Heather Van Hoegarden Obering, associate athletic director for marketing, discusses Northwestern-Purdue game at Wrigley Field

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Joshua Hoffman/Daily Senior Staffer

The completed Northwestern logo at midfield. The Wildcats will take on Purdue at Wrigley Field on Saturday.

Drew Schott , Gameday Editor

Northwestern (3-7, 1-6 Big Ten) and Purdue (6-4, 4-3) will kick off the Wildcats Classic Powered by CDW and NetApp Saturday at Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. 

Saturday will mark the first time NU has played football at The Friendly Confines since 2010. Last year’s matchup against Wisconsin was moved to Ryan Field due to pandemic concerns.

The reconfigured stadium features two functioning endzones and a sideline that the Cats and the Boilermakers share. According to coach Pat Fitzgerald, the Cubs’ bullpen will serve as an in-game locker room for NU.

Ahead of the game, The Daily spoke with NU’s associate athletic director for marketing, Heather Van Hoegarden Obering, about the planning, logistics and impact of the Wildcats Classic. 

This interview has been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity. 

The Daily: What does it mean for Northwestern to partner with a team like the Cubs and to play at a place like Wrigley Field as a college sports program?

Van Hoegarden Obering: They’re a world-class organization. They have a terrific venue. They just completed their renovations a handful of years ago. It’s a great opportunity for our student-athletes to play a game at Wrigley Field. That’s not something that you always get to do. The same thing for our fans; it’s a terrific opportunity to have that experience.

The Daily: Can you speak about the process leading up to this game and the perspective of organizing it? 

Van Hoegarden Obering: A lot of different departments at Northwestern have been involved throughout this process. Whether it’s equipment, sponsorships, marketing, event management, facilities or communications, everyone has played a role in getting this event off the ground in collaboration with the Cubs organization. It’s been a collaborative effort from all of those respective areas, to figure out how you take a game in a football stadium and essentially move it to a baseball stadium. 

The Daily: How does the Wrigley Game help Northwestern athletics stand out, and how do you think it will impact the department going forward?

Van Hoegarden Obering: It’s a great opportunity for us to have an event at a historic ballpark like Wrigley Field. It’s a great opportunity for our student athletes to participate in what, to some degree, feels like a bowl-type game. And the hope is that everyone has a great experience on Saturday and it’s something we can build on for the future.

The Daily: Can you speak to how you have approached the game from a marketing angle?

Van Hoegarden Obering: We’ve really tried to market the new Wrigley Field. The last time this game was played was 2010, and Wrigley looked a lot different. That’s been something that we’ve tried to highlight as part of our schedule this year. It was unique that the game was postponed a year, but we’re really trying to talk about Wrigley Field and the return and how it looks a lot different now than it did in the past. 

The Daily: What, specifically, is being done to recognize that the Wrigley Field game happening after a one-year delay? 

Van Hoegarden Obering: It’s been a year in the making, right? So, we first offered tickets to our season ticket holders. We offered tickets to our students, of course, and then we went on sale to the public in October with some additional single-game tickets. Throughout that messaging and that advertising, some of the things that we talked about was the return to Wrigley Field. 

The Daily: What will make this project special when the teams kick off on Saturday?

Van Hoegarden Obering: Anytime you have the opportunity to work on a special event like this with a historic brand at a historic venue, it’s a terrific opportunity to learn and to engage with two great programs, meaning Northwestern and the Cubs. Everyone around here is really excited for kickoff on Saturday. It’s gonna be a really special event. We’re really excited for our student athletes to have the opportunity to compete there after waiting a year to have that opportunity due to the pandemic. 

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