Lindsay Whalen’s first game coaching could break attendance record
Lindsay Whalen remembers what its like to play a game in a Williams Arena so packed, so loud, that its hard to hear yourself think.
And she wants to pass that on.
Whalen, in her first year coaching the Gophers women, has a lot of such memories to pull from. Most recently, the fall of last year when her Minnesota Lynx, forced to relocate to Williams for the playoffs, won Game 5 on the raised court in front of a loud house. But perhaps most powerful, is her memory of a day in early February of 2004 Whalens senior year when the Gophers whipped fifth-ranked Penn State in front of 14,363 fans.
That still stands as the biggest home crowd to watch the Gophers women play. Whalen has a picture of her and her teammates huddled before the opening tip on the wall in her office.
Its a record that should fall in just a few weeks.
Less than 500 tickets remain for Whalens opener Nov. 9, when the Gophers play host to New Hampshire. If we sell out this game, that record is history said Mills Armbruster, the assistant director of marketing at Minnesota. I fully expect that number to be broken.
Whalen and the marketing department have been working hard since she was hired last April to sell out Williams (capacity 14,625) for that night. The idea? To set the tone for Whalens first season, to pique fans interest by showing how a huge crowd can make a game special. And, for Whalen, to give her players the same experience she had.
Its to get that excitement back in the Barn, Whalen said. Just have everyone have that feeling of what its like when its full. I want our players to experience that. And I think the fans, once theyve experienced that type of atmosphere, theyll want to come back.
Whalen had an opening-night sellout on her mind even as she was taking the job. A few weeks later, when she and Armbruster first met, Whalen mentioned it, only have him say, Were already on it.
Not surprisingly, Armbruster said Whalen has been marketing gold. For example: The day before the Whalen hiring, a total of 76 new season tickets had been sold for a team coming off a trip to the second round of the NCAA tournament. The marketing departments new goal which Armbruster expects to meet is to have 1,300 new ones sold. Meanwhile, the season-ticket renewal rate is over 100 percent. And while that might seem impossible, turns out that not only have virtually all season-ticket holders renewed, several added seats to their package.
One more tidbit: Each year the program has a game where elementary and middle school fans are given seats if they can get to the arena. Last year the U campaigned for three months to get 2,500 to show up. This years game Dec. 4 vs. Incarnate Word was announced two weeks ago and already 5,000 have RSVPd.
To get the opener sold out, the U rolled out special pricing. All non-premium lower bowl seats are $5. Upper level tickets are a buck.
Were brining in 10,000 fans who werent here last year, Armbruster said. The goal is to provide them with this experience, see Lindsays first game, so they come back.
When Armbruster gave Whalen the update recently on how close the sellout was, Whalen doubled down. OK, she said, now get working on Syracuse, Minnesotas opponent in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge Nov. 29.