FARGODOME: BEHIND THE SCENES
Published: Monday, October 14, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 14, 2013 15:10
The lights go to black. Sounds of the crowd go from noisy to deafening. All heads turn to the video board showing the opening video exploring North Dakota from end to end.
Players with the Bison on their helmets march out of the locker room and onto the field and the crowd finds a whole new decibel.
This is the scene NDSU knows as the beginning of a Bison football game. Vast amounts of people have seen it, but not many know the work that goes into it.
NDSU director of marketing and promotions Justin Swanson has been working behind the scenes at the Fargodome on game days since the Bison started their national-championship runs. While the Bison have been putting on a show for the fans, he’s been in charge behind the curtains.
“It’s a ton of work that really involves a lot of people coming together to make sure we come up with a good product,” Swanson said. “There’s probably about 20-25 of us that meet to make sure that game day, from start to finish, can happen without hiccups when you have so many people gathered in one area.”
Homecoming may be the biggest workload of the year. On top of the normal checklist before kickoff, Swanson’s department has been responsible for bringing in the alumni which will be on the field before the game begins.
“They’re long days clearly, but they’re a lot of fun,” NDSU athletic director Gene Taylor said. “There’s so much energy around homecoming, it seems to fly by, really.”
Taylor has also led his department towards bringing back former athletes who were admitted into the Bison Athletic Hall of Fame, along with other functions related to homecoming celebrations.
Taylor said he is excited to bring back and connect with the athletes who made considerable impacts on Bison history for a ceremony held on Friday.
“To be able to reach out and welcome those folks back,” he said, “it’s a great opportunity.”
Along with bringing alumni in for homecoming, the NDSU game-day preparation team has to organize various other facets of a Bison game to make sure every Saturday runs smoothly.
Swanson said his department takes care of the pregame ceremonies, the blowing up of the Bison helmet, the t-shirt toss and works with the video and audio systems during a game.
“We’re in constant dialogue with the Fargodome and our staff to make sure that we’re putting out a great product,” Swanson said. “We have a lot of people on staff here who have been working here for a long time so they absolutely know how to put on a first-class event.”
While winning has seemed to become easier for the Bison, director of tickets, events and facilities Josh Hemingway said behind-the-scenes work may have become more hectic since the green and gold started gaining national attention.
“For about the last three years now, we’ve been in that mode of limited tickets,” Hemingway said. “It’s high demand.”
Over the course of his tenure, Swanson has dealt with various entities for NDSU.
Along with working with ESPN for “College GameDay”, NDSU also needed to work with the Fargodome overnight when Taylor Swift held a concert and Bison football hosted their home opener within 24 hours of each other.
“There are so many moving pieces,” Swanson said. “At the end of the day, we’re all working off of a 25- to 30-day script. So everything you see, hear and experience at the (Fargodome), nothing is left to chance on game day. Every single event is scripted.”
Along with normal labor of a Bison football game, Swanson said he and his people had their hands full.
However, his office has 19,000 reasons to do the best work they can week in and week out.
When the Fargodome lights go dark and Bison fans start the countdown for the players to come out of the locker room, the preparation crew is reminded what they work for.
“When you see a Bison athletic event, just know there are a lot of people behind the scenes making that work and that care a lot about it,” Swanson said. “We know we have the best fans in the country. We want to make sure we reward them with a great product.”