True to the prediction “If you build it, they will come,” adapted from the 1989 movie Field of Dreams, “The Big House” attracted several hundred people to an evening tour, reception and dinner held at Michigan Stadium on day one (May 16) of the joint Michigan Growth Capital Symposium and Coulter Investment Forum.
For many first-time and repeat visitors, the opportunity to snap “selfies” inside the Wolverines’ locker room, pass and kick footballs around the field and then dine at the Jack Roth Stadium Club was a highlight of the two-day venture-investment event.
“I’ve never been to Michigan or the Big House, so this is a cool event,” said Kalen Smith, vice president of SSM Partners in Memphis.
“It’s amazing to be in the largest football stadium in the United States,” remarked Olena Danyluk, a research associate at Wayne State University.
Michigan Stadium set an NCAA attendance record of 115,109 fans on Sept. 2013, in a match-up with Notre Dame. In 2015, the stadium’s seating capacity was reduced to 107,601 from the previous 109,901 due to reconfigurations needed to comply with ADA regulations and to host non-football events. It is still America’s largest stadium and the second-largest in the world.
“I’ve been coming to Michigan Stadium since 1972, but I’ve never been in the team’s locker room,” said Dilip Nigam, CEO of ArborWind, who recalled seeing Rick Leach, Dennis Franklin and Jim Harbaugh, now Head Football Coach for the Wolverines, play football during their student days at the Big U. “I’m surprised to see how spartan it is.” A photo of former Head Football Coach Bo Schembechler adorns one wall, along with his famous quote: “Those who stay will be champions.”
“I was looking forward to coming here and having a chance to go onto the field at The Big House – what a great opportunity,” commented Matt Hulbert, the founder of Biopharm Forge in Philadelphia. “A lot of people back home will be jealous.”
After touring the locker room, many visitors walked through the famous tunnel onto the stadium’s artificial turf. “Can you imagine coming out of this tunnel and hearing a crowd of 100,000 people screaming?” remarked Neil Wyant, managing director of Fir Hill LLC in Akron, Ohio. “I went to a game at Michigan Stadium once while I was a Northwestern University student. It was very loud and not too friendly.”
The Big House looks a lot different today than it did when Nigam and Wyant were students. In 2010, the University unveiled a $227 million renovation and expansion of the iconic sports facility, which included the addition of 81 luxury boxes and 3,200 club seats. Michigan Stadium, originally built in 1927 at a cost of $950,000, was rededicated on Sept. 4, 2010, during the first 2010 home football game, against the University of Connecticut. Two new 4,000-square-foot LED video scoreboards, the largest in Wolverine history, were installed at opposite ends of the field before the start of the 2011 season.
Up in the Stadium Club, the Hal Davis Jazz Trio provided background music, and symposium/forum attendees enjoyed an upscale buffet dinner with a festive tailgating vibe. The bird’s-eye view of Michigan Stadium at sunset rekindled memories of historic moments, such as when President Lyndon B. Johnson outlined his Great Society program at the 1964 commencement ceremonies and when President Barak Obama delivered the U-M commencement address to graduates in May 2010.
“The Big House is more impressive than the Rose Bowl and has a lot of history and tradition,” observed first-time visitor David Marra, a strategy, marketing and sales consultant for tech startups. “It represents persistence, courage and loyalty – the elements we all need to drive ourselves, build businesses and improve communities. Right now it’s empty, but in reality, everybody’s here. It’s all about the human spirit.”