Sunday, June 14, 2009

UAF? Money Maker. UNO? Not So Much.

I have a belief/assumption that there are three teams in the WCHA who put extra butts in home team arenas. Minnesota, Wisconsin and UND have active followers living in every other WCHA city. So ... when those three show up, you'll see a fair number more folks in your barn than you did when Mankato visited last weekend. Let's test that belief by comparing the average attendance for non-premier opponents to the average attendance for premier opponents:
Big Three Average: 3613
Everyone Else Average: 3240

Colorado College
Big Three Average: 7284
Everyone Else Average: 6563

University of Denver
Big Three Average: 6019
Everyone Else Average: 5450

Michigan Tech University
Big Three Average: 2890
Everyone Else Average: 2499

Minnesota State University, Mankato
Big Three Average: 4989
Everyone Else Average: 4512

University of Minnesota Duluth
Big Three Average: 4955
Everyone Else Average: 4652

Saint Cloud State University
Big Three Average: 6097
Everyone Else Average: 6006
I used the last three home series where Minnesota, North Dakota or Wisconsin was the opponent to calculate the "Big Three Average". The "Everybody Else Average" was calculated using the remaining home conference games only. It's not scientific in the least. If someone else wants to use figures for the last "x" number of years versus to make it statistically valid then feel free. I have doubts it would make a big difference ... nevertheless the disclaimer stands.

St. Cloud looks to be an exception to the rule. They pretty much pack em in for anyone that comes to town. Good on them! But for the rest there is from a low of about 300 to a high of over 700 per game less. Note that CC and DU show the biggest variance. At CC this means additional revenue of $21,500 during a weekend when either Wisconsin, Minnesota or North Dakato play. Under the unbalanced schedule, CC gets 2 of those 3 opponents in their rink every year. This is all together less significant that I originally thought. I'd estimate that any likely configuration of 12 teams would not create much more than about $10,000 less per year on average for CC or DU since essentially those losses are spread out during the time it takes to "balance" the schedule. Such a loss wouldn't be a vote maker. I was wrong about that.

I still believe the bottom line is the primary vote maker in this situation. So let's look at the split from the Final Five pie first. Those revenues are spread between 10 teams today. In the future they'll be spread between 12 teams. I don't have the figures unfortunately. so I'll just plug in an arbitrary number that is easy to divide in my head. So for example; if we assume that it's a million dollars. A ten team split obviously equals $100K each; a 12 team split equals $8333.33.

So based on the example of a million dollars ... a twelve team league (regardless of the choice between UAF and UNO) means a semi-significant loss of around $20,000 dollars a year on average for each program. Obviously, that number is different depending on the exact amount of the Final Five revenue share. Again, that loss is there regardless of which 12th team is included.

The next thing to consider is any potential revenue increases that would offset those losses. Playing a hockey game against the host team in Alaska provides an exemption for the visiting team against their maximum limit of 34 regular season games. This means that such visiting teams can host an additional home game. As it stands, 7 WCHA teams each season receive 2 exemptions each year. With UAF in the league all the other WCHA teams would be able to receive the 2 exemptions each year. Let's see what an exemption is worth at each school based using $15 dollars per ticket. Note here; the Alaska schools are locked into the 34 game limit.
Colorado College ----- 7343 seats times 15 dollars = $110,145
Denver University ----- 6026 seats times 15 dollars = $90,390
Michigan Tech ----- 4200 seats times 15 dollars = $63,000
Minnesota ----- 9700 seats times 15 dollars = $145,500
Minnesota St. ----- 4832 seats times 15 dollars = $72,480
Minnesota-Duluth ----- 5233 seats times 15 dollars = $78,495
North Dakota ----- 11500 seats times 15 dollars = $172,500
St. Cloud ----- 5763 seats times 15 dollars = $86,445
Wisconsin ----- 15237 seats times 15 dollars = $228,555
Those numbers represent the potential revenue from one additional home game. I have to apologize for not being 100 percent sure here but in my reading of the NCAA bylaws pertaining to exempted contests, I did not find any mention of any limits on Alaska exemptions per year. That helps explain why WCHA schools were regular attendees at UAA's tournament in years when they weren't otherwise scheduled to come up here. In any case, those are significant revenue additions to most of the WCHA schools. With UAA and UAF in the league the other member schools would maximize the number of additional home games they could schedule. I'm thinking 2 extra home games every year is something that both fans and administrations at every school would get behind. A minimum of 2 exemptions EVERY year.

