Golden Ticket paying off for Minnesota fans

Fans of the Minnesota Golden Gophers are going to have a tough decision to make next week when the men's basketball team plays No. 2 Michigan at home.

Or at least 41 of them will.

The fans are part of the select group of people who bought what is arguably a unique ticket in sports.

In December, to help drive ticket sales for lower-profile Big Ten home games, the Gophers -- in collaboration with a company called AudienceView -- came up with the Golden Ticket.

The premise?

Buy a Golden Ticket for $75. Attend as many Big Ten home games as you want (retail value: $315), but if the Gophers lose when you're scanned in, your run is over. The pass is deactivated.

I felt this worked perfectly for this team. Middle-of-the-road team, picked to finish sixth in the league by the Big Ten media. Chance to win every game, chance to lose every game.

Since no one had ever done this before, it wouldn't be a good thing if, early on, the team lost a game that it should have won.

But something that I never thought of has happened.

Minnesota is now 14-1 and No. 9 in the country going into its game on Wednesday night at Illinois.

The Gophers are 2-0 in the Big Ten after beating Michigan State by 13 and Northwestern by 18 -- both at home.

There were 41 people who bought a total of 81 tickets.

An astonishing 51.2 percent of those people put 49.4 percent of their Golden Tickets on the line in the first game against Michigan State. Again, if they had lost they would have paid $75 per ticket for that game alone.

But the Golden Gophers won.

The next game against Northwestern, 38 out of the 41 Golden Ticket customers (92.7 percent) risked 77 Golden Tickets out of the 81 (95.1 percent).

Eighteen people risked 35 Golden Tickets and went to both games.

So what will they do when the Wolverines come to town next Thursday night?

Luckily, they have some time and evaluating to do. After Illinois, the Golden Gophers will play the Indiana Hoosiers on the road on Saturday.

There'll be a lot on the line for the Michigan game. Why? Because the team will likely be favored in four of its final five home games.