Monday was an historic day for Mizzou Athletics, when the department announced a record-setting $62 million donation from a benefactor who wishes to remain anonymous. The release indicated that $50 million of the gift is to be earmarked for stadium renovations, with the remainder going toward the Tiger Fund, which is the successful NIL support arm for Tiger Athletics.
Major kudos go to both sides in this landmark occasion. Certainly, we Mizzou fans extend our sincere gratitude to the individual (or family, or perhaps families) behind this generous gift that will quite literally change the North end zone skyline at Memorial Stadium. Next, major congratulations go to Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois and her fundraising team that helped guide such a delicate process to this rousing conclusion. It’s stating the obvious that something like this doesn’t happen without a lot of work behind the scenes.
Rest assured that this gift was already in motion for quite a while, as the athletic department didn’t just get a surprise check in the mail one day. Gifts like these take a lot of time and TLC to cultivate. No matter how much money someone has, they aren’t going to part with this type of capital without being wined and dined and given assurances that it will be used in the right way. What’s likely is that this was an already established donor who at one time had expressed an interest about going in bigger. For a gift of this size, it’s quite probable that there was not only meaningful involvement with Athletics officials, but also University leadership such as President Mun Choi and possibly a Curator or two for a lengthy period of time prior to Monday’s announcement.
The coach of the program that will stand most to benefit in this situation has to be involved in this scenario, and Drink is really good at people skills, so I’m confident that he had a prominent role here.
One other reason why this gift had to be in the works for awhile is related to an announcement that Athletics made last November, when the Board of Curators approved plans to examine the concept of renovating and expanding the stadium. That type of announcement would not have been made if this donation hadn’t already been cultivated. Mizzou won’t get in front of something of that financial significance without knowing it had the funding commitment already in hand. That’s not to say the check was in the bank at the time of the November announcement, but it was most likely that there was some kind of verbal commitment that they kept under wraps publicly until Monday’s big announcement.
This latest windfall more than doubled the previous record gift that Mizzou had received in 2012, when the Kansas City Sports Trust gave $30 million just prior to joining the SEC. That was used in part to help build up the east side of the stadium and reconfigure the Rock M hill in the North Endzone.
The finance plan for the upcoming stadium enhancement is expected to be announced in April. It remains to be seen how much this $50 million will cover for the new project. Perhaps that will take care of it all, or maybe there’s more fundraising in the works. Keep in mind that the South Endzone complex that was completed in 2019 came home with a price tag of around $98 million.
My buddies and I debated on our text chat whether the football program wouldn’t benefit more if the numbers were switched, and $50 million went to the NIL side of the house while $12 was part of a seed gift to help get stadium renovations under way. It’s an interesting debate, and I’m sure there were a lot of discussions with all parties involved as to how best to structure the gift in the most impactful way.
So just what will the stadium plans include? According to the athletics news release, the improvements will create a new premium seating area and an open-air mixed-use facility in the North Concourse that can provide year-round revenue potential. Whatever they ultimately decide on, officials are on record as stating the project will be ready prior to the 2026 season. That will be fun to watch, as will the new North Endzone video board and improved sound system that is coming for the upcoming season.
It’s also fun to dream big and come up with some of our own suggestions as to what could be done to the stadium. I’ve got a few suggestions below, one that’s deadly serious, and a couple less so because I’m great at producing really cool ideas that are completely impossible to pull off.
My serious wish list item for the North concourse is to see a significant space dedicated to a Mizzou Athletics Hall of Fame. In my days with Athletic Communications, I served as the “curator” of sorts for Mizzou’s Hall of Fame, and I always felt like we needed to celebrate it more than we did. Initially, the area was located in the Hearnes Center concourse with a wall of plaques, and that was moved over to Mizzou Arena when that opened up in 2004. Due to cost issues, the new HOF area wasn’t that much better than what was done at Hearnes, and I always felt like this was short-changing our history. I’d really like to see something done in a grand scale that pays tribute to the pioneers and trailblazers and historic figures in Tiger Athletics history, with display cases, interactive video displays and such. Build something that is a destination place for fans to come see year-round, like a museum. I’m hopeful that this is part of the planning process going forward.
Now, for the less-than-serious suggestions:
The ship has probably sailed on ever having a live Tiger roam Faurot Field, so how about installing a real cage on the North Endzone but having the technology present that projects a holographic Bengal tiger that would roam the cage, make noise, and growl at opportune times during a game. It could be interactive and when kids come up near to the cage, the tiger could move close and growl to give them a fun scare.
I’m a sucker for carnival rides so let’s install permanently the best ones ever – the Tilt-A-Whirl or The Scrambler in the North Concourse!
Or, how about a nod to Columbia’s history and bringing back a replica of Gunther’s Games or Alexander’s Steakhouse? Those were a huge part of my student days and a big reason why my GPA was nothing to write home about.
What say you? If you have any ideas – serious or otherwise – as to what you’d like to see done at Memorial Stadium, please share in the comments below.