University athletic director Joel Maturi, a Notre Dame alum, tried but the Fighting Irish said no to being the Gophers’ first opponent in the new Minnesota on-campus football stadium in 2009. Maturi said California, a program on the rise lately, may be the opponent. The Golden Bears host Minnesota this year on September 9 in Berkeley and are considered a top 20 team, if not top 10, under coach Jeff Tedford who revived a program that for years rivaled the Gophers for futility.
Surprisingly, Minnesota’s first game in 2009 will be on the road, not in the new stadium that won legislative approval earlier this year. “We agreed (with State Fair officials) that the first game ever on campus would not be the same weekend of the state fair,” Maturi explained. “And it makes a lot of sense because the traffic will be crazy. We won’t know what to do with it. I think after a year of the state fair and after a year of home football we will know that we can play a game during the state fair. People will know where they are going. Where their parking places will be.”
Fans will be encouraged to park on the state fair grounds and then shuttled to the new stadium. The inaugural game will be played on September 12.
Maturi said Minnesota’s total public season ticket sales for football have been the lowest in the Big Ten Conference but news of the on-campus stadium has created additional interest. He said about 3,000 new public season tickets have been sold. Combined with other ticket sales including student season tickets (about 10,000 in the past), Maturi is hoping for average attendance of 50,000 in the Metrodome this year.
The new stadium will have a capacity of 50,000, but expandable to 80,000. The Gophers are hoping to create demand in a smaller stadium, encouraging people to buy season tickets instead of waiting to purchase single game seats, or not buying at all.
There is some talk that if the dome is renovated, or torn down so a new stadium can be built on the site, the Vikings might play a couple of seasons in the Gopher facility. “I think we could do something that would make it (the stadium) low 60’s (60,000 plus capacity) without doing it significantly differently, and that would help the Vikings,” Maturi said.