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Published on 01/02/2008 3:50 am   (Last Updated 01/04/2008 11:50 am)
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Thunder Stay at James Griffin Stadium for 2008
By Brian Quarstad
In a turnabout of their original decision made last fall to leave James Griffin Stadium in St. Paul, home of the team for last threee seasons, the Minnesota Thunder have decided to return to Griffin Stadium for the 2008 season and beyond. General Manager Djorn Bucholz said that after much deliberation within the front office, the decision was made to stay at the stadium. James Griffin Stadium is owned by St. Paul Public Schools. Historic Griffin Stadium is the home of the St. Paul Central High School Minutemen. Neighboring Concordia University also uses the facility.

The team decided to stay for many reasons. First and foremost was the cost involved in making a move. Bucholz said it wasn't an easy decision." It took us far longer that we had expected to decide." The Thunders' other option was Klas Center at nearby Hamline University.

Klas field was built in 2004 and is a four level facility. If the Thunder had moved there, the team had hoped to take advantage of the 3rd floor banquet hall atop the press box for concessions sales. The banquet hall has full glass windows looking out onto the field. Klas also has much better locker room facilities than Griffin. The field is a fill turf like Griffin but is slightly wider. A major disadvantage is that Klaus only seats 2000 compared to Griffin's 4,367 seats. The Thunder would have had to figure out potentially expensive alternative seating for some games.

Another difficulty was Klas Center is booked up with many other events during the summer. Weddings, banquets and school events all would play havoc with the Thunder schedule.

In the end, the front office decided to stay at Griffin. The Thunder will try to upgrade the facility for the remaining years until the team moves into their own stadium, which the organization hope to have built in several years. Bucholz said the team have signed a contract with the school district to use the facility. However, all the details are not yet finalized.

One of the first upgrades planned is installing a new scoreboard made by a company called Daktronics. The updated multi-sport scoreboard will serve the many sports played by high school and college athletes at James Griffin stadium.

Bucholz said the scoreboard is only one of the ways the new owners and front office personnel are committed to making the game day experience better. They hope to put banners on the light poles that are prominent when entering the Stadium from the south. There are also flag poles that were built into the new reinforcement of the north wall last summer that can be used to create a more festive atmosphere. In addition, the team is looking into the integrity of the southwest corner area where the concession stands, garage and bathrooms currently stand. If possible, the organization would like to build a concession area on the roof with seating, tables, umbrellas and where fans could enjoy a good view of the field.

The team also plans on replacing the old press box area with a new one. The old press box is raw wood studs and plywood on the inside with a stucco exterior. Griffin Stadium is hand painted on the stuco. An upgrade to the press box would be a major upgrade to the stadium.

In making all these improvements, the Thunder hope to be able to negotiate with St. Paul Public Schools to allow them to upgrade the concessions. The General Manager said he feels that the fans certainly want more than "hot dogs and greasy hamburgers." All the improvements to the stadium would be a donation to the school district. He hopes the school district will reciprocate and allow the team more control over concessions that are sold at games.

Since the team started playing at James Griffin in 2004, the Athletic Director for St. Paul Public Schools decided that booster clubs from Como and Johnson High Schools should be grandfathered into the concessions for past service to the school district. The Thunder have had no control of those concessions nor do they receive any profits from them. Bucholz hopes the district will listen to the teams request for more attractive food options on game day, again making the fan experience better.

Bucholz also shared that the organization is undergoing some other exciting changes. New owners Dean Johnson and Henk Habers want to make the Thunder one of the top soccer teams in the U.S. In doing so, they are looking to rebrand the team.

One of the first changes was to hire Peter Johns as Chief Officer of Marketing and Event Development. Johns was formally the marketing director for the Xcel Energy Center. In a quote from the Thunder web site, "Johns will oversee the long term operations of marketing, branding, ticket sales, fan experience and event development."

Johns comes with a wealth of experience and a track record of building the Xcel Center into one of the top ten revenue creating venues in the U.S. Currently the Thunder are looking to start a new ad campaign with an urban twist. Johnson and Habers have already committed at least $150,000.00 to the campaign. This is compared to $20,000.00 for the total marketing budget last year.

Along with rebranding will come a new logo. The logo has not been confirmed yet but will most likely be more like the shield the team is currently using on their uniforms. "The logo got changed 6 years ago to what we have currently, and quite frankly, no one in the organization likes it", Bucholz said. The team has secured a marketing and design firm to give the team several options. They hope to have the new design finished within 6 weeks. He also said, "We are looking for a more European look."

The team has also partnered with TV, radio and print media organizations. In doing so they hope the team will start to get better coverage than they've had in the past. KARE 11 will be the TV partner, the StarTribune will be the print partner, and KMNV 1400 am will be the radio partner. Bucholz was asked if the Spanish radio station (KMNV) meant the team will be bringing in some Spanish speaking players from south of the border. The G.M. said that was a strong possibility.

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