His eyes darting around the Vikings’ Twin Cities Orthopedic Stadium on Thursday, Eagan senior offensive lineman Cody Smith pictured the scene just 24 hours away.
Bleachers packed with a sold-out crowd of 6,000 fans at the facility’s first high school football game. The stadium lights burning a little brighter than they did any previous Friday night. His teammates ready for a homecoming battle with Farmington.
“It’s really exciting that the day we’ve been looking forward to is here,” said Smith, who in July attended the news conference announcing the historic game. “It was announced at school that there are 1,300 kids coming so our student section is going to be very rowdy.”
As the stadium’s primary tenants were kicking off their game Thursday in Los Angeles, Eagan players enjoyed a team meal in the Huddle Café, then hit the turf for a walkthrough practice.
“We wanted to get the shock value out of their systems,” Wildcats coach Ben Hanson said.
The Farmington-Eagan game is the first of five to be played at TCO Stadium, the inaugural Vikings’ Prep Spotlight Series designed to showcase high school football.
“It’s amazing that we got picked to be first,” Hanson said.
Coaches kept the evening a secret, even as players boarded two school buses after a shortened practice 6 miles away at Eagan High School.
“We didn’t tell them where we were going,” Hanson said. When the buses turned onto Vikings Parkway, players let out a cheer.
The giant end zone scoreboard featured both teams’ helmets in color — Farmington’s black, orange and white, Eagan’s gray, blue and green. The Wildcats posed for several pictures before and after practice.
Both teams enter the game 0-4 and have added incentive to earn a victory. Hanson reminded players throughout the two-hour session that Thursday is fun, Friday is business.
“I’m excited because we need this for our school and the team especially,” said senior running back Carter Lyons.
Cost of doing business
Bob Madison, Minnesota State High School League associate director who oversees football, told a room full of metro area activities directors earlier this week at a fall area meeting, “Not everybody wants to play [at TCO Stadium].”
Later he added, “We believe TCO Stadium is a great place for a game but for some communities, there’s no place like home. But there are a whole host of schools who would like to play at the stadium.”
For all the excitement of playing there, schools must consider the financials. For large metro area schools such as Eagan and Prior Lake, giving up a home football game — one of just four that each school hosts during the regular season — means losing more than $10,000 in revenue. The Lakers will be the home team for their Oct. 12 game at TCO Stadium against Lakeville North.
The Vikings, who will keep ticket and concession receipts, have lessened the financial burden by compensating the home team’s school. The Vikings will pay a dollar amount equal to the average of the top gate revenue game from each of the last three years. They also will reimburse the home team’s transportation costs.
Eagan activities director Sandra Setter Larsen wrote in an e-mail that the football team’s average top gate revenue was $13,500. She added the Vikings “will also cover our busing up to $1,380.”
“We are really thankful for this opportunity and for the investment the Vikings organization is providing in making TCO Stadium available for high school athletics,” she wrote.
At Prior Lake, the football team’s average top gate revenue was $17,361. Activities director Russ Reetz wrote in an e-mail that the number “does not include concession revenue,” which averaged $3,115 per game. The Lakers will be reimbursed for an additional $615 to cover transportation of the team and cheerleaders.
Tickets for the game are $7 for adults, $5 for students. Parking at TCO Stadium is free.
On Thursday afternoon, the Vikings announced a sellout and that Eagan and Farmington had distributed more than 6,000 game tickets.
Vikings executive Lester Bagley said the organization is “trying to get as close to breaking even as possible” but “will incur a loss on these games this year,” due to expenses such as staffing and security plus costs related to broadcasting the game on Fox 9+ TV (channel 9.2) and KFAN Plus radio (96.7 FM).