Forcieable future looks challenging

Kristian Pope

Like a bad case of the flu, situations like this may seem to cloud around Pat Forciea. Professional sports teams uprooting their history and bolting for beaucoup bucks in unforgiving cities, craving the bright lights of big league sports, has become an epidemic both nationally and, in Minnesota’s case, locally.
One team, the National Hockey League’s Minnesota North Stars, is already long gone. Legislation to pass a bill to pay for a new stadium, if not passed, could see the Minnesota Twins’ threat of leaving the Twin Cities become reality. The distant whine of the Vikings leaving can be heard and the Timberwolves would be in New Orleans today if it weren’t for a deadline sale to a millionaire from Mankato named Glen Taylor.
Like sports fans in Minnesota, Forciea, an assistant in the Gophers men’s athletics department, has gotten used to the controversies. But he probably won’t ever enjoy them.
“I had a chance to be a big part of such a big failure with the North Stars, a move that didn’t have to happen and shouldn’t have happened,” says Forciea, the team’s senior vice president from 1991-93.
“That’s something that haunts me every day.”
Nowadays things aren’t much different for the 39-year-old from Coleraine, Minnesota. In addition to his position at the University, Forciea serves as a hired consultant in the Twins’ communications and marketing department. Recent talk about the Twins hasn’t been about wins and losses, but rather where the team will play when the new century rolls around.
Millionaire owner Carl Pohlad and his sons have lobbied feverishly for a new stadium funded mostly by Minnesota’s tax dollars. If the money isn’t forked over, Pohlad has said fans in the five state area can kiss the team goodbye. That worries Forciea.
“I sure as hell don’t want to be part of some Trivial Pursuit question about some bonehead who got two teams to move,” Forciea says.
Such is life for the man who keeps the men’s athletics department in the black financially. Minnesota is unique in that it creates its own budget and spends its own money. In effect, much like pro sports franchises, the department is its own business.
“Not a lot of schools are in that predicament,” Forciea says, “so all of our revenue streams have to be humming.”
Because of that, fans of Gophers sports see videos and merchandise for sale — all of which come from ideas born in Forciea’s office at Mariucci Arena.
Mike Veeck, part-owner of the Saint Paul Saints minor league baseball team, has looked to Forciea many times for those same types of ideas. In many ways, the two entrepreneurs aren’t much different.
“He’s not a coward, and he’s willing to try new things,” says Veeck, who worked in the Major Leagues for six years.
Forciea spoke out in favor of Veeck when Veeck’s Saints arrived in Minnesota in 1993 amidst cheers from fans and groans from businessmen and big-time sports. Veeck says that took guts and admires his colleague because of it.
Veeck also says Forciea’s head didn’t balloon when he joined the Twins last year.
“When he went to the majors, a lot of guys would say they’re ‘Big Leagues’ now. But not Pat, that’s not him,” Veeck said.
Dave St. Peter, the Twins’ director of communications, said the team has relied on Forciea’s wisdom, largely because of his past experiences.
“There are not a lot of people who have their finger on sports in terms of fans, business partners and media like Pat does,” St. Peter says. “He’s added a great deal of credibility to the Twins.”
Veeck agrees. “The current conventional wisdom is that, ‘It will work at the collegiate and minor league level but not in the majors,'” Veeck said. “That’s a load. Do they think fans are different in the majors than they are in the minors? People are people, and Pat understands that.”
That same philosophy seems to work for Forciea at the University as well. In fact, the men’s basketball team’s recent trip to the Final Four saw the interest in Gophers paraphernalia rise several thousand dollars more than normal, says Forciea.
But recent accusations of sexual misconduct against members of the basketball team have impacted sales, he said. And, he admits, he’s never had to deal with anything on this level, including the threat of teams moving.
“If the Gophers were a seven or eight before the Final Four, and got to a 10, I would say we’re back down to about a seven,” says Forciea, who can’t talk about the charges against Courtney James or the recently dropped charges of misconduct involving two unnamed men’s basketball players.
Forciea, who studied journalism and finance at St. Thomas, said the mountain of media hype around March and April led to the controversy.
Forciea has been called an innovator, a visionary, a guru, a whiz and a nut by his peers and the public. His most famous story took place shortly after his hire at the University in July 1994. Stemming from his days with the North Stars, he tried to pipe in music at Gophers hockey games to a chorus of displeasure.
“It was a complete disaster,” admits Forciea, whose department oversees the Gophers’ licensing and television sales. But the incident didn’t make him shy. Next season Forciea said the school will add an organ to Mariucci and players will probably be wearing new jerseys courtesy of Gophers winger Casey Hankinson, who recently showed Forciea some of his own designs.
“I think we’ll pick up one of them,” Forciea says. “They’re pretty out there. Some of our 99-year-old season ticket holders are going to croak.”
For now, Forciea has no plans to leave the state or the University. Although the Twins — and one of his jobs — may be gone soon, the Gophers aren’t going anywhere.
“It’s great,” he says. “No matter how bad I screw up, we won’t move.”