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Jeff Kolpack, Published December 23 2012

NDSU Alumni Association makes big investments in road events

FARGO – The North Dakota State Alumni Association is operated by a four-person team that wanted to do more for the football program than just host homecoming events. So it took its show on the road.

The result since the inaugural event at the University of Minnesota in 2006 has been more than associate executive director Sherri Schmidt could have imagined. It’s the PG-version of the Woodstock traveling party for the Division I Football Championship Subdivision.

“You go to another city and you capture the audience,” Schmidt said. “We found at homecoming that people were so preoccupied with other things going on or had built-in traditions during that weekend.”

The Alumni Association picks one away game a year to host a weekend event, which usually involves a Friday fan fest of some type and a pregame event on Saturday. It’s not cheap, with an investment of around $30,000 for each event.

That includes on-site staff, facility rental and in the case of this year at Colorado State, bringing the Fargo-based band Front Fenders down to play Friday night in Fort Collins. The Alumni Association finds sponsors to fund the soirees, so no donated gifts are used.

“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the sponsors,” Schmidt said. “We feel like it’s a good investment.”

Tracking the return on investment is difficult, and is probably more intangible than anything. That could include fans and alumni who tend to donate more to the university, increased Team Maker booster club memberships or general awareness of North Dakota State away from the region.

“Just the ability to touch people from around the country,” said Wayne Schluchter, chair of the Alumni Association Board. “We’ve had a great opportunity to re-engage and reacquaint with people that we were not necessarily seeing. These road opportunities have been absolutely fabulous.”

NDSU student recruitment personnel say they saw increased enrollment from the Twin Cities area in recent years most likely a result of the Bison playing the Gophers in Minneapolis. NDSU’s student fair in Minneapolis has seen significant attendance increases since the athletic program went Division I.

“When I see a 5-year-old running around Colorado State wearing NDSU colors, I feel like we already have those kids in with us,” Schmidt said.

The events have turned into family reunions and general fan get-togethers, she said. Next year’s target is the season opener at Kansas State, and she’s already hearing about people making plans.

But first, a party of the highest degree in Frisco, Texas – NDSU’s second straight FCS title game. Last year’s turnout overwhelmed a Marriott hotel in adjacent Plano.

This year, NDSU originally booked the 5,000-capacity Plano Centre, but backed out when estimates of the Friday social event escalated to between 6,000 and 8,000. So the Alumni Association contracted with the local minor league baseball team and will hold its event at Dr. Pepper Ballpark in Frisco.

A final rental price was still being negotiated, but Schmidt said it will be less than the usual $30,000 figure. The ballpark will gain some revenue through food sales.

Because alcohol is being served, there are also details the Alumni Association has to take care of like insurance requirements. That has to go through an attorney.

The Alumni Association and the NDSU Development Foundation are separate 501C3 non-profits that work together, something that isn’t always the case at other universities, Schmidt said. The Alumni Association is funded with grants from the foundation, sponsorships and gets revenue from programs like marketing for credit cards.

In return, NDSU fans are getting a major entertainment option away from Fargo every fall.

Schmidt said local convention and visitor bureaus over the years have been good to work with. Who wouldn’t with thousands of fans willing to spend money on food, beverage and hotel for a weekend?

Frisco wouldn’t mind the Bison coming every year.

“We’re well-mannered, we’re enthusiastic and we’re well-meaning,” Schluchter said. “We’re a boost to the local economy and we take care of ourselves. They absolutely love us. We’re good ol’ fashion North Dakotans.”

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia