Season ticket sales for University of Wisconsin men’s hockey games jumped in the months following the hiring of coach Tony Granato in March 2016.
The numbers climbed again after the Badgers exceeded expectations and nearly made the NCAA tournament in 2017.
The growth trend didn’t survive UW’s losing 2017-18 season.
The Badgers have a season ticket base of 11,251 per two-game series for 2018-19, according to data released by the school. That’s a drop of 747, or 6 percent, over the 2017-18 season.
For men’s hockey, UW offers general public season tickets in two groups, a Face-Off pack that generally includes the first game of a series and a Slap-Shot package for the second game.
Including 1,600 student tickets, 576 tickets for suites and 104 for clubs per game, the Badgers have an attendance base of 4,862 for the Face-Off series and 6,389 for the Slap-Shot series through season sales.
Sales and giveaways of student tickets, which are full-season packages, fell by 163, or 9 percent, over 2017-18.
Overall, crowds have been on the decline for Badgers games at the 15,359-seat Kohl Center for more than a decade. UW averaged an announced attendance of 14,430 for home games in 2006-07, the season after the team’s most recent NCAA championship.
By 2015-16, the final season of the Mike Eaves coaching era, the average announced crowd fell to 8,849 as UW followed a four-victory campaign by going 8-19-8. Much of the dropoff was due to slumping season ticket sales.
UW sold 9,028 season tickets for the Face-Off series and 10,679 for the Slap-Shot series in 2006-07. By the 2015-16 season, the total season ticket base had been more than halved.
Year-over-year season ticket sales climbed by 18 percent in 2016 and by 8 percent in 2017 before the Badgers went 14-19-4 last season, 7-9-3 at the Kohl Center.
Granato said the team faltering for a few seasons took a toll on men’s hockey attendance in a UW athletics landscape where successful football, men’s basketball and volleyball programs draw big crowds.
“So we have to get the credibility back of putting out a team that you can trust that every night they’re going to play well, they’re going to play hard and they’re going to have a really good chance to win,” he said. “And I think this group is really young, I think it’s really exciting. I think the people that do come watch our team and look at the guys we have personnel-wise, they’re exciting to watch.
“The results will come. It’s all part of the process. So I think I’m happy with where we’re at.”
Even with competing interests on TV, the combined announced attendance for the Badgers’ first two home games of the season — 17,730 for Oct. 12-13 contests against Boston College — was the largest that it has been in four seasons. The Friday game was played at the same time as a Milwaukee Brewers game in the National League Championship Series, and the Saturday contest was up against the UW football game at Michigan.
Now that both of the goalies expected to compete for the starting job have played for the Badgers this season, where do things stand at the position?
In a word, unchanged. Jack Berry and Daniel Lebedeff will continue trading starts for at least the next two series, Granato said Monday. UW hosts Michigan Tech on Friday and Saturday before a trip to No. 17 North Dakota on Nov. 2-3.
UW’s Big Ten Conference schedule opens against No. 5 Minnesota on Nov. 9-10, and that could be the point that UW looks toward one goalie.
“After the North Dakota series, if we decide one guy’s playing much better than the other guy then we would maybe make a decision,” Granato said.
Berry, a junior, earned a shutout in the season opener against Boston College, pushing Lebedeff out of an expected start the following night. Berry also started in last Friday’s 4-2 loss at Clarkson before Lebedeff, a freshman, made his debut in a 7-1 victory over St. Lawrence.
With just 21 shots reaching him, Lebedeff didn’t have a heavy workload but Granato said he was solid.
“He looked like we had hoped he would as far as his confidence and how he challenged shooters,” Granato said. “He’s big in the net, that’s for sure.”
UW moved up one spot to 14th in the USCHO.com Division I poll on Monday and stayed 13th in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings. … Freshman Dominick Mersch earned his first goal with the Badgers after Saturday’s victory over St. Lawrence because of a scoring change. UW’s first goal was originally credited as freshman Roman Ahcan’s first collegiate tally.