TCF Bank Stadium houses more than just football

The home field of Gophers football seven times a year, TCF Bank Stadium plays host to a variety of other events while it is unoccupied by the team.

Guests at a CSE recruitment event enjoy the view from the Indoor Club room on March 14 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mark Vancleave

Guests at a CSE recruitment event enjoy the view from the Indoor Club room on March 14 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Andrew Krammer

Jacob and Lauren Albrecht still get praise for inviting their family and friends out to TCF Bank Stadium one October afternoon last year. They tell the two newlyweds it was the coolest wedding they’ve ever been to.

The $288 million TCF Bank Stadium opened in 2009 and is the first stadium built in the Big Ten in more than 50 years. But, it will only play home to the Gophers football team seven times annually.

However, Division I football takes up just a small percentage of the stadium’s events.

Fifty-six staff members — mostly students and a handful of supervisors — work about 300 events within three banquet halls annually. Students file in on any given weekday for classes and couples can get married at the three-year-old stadium.

It’s also home to the University’s 325-member marching band, on-field events from youth football games and club sports, and the “M” formation that the 5,000-plus freshmen form on the field during September’s annual Welcome Week.

However, on October 15, 2011, the Albrecht’s chose to invite 200 of their closest family and friends out to the new stadium for an afternoon where the suites, concourses and even the field were theirs.

“It took our breath away, the space is so beautiful. You would not expect that from a football stadium,” Lauren Albrecht said.

Events and parties

The stadium boasts a range of spaces that can be used for anything a group is willing to pay for — if it’s University approved.

The three banquet halls — the field-level “M” Club room, the third-floor Dairy Queen Club Room and the sixth-floor Indoor Club room — can accommodate nearly 1,000 people between the three and each have their own concessions or bar.

The staff doesn’t require couples actually get married in the stadium; couples like the Albrecht’s preferred to have their marriage ceremony at a church and had guests go to campus for more pictures and celebration.

“We had pictures taken in the locker room, too,” Lauren Albrecht said. “We chose to utilize the JumboTron and had a slideshow going. It was amazing.”

The stadium’s Director of Operations Derek Hillestad said it was important not to schedule too many weddings too early.

“We wanted to do a few of them and do them well. Obviously, we’ve done something right because we’re starting to get more demand.”

So far, the stadium’s staff booked 12 weddings throughout the summer compared to three or four last summer, Hillestad said.

More often, groups of undergraduates walk through stadium doors for one of the handful of scheduled courses held there in any given semester, Hillestad said.

“Take a break from class”

When the stadium was built, many courses that once were jammed into their University-designated hall found a new home with the spacious hallways and new turf of the arena.

Music, kinesiology and recreational sports courses take place in either of the two halls in the stadium, or on the field.

“It’s beautiful,” John Zarco, a graduate instructor in the school of music, said. “It’s easier for the students living on East Bank to get to and the sound inside the rehearsal hall is different for us playing [instruments].”

Zarco teaches a weekly campus band class inside the field-level main rehearsal hall and said the stadium’s space is what separates it from the school of music’s current home, Ferguson Hall.

“These [campus band] groups are typically pretty large,” Zarco said. “And they’re usually tailored to non-music majors, but Ferguson Hall can get cramped for groups like us. It’s a much better environment because it’s not as cluttered.”

Alex Cole, a freshman enrolled in Zarco’s campus band, said the new instruments and awe of the stadium make it more appealing than a typical lecture hall.

“The [instruments] in Ferguson aren’t quite as nice,” Cole said. “But, it’s really great to be able to take a break from class and come do something like this.”

Nathan Fortunato, a student in a History of Rock and Roll class at the stadium, said the nearly off-campus location isn’t ideal, but said he likes having class inside a football stadium.

“You get to see parts that you wouldn’t normally see than if you just went to a [Gophers football] game,” said Fortunato, a sophomore on the men’s gymnastics team.

But a football stadium isn’t the perfect place to host a large class, said Peter Mercer-Taylor, an associate professor in the School of Music.

As Mercer-Taylor prepared to teach his nightly section of History of Rock and Roll in the stadium’s main rehearsal hall, his teaching assistants busily set up hundreds of chairs and recruited the early-showing students to help.

“When we were in Rarig [center], the chairs were already in place,” Mercer-Taylor said. “One of the challenges of this room is that it is used for several different things.”

Since there are only two halls that double as indoor classrooms for the stadium, instructors have to set up the room as they’ll need it. However, Mercer-Taylor said having command over a space like the stadium’s main rehearsal hall is convenient for the School of Music.

“It’s nice having the stability,” he said. “In a sort of behind-the-scenes way every year we had to negotiate with Rarig about time slots. It’s nice to know the space is ours when we need it.”

On the field

Snow covers the ground for much of the academic year in Minnesota, but with mild winters like this season, Hillestad said his staff will begin programming recreational sports and kinesiology field classes as early as this week.

“It all depends on mother nature,” Hillestad said. “If we don’t have any snow and it’s nice, we’ll program events on the field all the way up until mid-November.”

The University’s recreational sports department claims the field Sunday through Thursday nights from 6:30 p.m. until 10 p.m., as the weather permits, Hillestad said.

Recreational and University club sports alike will get their share of the turf, despite the Student Recreational Sports Field Complex that opened in January.

 “A regulation size rugby field is the same size as a soccer field,” University men’s rugby club captain Nathan Augspurger said. “So, [TCF Bank Stadium] is a little bit tighter of a space for the way we play.”

“But, the turf is nice, fast and predictable.”

The men’s club rugby team, which Hillestad said uses the field more than other club sports, will host a regular season game in the spring and a couple in the fall against some of their top rivals.

The club team also gets to keep proceeds from select items sold at the games, such as University rugby apparel, Augspurger said.

A lacrosse tournament is held every spring on the stadium’s field too, Hillestad said.

Outside of University-sponsored athletics, Hillestad said the stadium plays host to little league football teams from surrounding communities. He joked that memories kids form there are a strong recruiting tool, getting the youth to identify with the University and the stadium.

“It’s great for us,” he said. “We love it.”

Bono, anyone?

The University has used the stadium for big-ticket events outside of athletics as well.

Nearly 60,000 fans packed in to see U2 perform in July on a massive raised stage in the center of the field.

It has also been used for University-sponsored events — Atmosphere hosted a homecoming concert in October in front of the stadium’s student section.

The stadium serves as a window to athletics for the incoming freshmen every year, Hillestad said.

During the annual Welcome Week in September, designed to introduce incoming students to life on campus, 5,000-plus freshmen will fill the student section for their athletics inauguration.

After being introduced to the fight songs, Goldy Gopher and a guest of honor — someone like Tubby Smith or Jerry Kill — the students will file into a designated “M” shape on the center of the field where their class photo is taken.

“It’s been really special for us,” Hillestad said. “And the students, hopefully, as they can, take that memory with them.”