BOZEMAN — Part of the reason Harald Frey came from halfway around the world to Montana State was for the opportunity to play in important games and perform on a big stage.
“The big games, the big crowds ... that’s why I came all this way,” Frey said after a recent men’s basketball practice.
The Bobcats’ sophomore point guard, who hails from Oslo, Norway, has been able to do that, all while helping his team become a more viable contender in the Big Sky Conference. Right now, MSU is 4-2 in league play and in second place in the league standings behind only 6-0 Montana.
Frey and Montana State host the surging Grizzlies on Saturday at Worthington Arena, which presents another opportunity — the chance to knock its rival from their lofty perch.
It’s the rematch of a game from last Feb. 25, when the Bobcats snapped a 13-game losing streak to UM in front of a sellout crowd of 6,772.
Under fourth-year coach Brian Fish, the Bobcats have increased their win total each season and are poised to do it again in 2018. With that has come increased ticket sales and more fans in the seats at Worthington Arena.
MSU is expecting another sellout when the Griz come calling. Bethany Cordell, the Bobcats’ associate athletic director for marketing, is forecasting that there will be fewer than 600 walk-up tickets available when the box office opens Saturday at 9 a.m.
It falls in line with ticket-sale trends at Montana State over the course of the past few seasons.
In 2013-14, which was Brad Huse’s last season as coach, the athletic department brought in $126,500 in total ticket revenue, Cordell said. That number increased to $155,801 the following season, Fish’s first at MSU, and raised again in 2015-16 to $161,912.
Last year, MSU totaled $213,786, and Cordell said she expects this season to produce even greater figures.
It’s the same for the women’s team, which Cordell said is up 20 percent in season ticket sales just from last season — a byproduct of the Bobcats’ first trip to the NCAA tournament in 24 years.
“It’s clear in both ticket sales and in the energy inside Brick Breeden Fieldhouse that support is continuing to grow for our Bobcat basketball programs,” Cordell said. “Coach Fish has created an exciting brand of basketball that the community is getting behind.
“We’re projecting yet another season with a substantial increase in ticket sales. With a renewed focus on providing activities for fans of all ages, game days have turned into a full entertainment experience that families want to take part in.”
Of course, winning breeds good vibes too. After capturing just seven wins in his first season at Montana State, Fish doubled that with 14 wins the following year. That total rose to 16 last year, and the Bobcats are up to 11 victories this year with 12 games still remaining on the regular-season schedule.
That said, Fish’s Bobcats are coming off a tough road trip in which they lost back-to-back games at Portland State and Sacramento State. Welcoming the Grizzlies to town on the heels of that provides a stiff challenge.
But with a packed house expected Saturday, Fish said his team can feed off of the emotion they provide.
“When we play a certain way we’re an entertaining team, and the fans have really helped that,” Fish said. “We’ve turned it into a little bit of a home-court advantage when they show up like they’ve been showing up.
“We’re appreciative, and it’s great when there’s a lot of people there because it shows it means a lot to everybody, including our players and staff.”
“The Bozeman community really loves their Bobcats. That’s something I noticed getting off the plane on my visit here two years ago,” Frey said. “Especially around Griz week, then it really magnifies. It’s fun. That’s what we want to play for.”