Friends of UND Athletics focus on forming ‘awesome atmosphere’ for Fighting Hawks football
It’s going to be a game changer.
For the casual fan – and the fanatic – Fighting Hawks football will put on a show.
“Bratwurst, bantering, marching band, Star Spangled Banner, honor guard, videos, cheer team, chants, play by play, visiting dignitaries, alumni returning to campus, the coin toss, mid-field presentations – these traditions all combine to energize fans to cheer on their team to victory,” said UND President Mark Kennedy. “An accumulation of little things make football game days an exceptional experience.”
Creating a fantastic Fighting Hawks football game-day experience is the goal of a newly launched 31-person committee of alumni from across the nation.
The ultimate goal? Winning. And giving fans an experience that rivals any other school at the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level.
And UND football, this season, is poised to do its part on the field, as the team was picked by Big Sky Conference Coaches and media Tuesday to win the league title for the second year in a row. The Fighting Hawks also had the most Preseason All-Conference player selections of any other teams with six.
All this, in addition to UND being named this year’s recipient of the Big Sky President’s Cup for the top league school in overall sports performance combined with academics, has given UND athletics unprecedented momentum moving forward.
The stage is set for UND fans to fill the Alerus Center this season and cheer the team on to victory.
“How can you go wrong with great friends, great food and a great atmosphere? That’s what we want to provide,” said Mike Mannausau, co-chair of the Game Day Experience Committee.
The committee, he said, has energy and passion, and is focused on developing a don’t-miss event that everyone can enjoy.
“Bubba has given us a winning program, and he and his team have built affection for UND football,” said Mannausau about Coach Bubba Schweigert, who led his team to the Big Sky Conference title last season. “The committee can’t control winning, but we can control the experience you’ll have on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. From the moment you enter the parking lot, we want goosebumps. And then we want to build on that excitement.”
Mannausau, associate athletic director for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation, is a former standout UND linebacker who also spent 11 years on UND’s coaching staff. He’s co-chairing the committee with Peter Stenehjem, a UND alum and president of First International Bank & Trust in Fargo.
“I’d love to see a high-energy game day atmosphere, starting with vibrant tailgating,” said Stenehjem. “I’d like to mirror the atmosphere in Tampa Bay before the Frozen Four in 2016, when UND hockey took the national championship.”
The committee has a three-year timeline, concluding with UND joining the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2020.
“We will look at other schools,” Mannausau said, “and we’ll also look at professional teams, like the Oakland Raiders, the Minnesota Twins, the Wisconsin Badgers, Michigan State. We’ll look at what they’re doing, but we won’t copy it. We want to develop our own UND experience and UND flavor.”
The group’s second meeting on July 17 started with a walk-through of the Alerus Center. From the parking lot to the tailgating site, the players’ tunnel and the field to the stands and suites, committee members and President Kennedy checked out the amenities and peppered the Alerus Center’s Darryl Jorgenson and Anna Rosburg with questions and suggestions, many focusing on adding the UND brand.
Jorgenson and Rosburg were open to ideas, and focused on recent improvements that will give fans a better experience, such as new lighting, a new sound system and Internet connections that will allow 10,000 people to be online at once.
Then the group convened at the Gorecki Center to plan an “awesome atmosphere” for fans. Members who couldn’t attend in person were connected by audio and video.
They will also conduct a fan survey, which will launch today, July 18.
With just seven weeks until the first home game, committee members were up for the challenge.
“The committee is mostly external, and people at UND are helping it move forward,” said Laurie Betting, senior advisor to the president and the meeting organizer. “Chad Bushy at CILT and his team have provided Zoom, a web conferencing tool, Elizabeth Becker of Instructional Design is designing the survey, and Pam Laffen at the Alumni Association and Foundation is providing support.”
They came up with ideas to improve fan traffic, improve communication, make tailgating more of an event, better showcase the band, and play on the “Bubba Brand.”
“Bubba is from Zeeland, N.D., and we know what North Dakotans stand for,” said Betting. “They are strong and loyal, and Bubba is the real deal.”
Next, the committee will prioritize the ideas, figure out costs, and focus on funding.
“It’s very important to give fans a progressively better experience that leads to a phenomenal experience,” said President Kennedy. “These are exciting ideas, and they will have a large impact, attracting more fans and bolstering UND.”
Fans will see some changes as early as the Potato Bowl opener Sept. 9. And by the time UND joins the FCS conference in 2020, the football experience will be a real game-changer.
How will the committee know it’s made the winning touchdown?
“I’d love to have sellout crowds every time, and provide a cool experience for adults, students, families – all ages,” said Stenehjem. “I want them to have a great experience.”
“It’s football day in Grand Forks,” said Betting. “And there’s only one place you want to be.”