A quiet goodbye to the Dome

After playing 26 years in the Metrodome, the Gophers donâÄôt have much planned for their final game there âÄî a few representatives from Dome-era teams on the field before the game and a commemorative ticket. For University of Minnesota higher-ups, there isnâÄôt much to honor. The Dome people have been accommodating and inviting, they say, but thatâÄôs about it. âÄúDid I like playing in the Dome? Absolutely not,âÄù Glen Mason, MinnesotaâÄôs head coach from 1997 to 2006, said. âÄúI donâÄôt think anybody knows until you actually come here. Right away I thought it didnâÄôt have a collegiate feel to it whatsoever.âÄù When asked if he would miss the Dome at all, current second-year coach Tim Brewster paused, chuckled and said, âÄúNo.âÄù The program grew frustrated with not controlling its own facilities, including the locker room, not generating revenue from parking or box suites, not being on campus and playing in a stadium too big for its fan base. The teamâÄôs play during the Dome era hasnâÄôt helped the buildingâÄôs legacy, either. Since 1982, when they moved in, the Gophers have gone 138-178, havenâÄôt won a conference championship, went 12 straight years (1987-1998) without making a bowl and eight straight years with a losing record (1991-1998). The teamâÄôs struggles, combined with a site that most students have to bus to, has led to what radio announcer Dave Mona called âÄúa graying of the fan base.âÄù âÄúThereâÄôs no question we lost an entire generation, maybe a generation and a half, of fans who didnâÄôt get started at the collegiate level because the Metrodome, as nice as it was, wasnâÄôt a home field,âÄù Mona, the color commentator for Minnesota football games, said. After Saturday, the GophersâÄô next home game will be Sept. 12, 2009 against Air Force at TCF Bank Stadium and they will have the parking, the box suites and the on-campus site. Perhaps of equal importance, they will also have a stadium with almost 15,000 fewer seats. âÄúTCF Bank Stadium is already sold out, and a lot of that is because itâÄôs smaller,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúThere are a lot of factors, but IâÄôll be very honest about it, the biggest factor is that itâÄôs smaller. ItâÄôs easier to sell 50,000 seats than to sell 64,000 seats.âÄù Maturi said the smaller stadium will create a higher demand for tickets, which will make people attend more of the games they have tickets for and hold on to their season tickets even in down years. The program expects a $3 million to $5 million boost in revenue per year from the new stadium. âÄúRight now, we donâÄôt have a real big season ticket base,âÄù Maturi said. âÄúA lot of people will buy them on an individual game ticket. TheyâÄôll say, âÄòOh, IâÄôm going to go deer hunting,âÄô or âÄòOh, itâÄôs a nice day, IâÄôm going to rake the lawn and listen to the game on the radio.âÄô Now, itâÄôll be, âÄòOkay, these are the seven home games, and IâÄôm going to them all, or IâÄôm going to five and giving my neighbor two,âÄô or whatever it might be.âÄù Financial Setup But for all the ill will toward the atmosphere, Gophers officials acknowledge that the Dome has been good to them. In the late âÄò70s, the University was faced with a $10.5 million plan to renovate Memorial Stadium that they couldnâÄòt afford, so the state allowed them to move into the brand-new Metrodome without paying anything toward its construction, according to Dennis Alfton, the Director of Operations for the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which is responsible for the Metrodome. The MSFC initially charged them a 10 percent ticket tax, but rebated that money in 1998 when they retired the MetrodomeâÄôs debt. The Gophers play rent-free and also get 40 percent of gross concession sales, Alfton said, which accounts for most of the profit from concessions. By comparison, the Vikings still pay a 15 percent ticket tax and receive just 15 percent of concessions revenue, though they do get the money from the DomeâÄôs box suites for all events. They also contributed $6 million to the construction of the Dome. âÄúThe idea was it was going to enable the University to not have to pay a huge amount to remodel Memorial Stadium, which needed significant remodeling,âÄù MSFC Executive Director Bill Lester said. âÄúMy guess is the Legislature wanted to make sure that the stateâÄôs public institution could use the new facility in the most economic way possible.âÄù The Gophers only generate around $250,000 per year in revenue for the MSFC, Alfton said, compared with $6.6 million for the Vikings. The Gophers typically play seven games at home, while the Vikings play eight, plus any playoff games. âÄúWeâÄôre going to be able to operate fine without the Gophers,âÄù Lester said. Leaving Memorial Compared to the sparse farewell to the Dome, there was a strong resistance to leaving Memorial Stadium, Alfton, who has worked with the MSFC since its creation in 1977, said. The stadium, which stood on the land now occupied by the recreation center, aquatic center and McNamara Alumni Center, was in dire condition by the mid-âÄô70s. The seats were backless benches, there were no lights to allow for night games and, Alfton said, âÄúThere were serious sightline issues.âÄù Proponents of moving the team indoors âÄî headed by influential local businessman and University graduate Harvey Mackay and one-time Athletics Director Paul Giel âÄî said the indoor climate and NFL stadium would help in landing star recruits from warm-weather places. While both Mason and Brewster deny any truth in that âÄî âÄúThe weatherâÄôs still severe here when you have to go to class and stuff, so thatâÄôs negated,âÄù Mason said âÄî it has helped with some players. âÄúThe first thing I thought when I came to the Dome was, âÄòThank God,âÄô because I heard it was freezing in Minnesota,âÄù senior linebacker and St. Louis native Steve Davis said. âÄúI donâÄôt think IâÄôm the only guy that felt like that. There are a lot of guys from down south that donâÄôt like the cold weather.âÄù And even some of those opposed to leaving Memorial Stadium in the first place say that without a quarter century of playing in the Dome, TCF Bank Stadium may not have been built. âÄúIt was a poor move, but it could have a very decent outcome,âÄù Mona said. âÄúBecause no matter how nostalgic you are, what weâÄôre getting in the new stadium is going to be better in every way than both Memorial Stadium and the Dome.âÄù