How did Michigan Stadium come to have permanent field lighting in 2010? Former University of Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon shed some light on the subject during an appearance this week on current football coach Jim Harbaugh's "Attack Each Day" podcast.
“I actually got ESPN to pay for it. It didn’t cost us a dime," said Brandon, who served as Michigan's AD from 2010 to 2014. "All we had to do was promise to play a night game once a year.”
ESPN did pay the cost of installing permanent lighting at the 107,601-seat stadium, team spokesman Dave Ablauf confirmed to MLive on Tuesday. Until then, details of the lights deal with ESPN had never been disclosed. At the time the lights were installed, university officials cited the project cost at $1.8 million, with “funding provided from athletic department resources.”
Lighting Michigan Stadium represented a departure for one of the most iconic college football venues in the nation. “Everything’s controversial,” Brandon said. "I put lights on the stadium. I got so sick of — we’d play those afternoon games and bring in those portable lights and there’s shadows on the field."
The lighting was approved by Michigan’s board of regents in September 2010 and installed ahead of the “Big Chill at the Big House,” a collegiate hockey game between host Michigan and Michigan State.
Michigan hosted Notre Dame in its first-ever football night game in 2011, before 114,804 Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines did not play a night home game in 2012, but followed up with another 8 p.m. kickoff against Notre Dame in 2013 and 7:30 p.m. game against Penn State in 2014.
Under the Big Ten’s previous TV agreement, league schools agreed to play a maximum of three night home games every two seasons. That has since increased to a maximum of two night home games per season, Ablauf told MLive.
“We put those lights up there and we put those big video boards,” Brandon said. "Do you remember, we used to have those little, dinky LED things? And then we backlit that block ‘M,’ and from downtown Ann Arbor it’s like a beacon to the stadium.
“I think some of those views really defined the brand and the program, and it really makes the athletic department — more the athletic facilities — jump out as an integral part of the university.”