Now the travel costs. UAF is definitely more expensive for 9 out of 10 WCHA teams than UNO. No point in calculating miles and all that eh? Fairbanks is way farther than Omaha ... I'll stipulate that. But there is an existing offset that could easily be adapted as necessary. Currently, UAF subsidizes the travel for it's CCHA opponents with 25 airline tickets. UAA apparently still provides 12 tickets for it's WCHA opponents. I have no reason to believe that UAF wouldn't happily provide the same 25 tickets to WCHA opponents. In fact, UAF's inclusion in the WCHA is actually so beneficial to the UAA program that I'd imagine UAA would happily buy everyone that comes to Anchorage 25 tickets as well. Ok so ... in that scenario travel to Alaska probably costs about the same as travel to Omaha.

Time to travel? DU and CC would face an 8+ hour bus ride to Omaha. Flying time from Denver to Fairbanks? Less than 7 hours. If DU and CC wanted to fly to Omaha; will UNO pay for 25 of their tickets? Similar story for the Gophers and Bucky. 380/370 miles to Omaha. 6 hours on a bus? Or 7 hours in an airplane? Duluth? 529 miles. 8+ hours on a bus for them. It seems to be almost a push. Though it is easier to get on and off a bus with your gear than it is with all the airport rig-a-ma-roll that you have to go through. Travel to either place certainly has it's downside. But no doubt, for a majority of WCHA schools UNO is objectively a more convenient destination. I could argue otherwise subjectively ... but I won't.

So if it's a choice between adding a school that will increase your bottom line significantly or adding a school that is a little easier to get to ... UAF is clearly the better choice. The relative inconvenience is not significant compared to the potential revenue. $200,000+ (or so) year to offset the $25,000 (or so) loss of going to 12 teams? I think the expansion decision at each WCHA institution would take that number into account. One choice is expand and lose 25K a year or expand and make 180K+ a year ... come on. It's got to be a "slam dunk" eh, Ciskie? That pays for 2 assistant coaches. Or a skating treadmill. Or an upgraded weight room. Or on and on and on ...

Someone please speak up if I'm missing some revenue that Bemidji or UNO brings with them as members.

The question in my mind today is whether UAF is desirous of and/or receiving real consideration from the WCHA. Bruce McLeod certainly seems to want UAF to wait in the wings pending UNO's decision. If UAF is interested then they should certainly not stand by while UNO decides whether or not it will apply.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

UA Nanooks Considering WCHA Move

Thanks to this posting on USCHO by 'Wondering' and 'AKJD' from Fairbanks, I learned today that it appears UAF is indeed giving due consideration to changing it's conference affliation from the CCHA to the WCHA.  In a University forum called "Grapevine", Athletic Director Forrest Karr acknowledged the situation.  

The question posed on May 22nd was;
Rumors have circulated around the Internet, as well as the UAF community, that the Alaska Nanooks hockey team may be moving from the CCHA to the WCHA. Is this true?
Forrest Karr answered the query;

We are working with both conferences to explore affiliation with the WCHA for a number of reasons including the potential to increase revenue, reduce team travel costs, reduce team travel subsidies and the opportunity to play four league games each year against our natural in-state rival.

Chancellor Rogers will be briefed on May 27. If he decides to move forward, students, faculty, staff and the greater Fairbanks community will all be invited to open forums for discussion and input.

This is certainly interesting and adds a dimension to the WCHA's exploration of expanding.  I'm sure wondering what Bruce McLeod thought when he got that phone call.  As I've been saying there are some advantages that UAF brings to the table as a conference member that UNO simply cannot match.  UNO doesn't necessarily even practice on the same rink from day to day. They're mired in a contract with the 15,000 seat Qwest Center that doesn't serve the school particularly well.  Their athletic department is still recovering from the kerfuffle of the only coach they've ever had resigning and the hiring of a somewhat controversial A.D. that admits he knows NOTHING about college hockey.

UAF brings the possibility of maximizing the number of exempt games that WCHA opponents could use to schedule additional home games.  There is a limit on the number of exempted games a school can possess but currently WCHA teams don't reach that.  UAF brings a longstanding rivalry with WCHA member UAA.  Schools visiting Alaska would have the opportunity to schedule back-to-back series and minimize the travel expense.  It's the internet age so student-athletes shouldn't suffer too much from any missed classes on a 10 day road trip. UAA and UAF have managed to make travel and school work out so I'd assume it isn't beyond the capability of other WCHA schools to figure out.  

And finally, UAF is in the WEST ... they belong with UAA in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association as opposed to the CENTRAL Collegiate Hockey Association.  UNO is a natural for the CCHA.  That's why the WCHA didn't show any interest when they applied years and years ago. 

I'd hope Steve Cobb is on the phone early and often these days selling this idea to his WCHA peers.  Don't let anyone use the old argument about how horrible it would be to make two Alaska road trips every year Dr. Cobb.  Tell them your school makes at minimum 7 such trips a year.  Don't be afraid to use the word "fairness" eh?