Gophers want ‘big-time college football’ atmosphere with its ‘stripe out’ Saturday
Minnesota hosts Purdue on Saturday for its homecoming game
MINNEAPOLIS — P.J. Fleck’s newer phase has been “break the boring.”
The Gophers football coach has, ironically, been routine in how often he has used that line throughout 2022, but it has resonated inside the school. During an event in August, Fleck stood in front of athletic department employees and challenged them to, again, deviate from the status quo.
Mills Armbruster, the Gophers’ director of marketing, heard that message and thought, “How can we put that in the fans’ hands?”
That was the germination for what will become the “stripe out” for the Gophers’ homecoming game against Purdue at 11 a.m. Saturday at Huntington Bank Stadium. The university is encouraging fans in alternating sections to wear maroon and gold clothing to add a more festive element to the atmosphere.
The Gophers have been hammering the message on social media, with the help of corporate partners and other outlets, since the 49-7 win over Colorado on Sept 17. Minnesota then put together a dominating 34-7 win over Michigan State last week and now return home with a perfect 4-0 record and the No. 21 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll.
“Fan bases are what create energy in college football,” Fleck said Monday. “… That is what it’s all about. Hope everybody has a great time with it and really buys into it.”
The Gophers organized a “maroon out” for the Penn State game in 2019, and gave away gold towels for fans to wave. That game became a classic with No. 13 Minnesota upsetting the No. 5 Nittany Lions 31-26, with a sea of maroon storming the field postgame.
“It looked awesome,” Armbruster said. “It was a sellout crowd. We won the (Governor’s Victory) Bell. So, it was a complete recipe for success.”
Saturday’s game has not reached a sellout with an estimated 44,000 tickets sold as of Wednesday. Attendance for the three nonconference games in September also failed to be full houses.
The university said before the season that non-student season tickets had ticked down slightly year over year, from 24,794 in 2021 to 24,225 as of Aug. 30, 2022, according to a Pioneer Press data request.
Student tickets were at 7,396 in 2021 and 7,073 as of Aug. 30, 2022 and had remained a substantial increase from the 3,388 student tickets in 2019. Minnesota, of course, did not play in front of fans in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“We may have been given kind of a silver lining where we had two classes of Gopher students that had never been to a game on campus,” Armbruster said.
The Gophers know their student sections are what separate them from most professional sports and are working to foster that relationship and tap into the students’ energy.
Historically, 11 a.m. kickoffs are looked at as more difficult for fans, especially for weekend-weary students, to attend, but the student section was much more robust than the rest of the stadium for the morning kickoff against Western Illinois on Sept. 10.
Offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca said this team is going to play with “unbelievable energy and passion whether they are in front of 50,000 people or zero. They just like to play and compete. But college football is supposed to be in that type of environment that we are going to have on Saturday. I’m looking forward to it. Big-time college football is supposed to be like that.”
When Fleck arrived in Minnesota in 2017, he talked about the program being a “sleeping giant.”
With efforts to increase in-stadium support to make the team’s on-field success, Armbruster believes, “The giant is stirring.”
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