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NIU expects big payday from Wisconsin football game

The Northern Illinois football team waits for a kickoff against Iowa at Soldier Field in 2007. The Huskies are expecting to make about $1 million off this year's game against Wisconsin in Chicago.
The Northern Illinois football team waits for a kickoff against Iowa at Soldier Field in 2007. The Huskies are expecting to make about $1 million off this year's game against Wisconsin in Chicago.

DeKALB – Jeff Compher wasn’t always sure it would turn out this way, but Northern Illinois’ athletic director has a conclusion regarding the Huskies’ football contract with Wisconsin for a Sept. 17 game at Soldier Field.

“I think it’s a win-win-win,” Compher told the Daily Chronicle on Tuesday morning. “... We actually gain a lot of financial benefit from it.”

NIU will pay Wisconsin $1 million to play host to its first Big Ten opponent in Chicago since it played Iowa in 2007. Compher said he sensed Wisconsin was reluctant to play NIU on the road and feared it may buy out the contract, so he negotiated a favorable deal for the Badgers to keep the game intact.

Compher said the Huskies received the first million in revenue from the Iowa game in ‘07, and Iowa received the second million. Wisconsin will get the first million this time, according to the contract obtained last week by the Daily Chronicle, with NIU keeping whatever is left. Compher hopes the revenue his athletics department receives reaches $1 million.

View NIU's contract with Wisconsin for their game this season at Solider Field by clicking here.

“It’s all about what you’re going to have here with 24,000 (fans), compared to there with 61,000,” Compher said. “As far as the number goes, I can’t give it to you because you’re looking at students who don’t pay here because they’ve already paid in the fees that they give us. So there are a lot of different factors.

“Our revenue here on a per-game basis is significantly less than what it would be at Soldier Field.”

Compher said money for the payout comes exclusively from revenue the game generates, as opposed to a separate athletic fund used to pay coaching salaries among other things. He said NIU has already raised the first million dollars from the game that will be used to pay Wisconsin.

Compher was unable to quantify how much extra revenue NIU gets from hosting in Chicago, but he said the difference is worth the trip. Wisconsin receives a higher payout playing the game at Soldier Field than it would in DeKalb, he said, but the increased revenue NIU expects more than makes up the difference.

“Given the upside of that, I felt (more payout) was a legitimate request,” Compher said. “And I was confident we would hit it.”

NIU would make even more revenue if it weren’t for its partnership with SMG, which operates facilities at Soldier Field. All concessions, souvenirs, parking and club and suite revenue is exclusive property of SMG, according to the contract. NIU and Wisconsin will receive 100 free parking spaces each in exchange for a block of 200 tickets that will go to SMG.

While SMG’s presence curtails NIU’s profit, Compher said the partnership is necessary because it would be too difficult for his staff to host the event at Soldier Field without help.

“You always have to work with others wherever we are,” Compher said. “Even when we hold an event here on campus, we’re working with other university offices and university departments. We’re always working with other people, but we’re just kind of the point people to get this done.

“So you really do need the staff at SMG to help in this case. But wherever we went, we would rely on that third party to help us.”

Compher wasn’t at NIU when the Huskies played Iowa, but he said he believes improvements have been made for fans in DeKalb making the trip. He specifically pointed to adding parking passes to ticket packages so fans can tailgate together.

“We had some people say, ‘It would’ve been nice if we could’ve tailgated with other Huskies and not intermingled with the opponent,’ “ Compher said. “So we’ve done that, and we’ve done some other things to kind of look at discounting for those who buy season tickets.

“What we tried to do is capitalize on some of the things we learned last time and add some value to it.”

Here are a few other tidbits from the NIU-Wisconsin contract:

– The $1 million is due to Wisconsin within 30 days of the game.
– The officials will be from, assigned by and compensated by the Big Ten. NIU will be responsible for paying the chain crew and the public address announcer.
– NIU and Wisconsin will negotiate with SMG regarding field markings, including the team names and logos in the end zones and any sponsorship designation on the field.
– NIU controls radio and television rights during the game or taped replay. Wisconsin is allowed to carry a live broadcast of the event in its immediate home media market.
– NIU’s band will sit in section 151. Wisconsin’s will be in sections 122 and 123.

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