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Open Letter to Brad Traviolia Regarding The Big Ten Hockey Tournament

The Big Ten Hockey Tournament's attendance nightmare overshadows a very entertaining hockey tournament.

Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Dear Mr. Traviolia,

I'm going to take the liberty of speaking for a wide variety of Big Ten hockey fans (and to a lesser extent, the fans of other schools' fan-bases who are affected).  I'll start with the positives of this year's Big Ten Tournament and then move on to some ideas to improve the fan experience.

There's really only one positive I can think of, but it's an important one: four of the five games in this tournament were very entertaining, and the fifth was at least high-scoring.  Top to bottom, the teams came out and competed at a high level.  The tournament format is about as good as it can be, which resulted in a very entertaining and meaningful championship game.

The credit for the entertaining play goes directly to the athletes and coaches, all of whom showed impressive dedication and competitive spirit.

Now on to the areas of opportunity, of which I'm sure you're acutely aware: attendance and fan experience.  Since you don't have the background of life-long hockey fandom (as life-long hockey fans do), I have to take this opportunity to explain to you what we've all lost.  This applies to the fans of schools from the old CCHA and the old WCHA.  I'm going to speak to my experience as a Minnesota fan, but I'm sure it will apply to fans of Wisconsin, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State as well.  Penn State fans have so far not been able to experience  how great a conference tournament can be.

The WCHA Final Five was a true event for the region, and proximity played a major role.  St. Paul is easily within driving distance of the following schools: Minnesota, St. Cloud State, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, Wisconsin, Bemidji State, and North Dakota.  Students from these schools could afford to make the trip to the tournament.

Just as importantly, alumni of all these schools primarily move to the Twin Cities metro area for employment after they graduate.  My best friend is a North Dakota graduate (full disclore: so am I despite my Gopher fandom).  I would buy tickets to the Final Five knowing that he and I could attend together and be totally interested in the outcome of each game, even if the the Gophers and North Dakota were not playing each other.

I could say the same for every school on that list through work, softball leagues, or friends I made in high school.  I could buy two tickets to every game in that tournament, and I could attend each game with someone who cared deeply about one of the teams involved.  I would spend at least two weeks talking to all these individuals with other rooting interests before the puck dropped.  These are the reasons the tournament was so well attended.

Even fans of the Colorado schools would show up in good numbers, because the event made the trip worth the cost.

Attendance creates atmosphere.  Noise creates atmosphere.  You can't solve the atmosphere problem without attendance.  As I said, the hockey couldn't have been more entertaining.  The championship game should have blown the roof off the arena when Minnesota took one goal lead after trailing by two.

Now, contrast the WCHA Final Five situation with the Big Ten Tournament.  I've never met an alumnus of Michigan, Michigan State, or Ohio State.  I know one Penn state alumnus (my wife's cousin), and he's not a hockey fan.  There are no cultural advantages that will increase attendance for the Big Ten Tournament.

Bemidji, Minnesota State, Minnesota-Duluth, St. Cloud, and North Dakota are now split between two conferences.  The NCHC is direct competition to the Big Ten when both Tournaments are in the Twin Cities.  The WCHA makes an appearance in St. Paul when the Big Ten is absent.  There are no regional advantages that will increase attendance for the Big Ten Tournament.

In the face of all these challenges, the Big Ten chose to price ticket packages like this: $27 per session for seats behind the goals, an astounding $43 per session for seats in the corners, and $50 per decent seat.  It seems the Big Ten Conference is not accustomed to applying simple principles of microeconomics.

Here's your supply: 18,000 seats across three sessions, or 54,000 seats.  I know the upper deck seats weren't even available for purchase, but you can't ignore thousands of empty seats when you pay to rent the arena.  At the prices you've set, your demand appears to be in the 10,000 customers range.  In short, your prices are too high by a factor of five.

Here are my suggestions for improving attendance.

First, provide free admission for currently enrolled student at ANY Big Ten member school.  If you seriously want to increase the number of Big Ten teams with Varsity hockey programs, you need to build interest at those schools.  Free admission for the students also helps offset the cost of the travel, which will be significant for most students.

Moving the tournament on Campus will reduce the oversupply problem the conference currently faces.  Even at Marriucci with it's supply of 10,000 seats per session, you've reduced your supply by 40%.  Kohl Center and Schottenstein are still problems because they have too many seats, but at least there is a student population on campus.  Remember, tickets will be free for them.

Reduce the cost of non-student tickets by at least 50%.  Clearly the Big Ten has not found the supply/demand sweet spot, which is surprising since we know there are thousands of hockey fans who regularly attend games at all levels in the Xcel Energy Center.

There's no magic bullet to fix the problems with this tournament, but I think these are truly modest proposals.  I also hope you better understand what we've lost (true cultural relics we deeply loved) and why we've been pining for the old days for more than three years.

I think I can speak for everyone when I say that we desperately wish this Tournament had all the glamour and excitement of our old tournaments.  Please help us get there.