University officials will reimburse MSFA for luxury suite tickets to games at U.S. Bank Stadium

The eight U officials and family members were invited by the government body that oversees the stadium.

Kevin Beckman

Eight University of Minnesota officials will reimburse the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority for suite tickets to games at U.S. Bank Stadium after public outcry about the use of suites by public officials and their families.

The University released the names of administrators who attended football and soccer games — sometimes with spouses — and said the individuals will pay back the MSFA.

Government and public officials’ controversial use of the luxury suites was first reported by the Star Tribune last week. The report detailed state and city officials who attended events for free at the more than $1 billion stadium, which was funded with nearly $500 million in taxpayer money.

In an emailed statement, University spokesman Evan Lapiska said the University representatives attended three games and were invited there by the MSFA for business purposes. The statement didn’t address how bringing spouses not employed by the University to the games advanced the school’s business interests.

When asked about the tickets Wednesday afternoon, Coyle declined to comment.

“Even though attendance at U.S. Bank Stadium in these circumstances was clearly work-related, the involved individuals value their public roles and the public’s desire for transparency, and to avoid any controversy and appearance whatsoever of impropriety, they have decided to reimburse MSFA,” the statement said.

The names of the University officials include Athletics Director Mark Coyle and his wife and several deputy and associate athletic directors. University President Eric Kaler’s Chief of Staff Amy Phenix, Deputy Chief of Staff Elizabeth Eull and their husbands also attended a game.

Deputy Athletics Director John Cunningham and Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom McGinnis each attended two games.

Scott Ellison, associate athletic director of facilities, TCF Bank Stadium Director of Event Management John Tweedy and former Athletics Department spokesman Chris Werle attended a professional soccer match in August.

Lapiska said the purpose was to meet with stadium staff because they were jointly pursuing an X Games bid and discussing NCAA Championship bids.

Those in attendance at a Sept. 18 Minnesota Vikings football game included Coyle, his wife, Cunningham and McGinnis.

In the email, Lapiska said the purpose was to talk with Meet Minneapolis and Sports Minneapolis from the city’s convention bureau to “host staff members from the NCAA and observe stadium operations” because the University will host the 2019 Final Four.

Phenix, Eull and their husbands, attended a Nov. 6 Vikings football game to represent the Office of the President because the University and MSFA partner on a variety of event hosting bids, Lapiska said in the emailed statement.

The MSFA controls two luxury suites at U.S. Bank Stadium, and has refused to release the names of some guests at Vikings games and other events according to media reports.

The Star Tribune’s report sparked outcry from some legislators and prompted the Minnesota Legislative Auditor to open an investigation of the MSFA’s control and use of the suites.