Thursday, January 23, 2014

Minnesota College Teams Launch 'New Tradition'

The first Beanpot was played in 1952. A total of 8,487 people attended the two-day event, which was won by Harvard.

The tournament didn't draw a two-session total over 10,000 until 1958, and no single session of the Beanpot drew 10,000 until 1960.

Every Beanpot since 1979 has been a total sellout.

I've been covering college hockey in this area for around a decade and a half, in some way, shape, or form. Back when I had a daily call-in talk show, it wasn't a hockey season until a discussion was had about the potential of doing an all-Minnesota college hockey tournament.

It's been obvious to me for years that college hockey fans in this state wanted to develop something special the way Boston folks did with the Beanpot.

But until the WCHA broke up, there was really no reason for anyone to do it. The potential participants -- UMD, St. Cloud State, Minnesota, Minnesota State, and eventually Bemidji State -- all played in the WCHA. They saw each other 2-4 times per regular season. There was no reason to throw together a tournament, especially when we all knew it would be at XCel Energy Center if it ever existed.

Sure, it would be cool to play, but what would be the point? The lure? The draw? What fans would pay $75-100 for tickets, plus more for food and lodging, to watch matchups that were happening all the time over the course of the regular season?

Now, the WCHA as we knew it is no more. The NCHC, Big Ten, and WCHA house the five Minnesota Division I teams. And Minnesota saw the void and the opportunity.

The North Star College Cup has been born.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or who listened to the radio last week knows I'm skeptical. I'm not skeptical because I don't think we have the potential for something special here. I'm not skeptical because I don't like the idea of the five Minnesota college teams having a tournament every year.

Instead, I'm skeptical for other reasons.

1. For this to be a success in either the short- or long-term, it has to be a celebration of Minnesota college hockey. That means it can't be all about the Gophers, even if they are the permanent tournament "host" and will never rotate out of the field. As Minnesota State second-year Mike Hastings said this week, it "has to be an event." If it's all about the Gophers, it won't be the event that it has to be to succeed.

Part of this is presentation, both in the arena and on television. I'm very interested to see how this plays out.

2. Everyone involved is making a sacrifice in the short team, even Minnesota. Unless I'm blown away by crowd sizes Friday and Saturday, there probably won't be enough revenue to distribute to make up for the potential home games that everyone is missing out on to play in this tournament.

Even a middling home gate of 5,000 per game will draw in a good chunk of change for UMD, and we can get that playing some random non-conference opponent.

Same goes for the other three teams playing this weekend. And that has to be okay.

To build any kind of event and get any kind of gauge of the chances we have of making this succeed, it's going to take five years and maybe a decade. That's reality.

3. There can't be panic or immediate comparisons to the Beanpot. The Beanpot is a tradition that has lasted over six decades. It involves four huge institutions (combined enrollment of around 90,000) in a huge hockey-mad city. There is no travel expense involved in attending games, except for out-of-town alumni.

The North Star College Cup is in its first year. It involves four teams that have a combined enrollment of around 90,000 (Minnesota is over 50,000), but two of them are an hour drive from the Twin Cities, and another is over two hours away. Many fans will stay in hotels Friday night and maybe Saturday, too.

Should this event sell out the XCel Energy Center? Probably, but nothing blows up like that the first time it's done. The organizers need to work hard to make sure this is a special weekend that celebrates the history and traditions of all four programs.

"I think a few years down the road, when the worlds settle a bit, there will be a bit more demand, and this will grow into more of an event," good friend Jess Myers said this week. He's been around this sport longer than I have (read: He's older than me), and he hit the nail on the head this week. I think everyone involved will -- maybe not on the record -- agree.

That's why I'm skeptical.

People are typically not patient. Fans will assume that this one failing to fill the building means every future NSCC is going to fail to fill the building, too. Some might go to the event, look around at a mass of empty seats, and give up on it completely. Perhaps the sight of empty seats on TV will turn off network producers or event organizers.

Can't happen.

This is a long-term investment in an event that's been a long time coming for Minnesota college hockey fans. Now that the trigger has been pulled on it, we have to see it through and not be quick to give up on it.

1 comment:

Ryan Krajewski said...

Bruce, great blog post. Hit the skepticism on the head and put the onus on Minnesota college hockey fans to either build this up or not. You're right, this has to start somewhere and sometime. Today's the day and St. Paul's the place. If done right, and with a tad bit of patience from the fan base - I think we can make a "Beanpot" of our own.