SBJ/20031222/Facilities

More college realignment? Ford Field game may change look of Final Fours

The NCAA will consider expanding seating capacity for the 2009 men's Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit to 70,000-plus, based on the dome's accommodations for the Dec. 13 "Basketbowl" matchup between Kentucky and Michigan State, said Tom Jernstedt, executive VP, liaison and administrator with the Division I men's basketball committee.

The change would not take effect until after the 2005 Final Four because there are already seating configurations established and tickets printed for the Alamodome in 2004 and Edward Jones Dome in 2005. Future Final Four sites are the RCA Dome (2006 and 2010), Georgia Dome (2007), Alamodome again (2008) and Reliant Stadium (2011).

Jernstedt said, "We have to review all our Final Four facilities and before we make a decision of that nature, we would want to see another game or two played in a similar configuration." Jernstedt was among the Ford Field crowd of 78,129 that established a world record for basketball attendance.

"We were curious to see the facility in that kind of setup," he said. The basketball court was positioned in the middle of the stadium floor; when the NCAA plays tournament games in stadiums, the court is generally placed across one end of the surface, with temporary bleachers on the open side.

"We were very pleasantly surprised," Jernstedt said. "Going in, we thought there would be too many distant-view seats. Everything was well-planned and executed. We came away very impressed with the facility in that configuration, and it's something we want to review with the committee as it relates to 2009."

Michigan State Associate AD Mark Hollis said Ford Field's design offers better sightlines for basketball than other enclosed stadiums. "The corners are in much tighter than most, and it's square as opposed to oval. It's almost like Conseco Fieldhouse blown up" on a larger scale, he said. "There were fewer great seats, but many more good seats compared to the Final Four."

Jernstedt agreed that it would be a "reasonable tradeoff to get more good seats" for the Final Four and to accommodate participating institutions that currently have only 3,000 to 3,500 tickets to distribute to their respective alumni.

The center-of-the-floor configuration for the Michigan State-Kentucky basketball game allowed for a record crowd of more than 78,000.

MINNESOTA SAYS NO: With public money scarce to help state schools build sports facilities, it may seem odd that the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis said no to a $35 million private donation from alum Denny Sanford to initiate fund-raising efforts for a new $220 million on-campus football stadium. It is especially noteworthy in the Twin Cities, considering the Gophers, Twins and Vikings have been fighting for years to build as many as three stadiums.

University general counsel Mark Rotenberg said the offer's requirements and conditions made the proposal unacceptable to school officials. Sanford wanted too much control over facility design and construction, Rotenberg said, and the money would not have been payable until 18 months after the stadium was completed, "as long as it met his satisfaction."

Sanford had pledged to grant the entire sum over a five-year period but wanted perpetual naming rights with his name on the venue. Rotenberg has said the school thinks it can get much more money for a lifetime deal.

"The bottom line is we couldn't reach an agreement. Suffice it to say that his terms changed over time. But we have discussed our gratitude for the offer and are keeping the door open to him for other kinds of gifts to recognize," he said.

Naming-rights consultants pointed out that the ultimate value of $35 million could substantially escalate in the short period of time philanthropic donations are typically paid, three to five years, compared with corporate title sponsorships of 10 to 20 years. Rotenberg said officials took that into consideration in reaching their decision.

"That $35 million essentially amounts to $65 million, taking into account present and future value. You're talking $1 million and change per year, plus interest, which is the equivalent of $2 [million] to $3 million per year. Those are big league numbers," said Dick Sherwood of Front Row Marketing.

"That's an appealing deal for a university that has an OK football program, not great. There is not a lot of national recognition. The other thing is with a philanthropic arrangement, as opposed to a marketing agreement, you don't have to give much away in inventory."

THE SKINNY ON ATKINS: The popularity of the Atkins diet has the Manchester (N.H.) Fisher Cats pondering the possibility of providing food concessions at their new ballpark that are compatible with high protein/low carbohydrate programs. "More and more restaurants, especially those on the high end, have catered to individuals on the Atkins diet," said Shawn Smith, Fisher Cats president and GM.

Manchester enters its inaugural season as a Class AA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, playing in 2004 at Gill Stadium, which was built in 1912 and is undergoing a $4 million renovation. The team moves to its new 7,000-seat facility, designed by HNTB, in 2005.

Food service consultant Chris Bigelow, who has lost 65 pounds in one year on the Atkins diet, said highlighting a few low-carb items on the menu makes sense. Supermarkets sell hundreds of low-carb foods, including tortilla shells. "You could take that low-carb shell and make a taco," he said. Vendors could also offer a nacho supreme platter without the chips. "Just give them a knife and fork."

Don Muret can be reached at dmuret@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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