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Cali Owings, Published September 16 2013

ESPN picks downtown location for broadcast, upsetting some Bison fans

Fargo - Producers of ESPN’s College GameDay picked downtown Fargo as the backdrop for its Saturday broadcast, a decision that caused many North Dakota State University fans to call for a flag on the play.

NDSU announced on Monday that the popular pre-game college football show will air from the corner of Third Avenue North and Broadway, which is more commonly known as the U.S. Bank Plaza area.

Despite NDSU football and its fans poised to gain national attention during the program, many fans, expecting the broadcast to originate from or near the Fargodome, took to social media Monday to express disappointment.

On the new Facebook page “Move ESPN College GameDay to NDSU Campus,” fans urged the network to move the shoot to a location more representative of Bison athletics.

The page had garnered more than 2,300 likes by late Monday.

“I think the biggest concern is that it doesn’t really represent North Dakota State University and the football experience,” said Gordon Hanson, based in Menifee, Calif., and a frequent visitor of Bisonville.com, an online discussion site.

The decision seems “disingenuous” to fans in the tailgating lots every Saturday who feel they wouldn’t be able to both experience ESPN College GameDay downtown and tailgate on campus, Hanson said.

He said downtown Fargo doesn’t exactly match the ESPN College GameDay program he and other fans are used to seeing – a campus atmosphere with the façade of the stadium, the marching band and tailgaters in the background.

ESPN and NDSU officials defended the network’s decision Monday.

“Downtown Fargo will create the best backdrop. It’s like a postcard. It’s like ‘Downtown, USA,’ ” said Lee Fitting, senior coordinating producer for ESPN College GameDay, in a statement. “Will be great for America to get a glimpse of this.

“We rarely do shows by a stadium anymore.

It just doesn’t create the best backdrop. I’d like to think people will come, even though it requires a little effort. It will be worth it.”

NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor toured several sites with a pre-production crew from ESPN on Sunday, including sites on campus and a couple near the Fargodome. Taylor said the downtown venue with the Fargo Theatre marquee in the background excited ESPN.

“They said they’re going to promote North Dakota State and the athletic department, but they saw that site and thought it was perfect,” he said.

Taylor released a statement on the school’s athletic website, gobison.com, acknowledging the

location backlash.

“Bison Nation, we’re aware of your concern regarding the location for ESPN College GameDay … This is an opportunity for the entire country to see how incredible Bison fans are. We need every fan downtown, making noise, and wearing gold. You’ve made Frisco our home away from home and you can do the same thing with downtown Fargo,” the statement read in part.

NDSU’s athletic department will work to coordinate transportation between downtown and campus so fans can participate, according to the statement.

Taylor also assured fans that ESPN was committed to capturing the game-day atmosphere on campus and in the tailgate lots for the program.

At first, NDSU senior Marisha Khunger was upset about the location, but Taylor’s statement assured her she’d be able to tailgate with her family – who’ve been season ticket holders for about 10 years – and participate in ESPN College GameDay.

“You can’t really be mad about where they are going to put it. They are coming to Fargo still,” Khunger said. “We just have to think about how blessed we actually are for them to be coming here.”

Charlie Stock, of Hillsboro, N.D., a former NDSU football player and team captain from the 1988 national championship team, said many fans had expectations of what the show would look like, but they should trust the network.

“The more I think about it, downtown is a great location. ESPN knows what they are doing,” Stock said. “The exposure that we’re going to get is going to be great, not only for NDSU football, but also Fargo.

“I am not going to miss GameDay in North Dakota. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event for our program.”

Preparation for the GameDay broadcast will begin as soon as Wednesday, with parking restrictions set to take effect Thursday. City officials are preparing for a large crowd downtown during the show, which broadcasts from 8 to 11 a.m.

“We’re going to ask everybody to be patient with us,” said Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said. “This is something extraordinary for the city and pretty groundbreaking.”

The last sports celebrity event using the Fargo Theatre was a Billy Crystal and Bob Costas presentation on the movie “*61.” This time, it will be the GameDay team of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso.

Reporter Jeff Kolpack contributed to this report.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599