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Sellout City: Bison administration not taking packed dome crowds for granted

Justin Swanson, North Dakota State's assistant director of athletics for marketing and fan engagement, is trying to avoid complacency like the football team did every year after winning five straight Division I FCS national titles. Eric Peterson / The Forum

FARGO—It would probably be easy for the North Dakota State athletic front office to put an "open for business" sign on the front door and do nothing else. Fans would still buy football tickets. Once again, it took less than an hour last week for Gate City Bank Field at the Fargodome to sell out every seat for all six regular season home games.

About 6,000 single game tickets went on sale at 8 a.m. on Monday, July 31 and they were gone within an hour. If you don't have a ticket for a game this season, you'll have to be resourceful.

Inside the department walls, however, the assistant director of athletics for marketing and fan engagement is trying to avoid complacency like the football team did every year after winning five straight Division I FCS national titles.

"Things are going so well, it's tempting to keep doing what we're doing," Justin Swanson said. "But you have to have higher expectations for yourself internally."

For the most part, fans will probably not notice many changes in the game day presentation. The tailgating hours will be the same, although the athletic department opened up more reserved tailgating spaces on the west side of the dome. The hope is to cut down on the long line of vehicles waiting to get into a general admission tailgating spot; some parking their rigs on a street adjacent to the dome the night before a game.

The ever-popular "Thunderstruck" introduction video was slightly tweaked from a video perspective, Swanson said.

"We changed out some of the highlights in there," he said.

The season opener against Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 2 is still three weeks away, meaning fans who don't have a way in still have time to find something on the open market.

The season ticket base remained at 12,100 this season and there's no sign of that dropping anytime soon. The waiting list to get one of those was at 753 people, although it's uncertain how many tickets that would translate to.

Josh Hemingway, the NDSU director of athletics for business and ticket operations, said the average season ticket holder account comprises 3.1 tickets.

Hemingway said there is no way for his department to gauge how many people were trying to buy one of the 6,000 total single game tickets, either, but it was most likely pretty intense. Athletic director Matt Larsen admits a worry of his is hearing about people not putting in a request at all because of the reputation of it being a hard ticket to get.

But he also said anybody who is a member of NDSU Team Makers booster group who has requested, but been denied, season tickets can get into at least one game through the single-game process. Those boosters have a June 15 deadline to make a request and those single-game tickets are awarded based on a priority points system.

"You don't want to lose those folks because there's not an opportunity (to get a ticket)," Larsen said. "We're fortunate to be able to satisfy that need a little bit."

Said Hemingway: "I think it's just like all of our programs in the athletic department, you're always trying to improve. You can never be satisfied where you're at. We're trying to do things in a more efficient manner."

Larsen said one way to combat complacency is simply with the makeup of his staff—most have been around for several years.

"So we talk a lot about that," he said. "The high expectations don't just hold for our coaches and student-athletes. It holds for us too. I'm confident in our staff that they understand the expectations in continuing to pack the dome and engage our fan base during the season. And going into this year, I haven't seen anything different in terms of the hunger and thirst for Bison football tickets."

NDSU has drawn at least 18,000 fans in 47 straight home games and has routinely sold out the dome since entering the Missouri Valley Football Conference in 2008. That kind of home crowd advantage has helped the success—NDSU is 54-6 at home since 2010.

Behind the scenes, success may be harder to quantify.

"In our line of work, seldom do you hear compliments from fans," Swanson said. "But we've found overall they seem pretty happy with our work."

Jeff Kolpack
Jeff Kolpack covers North Dakota State athletics, the Fargo Marathon and golf for The Forum. His blog can be accessed at www.bisonmedia.areavoices.com. On the radio, Kolpack & Izzo sports talk show runs from 9-11 a.m. every Saturday morning. April through August, the WDAY Golf Show with Jeff Kolpack runs from 8-9 a.m.
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