By now, all the fans that really care are aware the North Star College Cup experiment is no more. After four years of trying, the tournament will be discontinued. There are certainly valid arguments for doing so. I don’t have the inside scoop but unquestionably, the attendance was not near what was expected for this tourney. Last years combined two-day attendance was 23,584 and this years event has published two-day combined attendance at 23,265. The Xcel Energy Center is an expensive venue to operate a tournament at and if the fans aren’t showing up in sufficient numbers it’s hard to build a case that the event should continue. I’m not sure what the break-even point for profitability is but apparently it’s not attendance at these levels.
That’s not to say the idea was not a noble one or that the games didn’t meet expectations. It was and they did. The demise of the “old” WCHA Final Five – an unbelievably successful tournament had hockey fans, teams and organizers looking to re-kindle the excitement and attendance in St. Paul for another event. Thus, the North Star College Cup was created to fill that void. Unfortunately, it never caught on as expected for a number of reasons including the date, desire for home non-conference scheduling, importance of the results and the fact that these teams continue to play each other in conference and non-conference play. For example, the Huskies already had two non-conference games vs Minnesota, four league games vs UMD and two non-conference game vs Minnesota State (who was the odd-team out this season) prior to the tourney. Granted, we had Pairwise implications in play this weekend but that’s not the reason for this tournament. The tournament was created assuming it would be a financial success for the participants, an exciting event for the fans, great for the hospitality industry in St. Paul and a profitable hockey event for the Xcel Energy Center. But, unless you are getting sufficient numbers of fans in the seats it’s not accomplishing any of your goals.
I’ve read some thoughts that the Minnesota Wild should be more involved in financially supporting this tournament or perhaps the city of St. Paul hospitality industry. There were also fans that were upset that the non-Gopher games were not televised. These are all secondary issues in my opinion. Unless the participating teams fans are willing to support this tournament in sufficient numbers to make it financially profitable it’s unfair to expect the Minnesota Wild to subsidize this event. It has to be profitable. They do their part to promote hockey in the “State of Hockey”and they do it well. I don’t believe you should throw this into their lap as well. The reason to create this tournament is to fill the seats- not to have fans sit at home and watch it on television.
I was at the tournament and spent the weekend supporting the event, went to every game and spread my money around various restaurants and a hotel in St. Paul. It was a great weekend with excellent hockey and fun to see all the fans from Bemidji and Duluth that made the trip. For those that didn’t, you missed an opportunity to see all the changes that are occurring in St. Paul. You could have experienced the Winter Carnival including ice sculptures in Rice Park, Vulcan parade, crashed ice venue, excellent dining opportunities and many other things that are converting St. Paul into a top-notch weekend destination. I hadn’t been in Cossetta’s for about two years and it’s amazing the transformation that has taken place there. The new Hampton Hotel on 7th is a great addition to the immediate area as well as Herbies on the Park conveniently located next to the Xcel Energy Center.
Unfortunately for St. Paul, they’ve now lost this hockey event, the WCHA Final Five and although the BIG 10 has not officially announced their future tournament format, it appears they will move to campus sites just as the WCHA has announced. That leaves the NCHC tournament as the only other college hockey event to host other than NCAA events. However, the NCHC is locked into their agreement with the Target Center for two more years. All indications are that the NCHC has been satisfied with their working relationship with the Target Center and the capital improvements that have been made to the building to improve the fan experience. But, as any good business person would do, the NCHC needs to leverage their position as the only remaining tournament to see what the Xcel Energy Center is willing to offer to entice the event to St. Paul in 2018-19. Despite a moderately successful Frozen Four in Minneapolis (22,569 two-day attendance in 2016), hands down, the college hockey fans would vote to have the venue changed to St. Paul. Minneapolis is not St. Paul when it comes to hockey events.
So, as we bid farewell to the North Star College Cup we look forward to what the future holds as a replacement to this weekend of hockey. The financial dynamics have changed, college hockey attendance is stressed and technology continues to chip away at in-seat attendance at college hockey venues. St. Paul is an outstanding gathering place for college hockey fans. Let’s hope the college hockey family, Xcel Energy Center and City of St. Paul continue to look for ways to keep college hockey events in this city.