-full Kohl Center?
I like to tell a tall tale now and again, but I assure you this isn’t one of them. These things are actually happening in the sport that only a few short decades ago was the only thing in the Athletic Department worthy of watching. But now it appears the Wisconsin Athletic Department has forgotten about the time when hockey was the only revenue sport because, as we all know, football and Barry Alvarez happened.
Wait just a minute though, let me rephrase what I just said. It’s not that the Athletic Department has lost sight of one sport in hockey; it’s forgotten about us, the fans, who attend not just hockey, but all sports.
I’m a freshman and although I purchased student season tickets this season for hockey, the two previous years — my junior and senior years of high school — I had my own season tickets. I paid for a seat and half of another, while my loving mother afforded the cost of what was left because neither of my brothers was dumb enough to spend as much as I did. Sure, I saved two dollars a seat for each game by getting season tickets, but was it worth it? Nope.
First of all, if you even want season tickets you have to make a donation for each seat, and the better the seat the more the donation. But if you thought this was a donation, and you actually thought you had a choice like I did, well you’re wrong. So, needless to say it’s not much of a donation, and channeling my inner Barry DeJay from the “Backyard Basketball” series, I was dropping dimes like there was a hole in my pocket.
And when you give an athletic department money, it’s going to want more money. If you want to park within an astronomical unit of the Kohl Center — yes, that’s the distance to the sun, a little exaggerated but it sure seems that way in the winter — you’re going to have to fork out the cash. To me, paying $15 or even $20 to park somewhat close to the Kohl Center wasn’t worth it, so I parked at an undisclosed location and made a slightly longer trek.
When I finally arrived at the Kohl Center, I didn’t even bother to bring my hunger with me because I wasn’t about to pay $8 to eat taco salad or $5 for an ice cream cone. And every Friday over the two years as I plopped down into my seat, which should have been gold plated for what I paid for it, I slowly began to discover a recurring trend. Not only was the Kohl Center more empty than full, over the course of the two years it became progressively more so. People weren’t going to pay all of these fees just to see a mediocre hockey team.
Recently, this attendance trend has not been contained to just hockey. Even basketball and football are experiencing it to to a degree. In its game against Green Bay Dec. 7, 2011, the men’s basketball team’s streak of 143 consecutive sellouts was snapped. Two years earlier when the Badgers hosted Wofford in football, a 41-game sellout streak was also put to rest. Both sports, basketball especially, have had problems filling the stands on a regular basis, and now advertise for tickets — something they didn’t do 10 years ago.
Ticket prices can’t be blamed completely for the lower attendance marks, but whether poorer quality opponents, worse Badgers teams or an economic downturn are at fault, it’s clear the high ticket prices and all the fees associated with them aren’t helping fill the now vacant seats in the revenue sports.
But why should these seats be full when you have to pay almost as much to park at a hockey or basketball game as you do for the ticket? Then you have series like the Sunday-Monday games against Penn State getting moved to a different time, and this weekend’s series against St. Cloud State getting moved to a different place.
The UW Athletic Department knows it can make money off the WIAA State Tournament at the Kohl Center for basketball, while magically playing off this weekend’s hockey series as a “Return to the Coliseum.” According to Ticketmaster, the games aren’t even close to sold out. Coincidence? Hardly.
We all know the world now spins on its axis by way of money’s sheer pull instead of gravity, but when will I be treated like a fan again and not just several hundred dollars worth of convenience fees? When will I get to watch the hockey team play where it’s supposed to play? But the million dollar question for both the athletic department and me is: when will Camp Randall and the Kohl Center be sold out like they once were?
Dan is a freshman intending to major in journalism. Think the Athletic Department has made the right moves? Let him know now by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.