At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, 10,000 people will turn their attention to the efforts of two football teams as they struggle for dominance for four quarters.
If all goes as planned, the game will run smoothly, people will enjoy themselves and then they’ll go home. What many of these fans might not see are the efforts of about 200 people who have been preparing the DakotaDome for this weekend’s USD vs. SDSU game.
Dan Gaston, senior associate athletic director, said there’s days of preparation that go into making sure every football game in the Dome goes off without a hitch. This week is different because the facility will host seven high school state football games and the USD game in a period of three days.
“I think that’s probably the trickiest part of it all is making sure this place looks the way it does for every other game even though you’ve had six games beforehand and then we’re going to have another one after SDSU,” he said.
Gaston, who’s new to USD, said even though this will be his first USD vs. SDSU game, he’s prepared for it and is looking forward to it.
“There’s more pressure on the parking lots, there’s more pressure on the ticket takers, there’s more pressure on everyone. These are the ones that are fun, the ones where you have the place packed and rocking and all of that,” Gaston said.
Part of Gaston’s job is coordinating with the different groups within the Athletic Department, including the athletic marketing team, the facility custodians, the ticket office and the ushers.
“You brief your parking staff, you brief the ushers, they have a production meeting with the marketing staff, the ticket office meets — so everyone meets to make sure they’re on the same page and ready to go,” he said.
He compares the roles that each group plays in prepping the DakotaDome to the roles of players on a football team.
“Everybody has their own piece of the operation. Marketing, tickets, facility events, you know all of that, and it all comes together for the fans,” he said.
The entire Dome will literally be on the same page, running on a script written by Joe Thuente, the assistant athletic director of marketing and promotions.
“Basically anything that happens on the field with the music or the video or a presentation on the field or the coin toss — anything that isn’t the game itself that happens during time-outs or stoppage of play is planned down to the minute, to the second actually,” Thuente said.
Initially, Thuente writes a timeline or outline of what will take place on game day two to three weeks before the game. After getting the initial plan approved by multiple groups within the Athletic Department, he then writes out the script the week of the game.
“What we do is all behind-the-scenes stuff so if you’re not familiar with sports administration and how that works, you’ll be surprised by a lot of it,” he said.
Hours of prep work
In preparation for the game there will be added security, the stands will be mopped and the 80,000 square foot field will be swept — a process that takes two and half hours and is done by pulling a giant broom-like device behind a gator vehicle.
Gary Madsen, the DakotaDome facility manager for the past 15 years, and Sara Wieseler, the head athletic equipment manager, will be at the Dome four or five hours before kickoff to prepare for the day, something not uncommon for the other workers and DakotaDome staff.
“We have to make sure the field is swept before the game, we get the referees all in and get them wired up — jeez there’s just so much stuff on game day,” Madsen said.
Sometimes preparing for a game means dealing with unexpected problems.
“Just like last football game the net didn’t get pulled, (the) football hit the big scoreboard and knocked a panel out of it,” Madsen said. “We just moved all the bleachers and got a lift in here this morning and got that fixed, now we’re putting all the bleachers back together. There’s just a lot of stuff that you don’t think is going to happen that can happen.”
“We go through a lot of trash bags,” Madsen said.
“And a lot of toilet paper,” Wieseler added.
Wieseler said that throughout the week she’ll be preparing the Coyote’s equipment for the game as well.
“On Thursday night we start painting helmets for the game and then we’ll touch up that,” Wieseler said. “Friday morning we’ll return them and about Friday afternoon we’ll have our normal walk-through.”
Despite all of the work that goes into preparing the DakotaDome each week and the countless hours the workers will spend prepping it for this week’s rivalry game, there’s a feeling of purpose among the workers.
“We try to prepare the best we can for every game and whoever comes in here because we’re proud of our Dome and we want people leaving here knowing that they had a good experience,” Madsen said.