Just 30 minutes after the Gophers football team toppled Northwestern on Saturday, the signature maroon and gold “M” had nearly vanished from TCF Bank Stadium’s 50-yard line.
More than 100,000 fans filed into the University of Minnesota stadium over the weekend to watch the Gophers or Vikings, as the teams played consecutive games Saturday and Sunday. But behind the players’ stage, operation staff worked overnight to transition the facility from a college scene to one ready for an NFL game.
About 200 employees worked on TCF Bank Stadium, beginning shortly after the conclusion of the Gophers’ game at about 2:20 p.m. Saturday and finishing Sunday morning. It was the only weekend this season that the teams are scheduled to play back-to back games.
Purple with a splash of pink
Members of the Vikings and Gophers grounds crews worked together to repaint TCF Bank Stadium’s turf, which was the most visible part of the transition.
Minnesota’s associate athletics director for facilities, Scott Ellison, said last week that the work it takes to convert the stadium is a “good test” for its employees.
He estimated it would take about 12 hours and 50 gallons of paint to transition the artificial turf. But at the end of the weekend, Ellison said facility workers used 80 gallons of paint to create the Gophers’ and Vikings’ field designs.
The grounds crew started by scrubbing the block “M” off the 50-yard line, and from there, employees used purple paint to color over the gold “Minnesota” text in the end zones. One employee painted the inside border of the letters, while another used a spray gun to fill in the rest.
Workers also repainted the hash marks and field numbers because they are located in different places for NCAA and NFL games.
Facility employees used a stencil to paint the Vikings’ Norseman logo at midfield, which they then outlined in pink for the NFL’s October breast cancer awareness initiative. They also painted pink ribbons donning the NFL shield on the 25-yard lines.
Vikings fans were appreciative of the work. Season ticketholder Tom Wendelgass, 31, said he was impressed with the stadium’s turnover.
“When you look at the turf, you can’t even tell there was a game yesterday,” he said. “It looks like there hasn’t been anyone in here for days.”
Success through ample planning
Planning for the overnight conversion began the day the NFL released its season schedule, said Derek Hillestad, director of operations for TCF Bank Stadium.
Hillestad said the key to the seamless execution was preparation and setting up employees’ shifts. He said extra crews weren’t hired to help with the conversion.
“It’s pretty much our same crews,” Hillestad said. “We’ve just staggered our crews in a way that not everyone is here at the same time.”
Six people were responsible for the temporary Vikings banners that hang throughout the stadium. Hillestad said that crew was in and out in two hours.
In an effort to add more seats, the Vikings ticketed the area where the University’s band normally sits during Gophers games. Employees installed 130 seats and a short wall in front of them, Hillestad said.
Another area of the stadium that saw change was the DQ Club Room and suite levels.
It took about three and a half hours to convert the premium areas, Hillestad said. That included the removal of furniture, cleaning and then the installation of new furniture.
The Gophers’ setup for the club level has more seating than the Vikings’, but the NFL team’s option includes more food choices.
Maintaining the cleanliness of the stadium’s seating areas is a top priority, Hillestad said. At about 8 p.m., employees began walking row by row, picking up all trash and dumping liquids into buckets.
In addition to directing operations at TCF Bank Stadium, Hillestad also serves as an adjunct professor in the University’s sports management program.
He said this type of turnover isn’t unique to college and professional football, and it’s a valuable experience for the students who helped.
“It’s such a great environment to give them real experience in the industry,” he said. “This will give them bullet points on their resume. That’s the great part of the University setting.”