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Gophers football attendance up in P.J. Fleck's first year, but season tickets down

A Minnesota Golden Gophers fan holds up a sign during the first quarter against the Wisconsin Badgers last season at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jesse Johnson / USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS—Attendance at TCF Bank Stadium was up in P.J. Fleck's first season as the University of Minnesota's football coach.

Average attendance for the Gophers' home games in 2016, Tracy Claeys' only season as head coach, was 43,813, the lowest since TCF Bank Stadium opened for the 2009 season. That improved by an average of 545 fans a game in 2017, to 44,358, in Fleck's first season in Minnesota.

The slight increase is in stark contrast with an average drop of nearly 1,000 fans across all Football Bowl Subdivision home games from 2016 to 2017, according to NCAA figures.

The Gophers' season-ticket total, however, has dipped 726 from 22,131 a year ago to 21,405 as of Aug. 2, the U told the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Friday, Aug. 10. The renewal rates have been 87 percent in both years, the school said.

Athletics Director Mark Coyle was encouraged by the overall increase in attendance, but wants to push the mark closer to TCF Bank Stadium's capacity of 50,805.

Coyle pointed to the success of Gopher Loyalty Program, which is in its second year of providing fans with customized experiences for the sports they care about. They've solicited feedback from fans in the program and have tailored their offerings, including revised concessions menus at TCF Bank Stadium.

"I promise that we are listening to our fans, and obviously, we need to sell more tickets," Coyle said. "Season-ticket sales for football or any program is the backbone ... in terms of generating some significant revenue for our department. So, obviously, we will continue to be aggressive."

The Gophers can add to their season-ticket total through the season opener against New Mexico State on Aug. 30.

'They will battle'

What are Coyle's goals for the football team this season?

"I think we are the second- or third-youngest team in the country (and) we are in the Big Ten," the AD said. "What I know we will see is a team that competes and gives everything they have. That is P.J.'s personality, and I think you will see a team that reflects that personality. I look forward to us watching them compete, and I know they will battle for us."

Thanks, Mark

Each football player has sent Coyle a handwritten thank-you card for the U's new outdoor Field Turf, an identical match of the surface they have in the indoor practice facility.

"It's pretty cool," Coyle said. "I've been an AD for seven years and I've never gotten a thank-you note from a student-athlete saying thank you for a new practice field."

Coyle also mentioned how the Gophers sent an oar as a token of condolence to the family of Tyler Hilinski, the Washington State quarterback who committed suicide in January.

"We talk about being defined by our actions, and I think that the team and Coach Fleck and his staff have done a phenomenal job of moving us forward," Coyle said.