The west side of the DakotaDome will be closed for renovations during the 2019 football season, meaning all seating, including the student section, will be moved to the east side. Construction is scheduled to begin in February of 2019 and conclude in August of 2020, in time for the 2020 football season.
According to the USD’s athletic administration, 5,278 total seats will be available for the six home football games during the 2019 season, almost half of the 10,000 seats available for games this year. This reduction in seating results in a struggle to find a location for the student section.
Three home games into the 2018 season, the average student attendance is 1,420, according to the administration. The lowest attended game with 936 against the University of Northern Iowa, saw roughly 200 more students than the section can hold next season.
The 2019 Football Season Student Advisory Group, a group of students from organizations on campus led by David Williams, Deputy AD, David Herbster, Athletics Director, and Josh Sorbe Student Government Association president concluded Wednesday that 718-740 of those 5,278 seats will be reserved for the student section.
The 2019 Football Season Student Advisory Group agreed that two potential locations for the student section depend on the band.
Williams said the band has roughly 120 members, but because of their instruments, are given 200 bench seats.
The first option, Williams said, is putting the band at the top of section B and reserving both section A and the remainder of B for the student section.
“The higher they are, the better quality of sound they have,” Williams said. “Right now, at the low spot they have, the cheerleaders can barely hear when the band is playing.”
Section A and B hold 940 total seats, and if the top 200 seats of section B are allotted to the band, 740 seats remain for students. The Dome’s student section currently holds 2,000.
The second option, if allowed by contractors, is to move the band to the west side of the field and leave all of section B (718 seats) for students.
“If the contractors let us, they’d be isolated by themselves, but at least they’d be playing straight at us,” Williams said. “We’re going to see if that’s a possibility.”
Representing the Sound of USD, Isaac Westergaard said this is the better option for the band.
“It would make a good crowd experience, especially if cheer is across the way,” Westergaard said. “The biggest thing is where we’re pointing our bells at. If we could get something on the west side, that’d be the best case for us.”
Four groups will fill the majority of the 5,278 seats available next season:
- 2,538 seats for season ticket holders
- 650 USD Team seats (for recruits and family of football, cheer and dance teams)
- 200 seats reserved for the opposing team (Missouri Valley Conference requirement)
- 718-740 seats for the student section
Subtracting those seats from the original 5,278, the athletic program is left with 1,150-1,172 individual game tickets for fans, compared to 1,890 tickets normally.
Williams said the administration is thinking of “creative ideas” to reduce the number of staff tickets, seats for administrators, coaches, and their families, and open up more seats to fans and students.
“We’re gonna ask students to take a little decrease, so what can we (the staff) do?” Williams said. “We’re talking about ways to pool our tickets, use them only when needed, and put the rest back in the pod.”
The administration is also searching for ways to “pool” corporate season tickets and USD team seats, Williams said.
The Dome Club, a box in the Sanford Coyote Sports Center that overlooks Lewis Field from the south, could be utilized as well. The Dome Club is reserved for donors who give $5,000 or more annually to the athletic program.
Williams said seating in the Dome Club could open up more space in the Dome.
“There are a few people that would rather sit in the Dome Club the entire game than sit in their seats,” Williams said. “So if they don’t want their four seats, and aren’t going to use them anyway, then let’s actually seat them in the Dome Club and do something else with their seats.”
The next step
Williams said he sees three steps in this process: establishing location and size of the student section, allocation of tickets to students, and the logistics behind ticket allotment. The group’s next meeting will determine the allocation of student tickets, although an exact date of the meeting has not been set.
A reduced amount of students seats will increase the demand, and members of the group discussed ideas such as Coyote Crazies incentives, a lottery/raffle system, or seniority-based ticketing.
Herbster said, along with student seating issues inside the dome, there are ones outside the dome as well.
“What are the elements prior to the game that we need to think about?” Herbster said. “What are the elements for the students that aren’t at the game?”
Herbster said it’s possible the game could be displayed on a Jumbotron in the tailgate area for students to watch.
These possibilities won’t be confirmed until the next meeting, where Sorbe said two main questions will be answered.
“We get around 700 tickets. How do we allocate those to the students?” Sorbe said. “The other question we have is what happens to the students who don’t get a ticket?”
Last October, USD announced plans for a $26 million renovation to the DakotaDome, a project that will include new locker rooms, offices and meeting rooms, along with updated HVAC, electrical, lighting, speakers and plumbing systems.
Construction on the west side of the Dome is slated to begin February of 2019 and conclude in time for the 2020 football season. Williams said updates to the west side will increase the capacity of the dome and include suites, loge boxes, and two new entrances. A rendering of the finished project will be released soon.
Earlier this fall, school administrators discussed whether or not to keep USD home games in Vermillion during the 2019 season.
“We had talked about whether or not to move games out of Vermillion,” Williams said. “We decided that the games that would exceed (seating) demand would be D-Days and South Dakota State. We didn’t want to want to move those games out.”
The process is moving forward, but Herbster said there’s still a lot to consider.
“Next year, frankly, will be a challenge,” Herbster said. “There’s no bad ideas, there’s just ideas. Some are gonna fit, some aren’t.”