In 1991, Northern Michigan University opened the doors on the Superior Dome, a $23.8 million structure that stands as one of the most unique venues in North American sports. Standing at 14 stories high and 536-feet in diameter, the facility is home to the Northern Michigan Wildcats football team, as well as the soccer and track & field teams.
The football team competes in the Great Lake Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC), a Division II conference consisting of teams from Michigan and Ohio. The program won the Division II National Championship in 1975. The team last won the GLIAC in 1987.
The facility also hosts the offices of United States Olympics Educational Center, as well as training facilities for Olympic boxing, weightlifting, and wrestling. If you make it to the southern shores of Lake Superior, then the Superior Dome is worth a visit.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Prices are reasonable, and even though there aren't any interesting items, there's enough here to stave off your hunger for a football game. I tried the "Dome Dog" ($3), which was pretty decent as stadium hot dogs go. Other options include brats and Italian sausage ($3), nachos ($3), popcorn ($2), or soft pretzel ($2.50). Smaller snacks and sweets like cotton candy ($2), cracker jack ($2), ice cream sandwich ($1.50), and beef jerky ($1.50) are also on hand.
Pepsi is the soft drink provider with 24 and 32-ounce sizes available ($2.50 or $3). You can also warm up with hot tea or coffee ($1.50), hot chocolate ($2) or cappuccino ($2). Bottled water or juice is available as well ($2.50).
Soda and popcorn vendors will occasionally wander through the stands so you may have the opportunity to purchase a snack or drink without leaving your seat and missing any of the game.
There is a TV near the main concession stand where you can check out scores from elsewhere in the world of sports.
The unique building and architecture really provide the biggest boost to the overall game day atmosphere. The facility is immense, and I found myself looking around and staring at the wooden roof more than I was engaged in the game. The building is actually fairly dark and the metal bleachers leave something to be desired as well, although they do offer pretty good leg room. That said, the uniqueness of the building really adds to the overall atmosphere and helps to cancel out some of the negatives.
The band does a good job, both while marching and playing their instruments, as well as serving as the de facto student section. There is a student section at the Superior Dome, but the young men and women must have blown their enthusiasm at the hockey game the night before, because there wasn't much of a lift there.
The most disappointing element that falls within this category was the mascot, who almost exclusively stood by the stands without doing very much of anything. I have learned over the years that being a mascot is very hard work. It is a hot and non-stop job, but the person in the wild cat suit during my visit really did little to add to the enjoyment of the game for fans.
I really like downtown Marquette. It's a pretty little town, the largest in the Upper Peninsula in fact, and the main downtown area is only about a mile from the Superior Dome. I wandered a bit on a cold fall day making several stops, all of them enjoyable.
Earlier in the day, or if you just need some caffeine, I would suggest making a stop at Dead River Coffee for a cup of Joe. The baked goods at their next door neighbor, Marquette Baking Company, are worth a stop as well.
If you are looking for a pint of local beer, then stop in to the Ore Dock Brewing Company. They have seven locally made beers on tap, and also have several board games, a ping pong table, and a foosball table. It is certainly a fun and relaxing place to spend a couple of hours.
Further down the road is the Vierling Restaurant, offering local beers, sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and salads. I had the smoked whitefish appetizer and a beer sampler and was very happy to just sit by the window and look out at the cold harbor.
The student section was definitely lacking, which was disappointing after seeing the crew in action for a hockey game at the Berry Events Center the night before. There were very few in attendance and they mostly just sat on their hands or socialized. Across the way, alumni and family were more supportive and interested in the actual game, but in that large venue, it would take a lot more to have much effect on the outcome.
There is plenty of parking that surrounds the Superior Dome, and for $2 you can grab a space. There is some free street parking around the area as well if you don't mind walking just a little bit, but for $2 I was happy to grab a spot closer to the dome.
There was some limited tailgating on the day of my visit, a rather chilly Saturday afternoon. The size of the lot does lend itself well to tailgating. Getting in to the parking lot both before the game and after is relatively easy.
Inside the Superior Dome you will find wide concourses, and it is worth your while to explore a bit. They have numerous displays devoted to the Upper Peninsula- its people, wildlife, athletes, and history. There are also displays honoring the Olympic athletes who have trained here, as well as an impressive collection of Olympic torches, including the games of Berlin (1936), Atlanta (1996), Nagano (1998), Salt Lake City (2002), Athens (2004), Torino (2006), Beijing (2008), and Vancouver (2010).
Restrooms are clean and good sized for the facility.
Reserved seating section tickets run from $7-$11, and general admission is $5-$9, with the discounted prices going to seniors, NMU students, or fans under the age of 18. There really is little reason to pay for the higher priced ticket as the view is equally good from the opposite side. This is also a terrific place to spend time out of your seat, and around the field, standing and watching from various perspectives. I spent most of my time just walking around, or moving with the action up and down the field.
The parking and concessions do little to add to the affordable afternoon, and there is little reason to think that any one person's time at the Superior Dome will cost more than $20 in all. There is so much to see in this unique stadium besides the football that it is easily worth the price of admission.
One point for the world's tallest trophy which sits outside the team shop, rising an impressive 22', 6 ˝" high. It was presented to the Marquette International Longboard Federation for setting another Guinness World Record, Largest Skateboard Parade (341 skaters).
One extra point for the walking track that is available for the general public. Three trips around the concourse is a mile, and it must be a great place to walk, especially during the winter months.
Another extra point for the great displays found throughout the building, including the NMU Hall of Fame. Northern Michigan University is somewhat of a coaching cradle as successful football coaches Lloyd Carr, Jerry Glanville, and Steve Mariucci all played football at Northern Michigan. Michigan State head basketball coach Tom Izzo played on the NMU basketball team.
Finally, an extra point is awarded to the cheerleading squad. It always bums me out when students don't show up for college sporting events. The cheerleaders here in the dome did their best, but there were few in the stands to follow their lead.
I made the trip to Marquette to see the hockey team and arena, and found myself irresistibly drawn to the Superior Dome. I wandered inside the day before the football game and knew that I had to see a game in person. You may have a similar reaction. It is a one-of-a-kind place, and even though this is Division II football, well worth the visit. I also really enjoyed my time in the town of Marquette. Check the sports schedule and consider making a trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula to visit Northern Michigan University.
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