U aims to draw fans to Music City

Than Tibbetts

By accepting the invitation to the Music City Bowl on Sunday, Athletics Director Joel Maturi set a football-fan-moving machine in motion.

But knowing the traveling tendencies of Gophers football fans leave something to be desired, University officials said they are working to encourage fans to travel to this year’s Dec. 31 bowl game in Nashville, Tenn.

Associate Athletics Director Marc Ryan said approximately 2,300 Gophers fans attended the 2002 Music City Bowl, when the Gophers beat the Arkansas Razorbacks. More than 39,000 people attended the game.

Maturi said the athletics department believes people who attended the bowl two years ago will return.

“I would hope they would encourage others to come,” he said. “Minnesota has a reputation – I’m not sure how well founded – that they have not traveled well.”

Ryan said that this year, the athletics department is including the Minnesota Student Association as part of its more-than-40-person bowl game planning committee to get students involved.

MSA Vice President Amy Jo Pierce said she is very excited to be involved with the process.

“In the years past, they’ve always forgotten about the students,” she said. “People are starting to recognize that students on campus are important people.”

Pierce said MSA’s role on the planning committee is to help get students excited to support the football team in Nashville.

“School spirit is a huge thing,” she said. “We’re trying to pump that up.”

Ryan said the athletics department is trying to attract more students to the bowl game while making the trip more affordable for students who attend.

Creative Charters, of Lake Elmo, Minn., will provide the official fan air charters to the bowl game, Ryan said, and the University Alumni Association is coordinating the effort. Creative Charters provided fan travel for all of the Gophers’ regular-season away games this season.

Although the football program did not have as successful a season as it would have liked, a bowl game win would give the team hope and life for the 2005 season, Maturi said.

“But if we’re not successful, it’s not the end of the world,” he said.

The Gophers’ opponent in the bowl game has yet to be determined, though their foe will come from the Southeastern Conference. Maturi said the Gophers will probably have to wait until after the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday to see whom they will face.

The Gophers will receive $780,000 in “authorized expenditures” from the Music City Bowl, Ryan said. The Big Ten negotiates this amount based on estimates for the cost of travel, hotels and daily expenses, he said.

The University will move more than 100 athletes, coaches, support staff and the official traveling party via airplane. The 300-member University Marching Band and Spirit Squad members will take buses to Nashville.

Maturi said he hopes students will make the trip to Nashville.

“If you like music, there’s lots,” he said. “I think it’s a fun city.”