Monday, March 21, 2011

Parting Final Five Notes

Many Questions Abound with College Hockey Changes

Once again, the WCHA Final Five displayed high quality hockey in a great arena. The championship game, a 3-2 2OT North Dakota win, was just the crown jewel of this year’s tourney.

The absence of the Gophers and Badgers was noted in discussions about the new WCHA when Bi6 Ten hockey starts. Some will say that attendance was good and there is no need to worry, but there are some interesting questions and points that become evident when one digs deeper.

  • How much of the attendance was UMTC fans who pre-purchased the Final Five “season” ticket? The crowd for Thursday’s first game was OK, and then fell off the charts for the second game. Second period of the UAA-CC game was maybe 6,000 (official attendance for Thursday’s single session was 13,131). There was never near 10,000 in the arena at one time by our estimate. 
The tournament is the cash cow for the WCHA. UND fans arguably have the greatest numbers of fans who travel to the Final Five. Can they be relied upon to carry the ticket load?
  • Can a new WCHA afford to rent the Xcel Energy Center for three days? If the fans don’t come in large numbers, the league cannot possibly pay for the premier arena in Minnesota. 
A solution might include making the tournament into a traveling venue to school arenas. But that too would likely not bring in the money that the WCHA needs to run. 
Another solution would be to make the tournament smaller, a four team tournament, and add back in the third place game. Every other 12 team conference has a four team tournament, some with and some without the third place game. The third pace game ensures two games for each team and would likely increase traveling fans. 
So far the questions have centered basically around money, and that leads us to the last question:
  • Who will televise the tournament and will they pay as much for the rights? Right now FSN televises the tournament which is natural because they also televise the Gopher games. Take out the Gophers and what do you have for television? It is doubtful that a network will pay as much to televise a tournament without UMTC and UW in it.
A main reason to create the Bi6 Ten is for more usage of BTN (Big Ten Network). Will the Gophers be exclusively on BTN for Bi6 Ten games? Will FSN cover college hockey anymore?
The landscape of college hockey will change when the Bi6 Ten forms. How exactly it will affect the new WCHA is still in the questions to be answered. It will be interesting to see how the WCHA morphs its identity and eventually its tournament to succeed in the new landscape.

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