This time of year you can't escape the talk about "March Madness." It's impossible to deny that the annual NCAA basketball tournament has firmly established its place on the current American pop culture landscape. The schools, the games, the players, the television coverage, the analysis, the brackets, and the betting have become a sports phenomena that only seems to getting more popular with each passing year.
It's also impossible to deny that the interest in college hockey pales in comparison. Far fewer schools have hockey programs and the sport itself is still largely regional in the followers it attracts. Only diehards fill out NCAA hockey brackets and the television coverage of the hockey tournament and the audience it attracts is a but a small sliver of the attention that basketball garners.
Having said all that, I still find these attendance numbers from last weekend at least worthy of mention.
Thursday night WCHA Final Five play in game between Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17611
Friday afternoon WCHA Final semi-final between Denver and Wisconsin: 14722
Friday night WCHA Final Five semi-final between North Dakota and Minnesota-Duluth: 17729
Saturday afternoon WCHA Final Five third place game between North Dakota and Wisconsin: 15254
Saturday night WCHA Final Five championship game between Denver and Minnesota-Duluth: 16749
These numbers are taken from the box scores of each game. From what I understand from people who were done at the Xcel Energy this weekend, the crowds were lighter than usual so I assume these figures are based on tickets sold. Still, considering that the hometown Gophers only played in one game, the average attendance of 16,413 is pretty good.
With all the hype and attention that the NCAA basketball tournament receives, you would have imagined that hoops fans in the Twin Cities would have been ecstatic to learn the one of the regional sites for the opening rounds of 2009 big dance was the Metrodome in Minneapolis. And with North Dakota State bringing regional interest and big names like Kansas and Michigan State among the eight schools in the bracket, you might have expected that these fans would turn out in droves to catch the action in person.
Again, let's go to the box scores.
Thursday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 15794
Thursday evening NCAA basketball regional session: 12814
Sunday afternoon NCAA basketball regional session: 14279
So even on Sunday afternoon, with the prospect of a ticket to the Sweet Sixteen on the line, only slightly more than 14,000 people showed up at the Dome? I guess all the blue seats we were seeing on television were an indication of the crowd and not just the size of the venue.
Like I said, I'm not drawing any grand conclusions from these numbers, I just find them interesting to consider.