The sports network is broadcasting its popular College GameDay, a college football pregame program, from Fargo, N.D. — home of the two-time defending champion North Dakota State University Bison, who regularly sell out the 19,000-seat Fargodome for their home games.
GameDay does alright, too, with an estimated 5 million or so viewers each week.
It's not often that GameDay makes a stop at a school that's not an upper-level power. Last week, for instance, the show originated from College Station, Texas, for a top 10 battle between Texas A&M and Alabama. But on occasion, the show goes off the beaten path, said Lee Fitting, coordinating producer for GameDay.
NDSU popped up as a possible host for GameDay after the Bison beat Football Bowl Subdivision Kansas State University, Fitting said. He said the GameDay crew knew this week could be one in which it looked for an unusual setting because the big-time school matchups aren't the most intriguing.
Football Bowl Subdivision teams are from schools such as Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Southern California. Football Championship Subdivision schools are one division lower. They're schools such as NDSU, South Dakota State and the University of South Dakota that don't go to bowl games, rather have a playoff to determine a champion.
ESPN comes up with between three and five potential hosts for each GameDay show, Fitting said. The list can be adjusted as teams win or lose, and the best matchup generally determines where the show goes, he said. Generally, he said, the next week's broadcast location is selected Saturday night or Sunday morning depending on the outcomes of games.
It's nice, sometimes, to go to a smaller school from a lower division, Fitting said. Those universities don't usually get much publicity and are very accommodating and welcoming, he said.
He equated NDSU to the Alabama of the Football Championship Division. Both the Bison and Crimson Tide have won consecutive national titles.
This is not the first time GameDay has made a stop at a lower-level school. Other Football Championship Subdivision visits have included:
- Hampton at Florida A&M, Nov. 15, 2008
- Grambling vs. Southern at the Bayou Classic, New Orleans, Nov. 26, 2005
- Harvard at Penn, Nov. 16, 2002
And in 2007, GameDay broadcast from NCAA Division III Williams College in Massachusetts.
In Fargo, GameDay hosts Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso and Desmond Howard — known names to college football fans — will be broadcasting from downtown as opposed to the NDSU campus.
Locations on campus just didn't work well and the outside of a dome isn't very attractive on TV, Fitting said. So Fargo's Broadway, and the Fargo Theatre marquee, will be the backdrop of the GameDay set. It's a picturesque, American post card kind of setting, Fitting said.
In addition to Broadway itself, there's a downtown plaza that can hold a lot of football fans, said Troy Goergen, senior associate athletic director for marketing and media technologies at NDSU.
While the show won't originate from campus as some Bison fans had hoped, GameDay will give NDSU and the Football Championship Subdivision plenty of publicity, Fitting said.
Goergen said emails and messages from other universities that have hosted GameDay before note that the show generates between $9 million and $26 million in what he calls "PR dollars."
In other words, there's no way NDSU could buy the type of publicity GameDay will provide, he said.
Fitting advised people who want to be in the pit behind the stage — the area that's often on TV during the show — get downtown a couple of hours before the show begins. In many places where GameDay stops, he said, students camp out the night before to get prime spots.