Lakeville North senior Wade Sullivan wrestled for a state championship on the Xcel Energy Center matted floor, supported the Panthers’ basketball team in the title game at Target Center and attended football camps at TCF Bank Stadium.
Sullivan knows Twin Cities stadiums better than most prep athletes. Ultimate success in his next sports venture means playing in a venue that tops them all. Sullivan, a standout running back, hopes to make Lakeville North’s football team one of the first to play inside U.S. Bank Stadium, the $1.1 billion new home of the state tournament semifinals and Prep Bowl.
While a deep playoff run is its own reward, Sullivan understands the historical significance for football teams this fall.
“I imagine what it would be like to play there 12 or 13 weeks from now,” Sullivan said. “We would be able to tell stories for years. A couple guys on the team have been inside and they talk about it quite a bit.”
In his next breath, Sullivan emphasized getting to that point only comes with a week-by-week approach all season. But dreaming about the what-ifs is infectious. Even Minnesota State High School League Executive Director Dave Stead has mentioned for months the financial benefits of having the Prep Bowl as well as the soccer state tournament semifinals and finals under a roof after two years outdoors.
Football, the tournament that generates the second-most amount of money behind boys’ hockey, is budgeted to bring in $910,000 after expenses for this season, according to the high school league. That compares with an average of $548,317 for the last 10 years that the tournament concluded at the Metrodome. The past two seasons, with all games played outdoors and culminating with the Prep Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium, the tournament averaged just $225,370 in revenue after expenses. At the end of the school year, a percentage of the league’s surplus will go back to schools to offset state tournament costs.
“Record attendance is what we’re looking for,” Stead said. “It’s team dependent and weather dependent a little bit in terms of travel. But even if your school is used to going to state, this is a brand-new experience for everyone. And I think you’ll see a lot of first-time attendees who haven’t been able to get into the stadium yet.”
Longtime Brainerd head coach Ron Stolski said, “If it’s your team that gets into the semifinals and then the Prep Bowl, whether you’re from Redwood Falls, Esko or Fulda — you’re coming. This is quite a plumb at the end of the journey.”
In addition to attracting football fans and those curious to see the stadium for less than it costs to see the Vikings, part of the projected revenue windfall comes from fewer expenses.
All eight dates for the soccer and football state semifinals and finals will be rent-free. Legislation approved to build the stadium states the league will not be charged for services such as security, ticket takers, custodial or cleaning services at those events.
The league projects $220,000 of expenses in football, more than $100,000 less than what it paid TCF Bank Stadium last season and more than $200,000 less than what the league paid in 2013, when the Metrodome hosted its final Prep Bowl.
Moving the final two tournament rounds back to U.S. Bank Stadium restores a prestige current Maple Grove head coach Matt Lombardi feels has been missing since the Metrodome. As defensive coordinator at Wayzata, Lombardi said the Metrodome was every team’s target. Coaching Maple Grove to the semifinals at neutral-site high school stadiums the past two seasons wasn’t the same.
“There was a major difference in how the accomplishment felt,” Lombardi said. “I think making the final four is a big thing and having those games at U.S. Bank Stadium is fitting. For our kids, there is definitely a new carrot out there in terms of earning your way to playing at the new bank.”