By Randy York
When 160 Nebraska athletic donors flew to Columbus, Ohio, last Saturday to watch their beloved Huskers play Ohio State in The Horseshoe, they hit the exit signs disappointed with the final result, but were encouraged by something more important in the grand scheme of things. Big Red fans loved watching The Horseshoe rock, but they wouldn’t trade stadiums with the Buckeyes, even if through sheer magic, they could make something like that happen.
Mike Jacobson, president & CEO of NebraskaLand National Bank in North Platte, Neb., Kim Wolfe, owner and CEO of Midwest Medical Transport in 12 Nebraska locations, and a third Nebraska business owner/donor, who wished to remain anonymous, had nothing but good things to say about The Horseshoe and its capacity to seat more than 106,000 fans. All three donors, however, favor their own soon-to-be 92,000 capacity Memorial Stadium over The Shoe.
Make no mistake. Ohio State’s impressive stadium received a “B+” rating from influential Nebraska donors who placed it on the same level as The Big House at Michigan and ahead of both Camp Randall at Wisconsin and Beaver Stadium at Penn State. Not surprisingly, the only stadium in the history of college football to sell out for 50 consecutive seasons gets a straight “A” across the board from these three Husker donors. Yes, Big Red faithful may be slightly prejudiced, but they insist on putting Nebraska at the top primarily because the Huskers have gone to extraordinary lengths to make Memorial Stadium architecturally consistent in its simplicity and elegance.
Nebraska Gets Bang for Its Buck
“I was very impressed with The Horseshoe. It’s a beautiful stadium, but I can’t say it’s better than ours,” the anonymous donor said.
I agree. Over the past decade, Nebraska has focused on creating a state-of-the-art, fan friendly environment to cheer on our Huskers and salute our unparalleled tradition. What I like most is that next season, Big Red fans will experience premium amenities in an expanded East Stadium that will showcase indoor and outdoor suites and unique features because we’ve gone above and beyond to enshrine and connect our past to the future.
Wolfe said Nebraska’s done a great job of balancing the North Stadium with the South and continues to be ultra-creative in the expansion of the East Stadium with the West. That Eastside project includes 38 new sky boxes, 2,100 new club seats and 3,200 additional seats.
“Ohio State has a heck of a press box that you can walk right into in the middle of the stadium,” Wolfe said, “but I still prefer what we have overall. I like their giant flag pole, but it should be outside the stadium so it doesn’t block people’s view, in my opinion.”
Huskers Engineered Creative Sellouts
When Jacobson headed a large bank in Lincoln before he moved to North Platte, he remembers how Nebraska was able to sell out some games when certain businesses would buy hundreds of seats that were left and then distribute them to underprivileged children and their parents.
“I grew up on Nebraska football, and it was a statewide spectacle,” Jacobson said. “We lived on a farm in rural Sutton. My parents had eight kids and we were dirt poor, but we always gathered around the TV or the radio to listen to or watch Nebraska football. Somehow, all five of us boys in the family ended up going to a game every year. I never forgot how inspiring that was, so that’s how we kept that sellout streak going - through the generosity of our donors who bought tickets so others could have the same experience.”
Those were the days before major expansion that included suites and preferred club seats. “Nebraska’s done it right,” Jacobson said. “We always made sure the demand was there before we added on.”
Donor Praises Buckeye Atmosphere
“Ohio State has a great stadium, and they were great fans last Saturday night,” the anonymous donor said. “Their game day atmosphere was great. Were they louder than our fans in Lincoln? Not really.”
Wolfe thought Buckeye event workers and fans were hospitable and engaged. “People went out of their way to be nice, just like Nebraska fans do,” he said. “We all know it’s a lot more fun to walk out of a stadium when we win. But when I compare our facilities to the biggest school in the Big Ten, I’ll take what we have over what they have.”
And that applies to more than just football. “I fly (and own) the Husker Helicopter, so I’ve looked down on that new basketball facility the city’s building downtown,” Wolfe said. “I have to tell you, every time I look down and into that arena, I wonder how many suites are left.”
The answer is zero. Every basketball suite and every loge seat in the Pinnacle Bank Arena were sold a year ahead of its completion. All 38 suites in the new East Stadium expansion also have been sold, plus all five volleyball suites that will be built in the $20 million Devaney Center reconfiguration. The five biggest East Stadium football suites are locked up for the next 25 years. The other 33 new East Stadium suites have a 10-year lease.
Osborne Will Still Need Scissors
Tom Osborne spearheaded all three major building projects to solidify the financial order for football, basketball and volleyball. Derek Freeman, from the Husker Athletic Fund staff, and Holly Adam, who heads NU’s Ticket Office, are collaborating to ensure a smooth fan transition into all three new venues next fall. John Ingram and Maggi Thorne, from NU’s Capital Planning and Construction group, also have worked diligently to stay ahead of the curve on all three major projects.
The groundwork has been laid and a foundation has been built for Shawn Eichorst, Nebraska’s new athletic director who will begin his duties on Jan. 1, 2013. Osborne believes all three projects have so much momentum that they’re almost running on automatic pilot. He has said more than once that someone else can cut the ribbons. But if you watched Eichorst’s introductory press conference yesterday, Nebraska’s outgoing AD better have some scissors in his hand when those three projects are commemorated because the incoming AD is going to insist on having Osborne be part of the celebration.
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