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University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota


October 29, 2009

Fan ambassadors inside the stadium.

There are perks to being a fan ambassador. Once inside the stadium ambassadors assume choice seats in the student section.

Fan ambassadors and new Spirit Section enhance fan experience at the U

By Rick Moore

In the years leading up to the opening of TCF Bank Stadium, one message was stressed again and again: Having a new stadium means more than just bringing football back to campus; it's about creating a positive game-day experience for fans at the University of Minnesota.

U students are taking the lead to make sure that happens.

After attending a Big Ten Sportsmanship Conference at Ohio State in July 2008, several students formed a Sportsmanship Council at the U. In turn, the council created the new "We are... Minnesota Spirit Initiative," whose mission is "to lead the University of Minnesota community in fan participation, Gopher spirit, and positive behavior." The initiative includes a "fan ambassador" program and a new spirit section at Gopher football games, as well as men's hockey and men's basketball games.

"We're starting small and hoping to build it moving forward. The students have been really excited about it since it's their idea and their initiative," says Mandi Soderlund, an assistant director in the Student Unions and Activities office on the Twin Cities campus.

They have the answers

If you've been to a football game this year, you've probably seen a fan ambassador. They wear neon green T-shirts with an information icon on the front. And they arrive in force. Soderlund says there are 40 at every football game, and honorary fan ambassadors who volunteer on a per-game basis sometimes join them.

The ambassadors are at three fan information tents—at Gates A and E and on the McNamara Alumni Center Plaza, the site of the Game-Day Party that begins three hours before kickoff. They also greet fans around the perimeter of the stadium and answer any questions that might come up, from where gates and restrooms are located to where the band performs its pre-game show and when the football team's Victory Walk begins.

According to Brittany Geissler, a student intern for the Spirit Initiative, fan ambassadors strive to make every fan's experience more enjoyable. "It was really our focus to make sure people knew where they were going and what kind of things they could bring into the stadium," she says, adding that another goal is to make sure that their experience outside the stadium matches their enjoyment of the game.

The fan ambassador program is drawing cheers, or at least praise, from the guests of honor—the fans themselves. "We are getting tons of positive feedback from our fans," Soderlund says. "Especially with the new stadium, I think it's setting the tone on game days."

The program is now transitioning to the winter sports season. Fan ambassadors will be at both men's hockey and men's basketball games, though in smaller numbers and inside of the buildings, since fans are already acquainted with Mariucci and Williams Arenas.

A section of good sports

This year, students are also working with the Spirit Squad and Marching Band to reinvent the student section. They have created new chants and cheers and are emphasizing good sportsmanship. (Students learned about the new traditions at the Welcome Week Pride and Spirit event and at the Syracuse game viewing event.) According to Soderlund and Geissler, more than 200 students are populating the new Spirit Section for each football game in their preferred seats right behind the band.

The "Golden Gopher Pride and Spirit Guide" captures the sentiment of the Spirit Section. The brochure contains a fan creed; fun facts about the origins of cheerleading (it began at the University of Minnesota in 1898), The Rouser fight song, and the Ski-U-Mah chant; the lyrics to Hail Minnesota and the Minnesota March; and a list of new traditions, including the jingling of keys leading up to every Gopher kickoff and the tipping of students' hat when they walk through the student gate below the "Hats Off to Thee" engraving.

In addition, the Spirit Section students are focused on positive cheering, Geissler says. When they hear negative or distasteful chants, they're instructed to cheer "Go Gophers!" to change the tenor of the crowd.

Geissler believes the "We are... Minnesota Spirit Initiative" and the fan ambassador program are a great way for the University to enhance its reputation as a great place to watch athletic events. "If we become a leader in starting this initiative, other schools can look to us," she says.

She notes that fans in Minnesota have a full range of sporting options, including the Vikings, Twins, Lynx, Timberwolves, and Wild, and every venue has a different atmosphere.

"If we can make our game-day experience the best, the University of Minnesota could really benefit," she says.