TCF set for ‘NFL-ready’ upgrade

The stadium will get more seats, new turf and expanded alcohol sales.

Nicolas Hallett

More alcohol and $6.6 million in improvements will greet fans at TCF Bank Stadium this fall.

The University of Minnesota Board of Regents endorsed increased alcohol sales at the stadium and approved updates to the school’s football facility at its monthly meeting Friday.

These updates will make the stadium NFL-ready when the Minnesota Vikings arrive this fall. They include a field heating system, new artificial turf both now and when the Vikings leave, building winterization and about 1,750 seats of temporary bleachers in the west plaza.

The NFL franchise will pay for all of the modifications, with construction beginning in March and scheduled to wrap in July. The Vikings will also pay the University $300,000 per game and $125,000 in cash and in-kind donations to surrounding neighborhoods.

Meanwhile, increasing alcohol kiosks could also add to the University’s revenue.

The University’s alcohol sales were on a two-year trial run, and it now wants to continue selling alcohol permanently while adding more locations in the stadium.

Vice President of University Services Pam Wheelock said the state statute governing the alcohol sales needs to be modified to take out the two-year, temporary language.

Alcohol sales were first allowed at TCF Bank Stadium after a Minnesota Legislature decision in 2012. The subsequent regents-approved two-year pilot program allowed beer and wine sales at the stadium and in premium seating at Mariucci and Williams arenas.

Stadium alcohol sales will still be beer and wine only, but vending stands will be added at the stadium.

Wheelock said she expects a decision this spring from the Legislature without much opposition.

“I would say that the conversations we’ve had with lobby leaders on this have been very positive so far,” University President Eric Kaler said at the meeting.

Responsible behavior from students and fans was a major factor in deciding to continue and increase alcohol sales at Gophers football games, said Vice Provost and Dean of Students Danita Brown Young.

During the alcohol pilot program at TCF Bank Stadium, there was no significant increase in the number of game-day incidents, the University report found.

During that period, University students were involved in 57 alcohol-related incidents, compared to 69 incidents in 2011 and 2010 combined.

“It proves what we have expected: that Gopher fans know how to have fun and can be good neighbors,” Young said at the meeting.

Attendance numbers have increased in recent years, and selling alcohol has proven to be a positive cash flow for the University. During the pilot program, the school made nearly $2 million in gross sales, totaling $202,796 in profit. All alcohol revenue goes to the athletics department.

Intercollegiate Athletics Senior Associate Director and CFO Tom McGinnis said his department has renegotiated the contract with concessionaire Aramark and hopes the sales will be more profitable in the future.

At Friday’s meeting, some regents were pleased to hear the University was reaping revenue, while others said money is not important when it comes to providing alcohol.

“That is not the goal and should never be a goal,” Regent Patricia Simmons said, adding that alcohol is provided as an expected entertainment amenity for guests.

“I understand the magnitude of the problems with alcohol,” regent Dean Johnson said at the meeting. “I just think if we’re going to do it, at least make a buck.”

The University isn’t considering any other alcohol service changes, including at Williams and Mariucci arenas. Wheelock said the basketball and hockey facilities aren’t ideal for alcohol sales to the general public, because fans are much closer to the playing surface and the concourses couldn’t handle the increased capacity alcohol sales would create.

“The reasons we are not supportive of expanding the sales to Williams and Mariucci are unlikely to change while we are still playing in those buildings,” she said. “I don’t expect that there will ever be a change in the University’s position.”