Athletics officials kick off state fundraising tour

The athletics department kicked off its county-to-county fundraising effort Tuesday with fanfare and enthusiasm, touting the football stadium-to-be and what it means for Minnesotans.

Gopher athletics representatives will visit each of Minnesota’s 87 counties over the next 15 months, hyping the stadium project and seeking donations to help compensate for its $10 million balance.

But the county-to-county effort won’t be enough on its own, Associate Athletics Director David Crum said.

“If we can raise $2 million on the grassroots phase, it will be a very successful phase of our campaign,” he said.

Despite publicity surrounding the 87-county tour, it’s never been the answer to the funds yet to be raised.

“We did not expect $10 million to be raised,” Crum said. “It’d be great, but we know there’s several different steps that go into raising $10-plus million.”

The cross-state trip is also meant to be a show of appreciation, said Associate Athletics Director Phil Esten, who’s been involved in the on-campus stadium campaign for more than four years.

“It’s symbolizing that this is Minnesota’s stadium,” he said. “It’s something for everybody to be proud of; it recognizes the state’s $137 million contribution, and it’s our way of saying thank you to the state.”

The first official stop, a St. Paul Dairy Queen, featured head football coach Tim Brewster and Goldy Gopher, and showcased the football program.

“We want the whole state to feel ownership in the Golden Gophers,” Brewster said.

Music department instructor Tom Rosenberg stumbled upon the event by accident when his 4-year-old son simply wanted some ice cream.

“This school needs some school spirit and the stadium will help,” he said. “The Metrodome’s terrible; I’ll actually go to games at this one.”

Meanwhile on the fundraising front, the athletics department hasn’t shifted focus completely away from more substantial donations.

The first two fundraising phases focused on corporate gifts and those in the five- to six-figure range.

Still in talks with corporate donors, athletics officials are hoping “to raise a couple more million dollars there too,” Crum said. “But this campaign is built on million-dollar gifts as well as $50 and $100 gifts.”

The recently unveiled Gopher Points system could also generate more stadium funds.

The season-ticket priority plan is based on the number of points buyers garner before Dec. 31 – and donations to the stadium project are worth something.

There’s no goal set for dollars raised through Gopher Points donations, and Crum said it’s more about fairly and equitably moving fans into TCF Bank Stadium than fundraising.

The new stadium’s preferred seating – between the 20-yard markers – also requires ticket-holders to shell out donations on top of base ticket prices.

The mandated gifts range from $100 to $500 per seat, per year. That money goes toward athletics scholarships and stadium debt, but there’s no set method to divide donations yet.

Athletics officials remain optimistic about meeting – and exceeding – the $10-million cost remaining for the stadium.

Additional funds would go toward buying down debt incurred from the stadium project.

“We still have an aggressive path before us,” Esten said. “We want to continue aggressively.”