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As Minnesota Vikings New Stadium Inches Closer to Reality, So Does a MLS Team – Maybe?

2012 April 26
by Brian Quarstad

An amendment to kill the Vikings’ right to bring in a Major League Soccer team to Minnesota in the first 5 years of operation was struck down by the finance committee yesterday, leaving the door open for the possibility of a soccer team owned by the Wilfs.  

A new downtown Minneapolis stadium for the Vikings got one step further to reality on Wednesday as the bill passed the finance committee 9-5 yesterday after nearly six hours of discussion.

The Stadium deal that looked dead earlier last week, sprang to life again when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II and NFL vice president of operations Eric Grubman, met with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and other key legislative leaders last Friday, April 20. Since that meeting and a renewed bipartisan promise, the stadium bill seems to have taken to life again passing through several key committees.

The latest hurdle was the finance committee who tacked on “racino” as another funding mechanism which was looked at as a deal killer by Senator Julie Rosen, (R-Fairmont) sponsor of the stadium bill in the state Senate. That amendment was proposed by Sen. Sean Nienow, (R-Cambridge) who called racino a “proven, across-the-nation funding mechanism” instead of counting on tax revenue from electronic pull-tabs, which he said was based on “fairies and foo-foo dust.”

Nienow made the comment even though many experts including a top executive from the Goldman Sachs Group had testified that the projected electronic pull tab numbers estimated in the bill were solid and conservative if anything.

Rosen and others backing her bill had worked hard with charitable gambling to get the bill this far. Racino has been controversial in the past as it allows slots machines to be placed at horse racing tracks in the state. Racino has never been approved because of opposition from tribal casinos and there’s no reason to believe the amendment won’t bog down the stadium bill which is now expected to hit the floor of the senate.

The controversial racino amendment of senator Nienow’s wasn’t the only part of the stadium bill he tried to tack on yesterday. Another proposal of the Cambridge representative was to kill the Major League Soccer component to the stadium bill.

As it stands now, the proposal calls for the Vikings to have rights to a MLS team for 5 years. That portion of the bill was clarified yesterday via Twitter to IMS by the Vikings’ Jeff Anderson who is Director of Corporate Communications for the Vikings. He stated that the five-year period when the Vikings would have exclusive rights to bring in an MLS team to play at the new stadium rent free, would start from the date that the first NFL game is played in the new facility.

While Nienow had no problem with the Vikings bringing in and operating an MLS team he did have an issue with what he called “a state sanctioned monopoly (that) would let them operate with no rent.”

“I actually think it’s a great deal,” said Rosen, who seemed to share the same sentiments as most finance committee members. “If they want to bring in a Major League Soccer team and they want to put in a retractable roof and make that investment, that’s their responsibility and their cost. For them to take a leap of faith and want to bring in a soccer team, develop a fan base that’s going to generate revenue … why would we not want to give them an opportunity to do that?”

The proposed and defeated amendment tipped off nearly 30 minutes of discussion about MLS to Minnesota and some of the components of the Vikings’ rights to bring a team to the state.

Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs for the Vikings, made it very clear that the team would not be interested in bringing MLS to Minnesota if they were not afforded the opportunity to play dates in the new stadium, rent free.  He also said they have had a number of conversations with the league.

“The agreement that has been negotiated separately with state leaders, the city and the team, over a period of several weeks and months included this opportunity to try to secure for Minnesota a Major League Soccer franchise,” said Bagley. “We have a 5-year window according to the legislation.”

Bagley also said the Vikings would pay all the game-day related costs of hosting MLS games at the stadium but expected the rent-free portion of the agreement to be ongoing.

The Vikings vice president of public affairs also said that there is tremendous economic activity in MLS with 18 home games and average crowds of 17,000. He said it would cost the Vikings $30 to 40 million to acquire the franchise. (MLS commissioner Don Garber has stated the next franchise would most likely go for between $70-90 million. The Montreal Impact purchased their franchise 3 years ago for $40 million.)

Finance committee chair Claire Robling seemed to ask the probing question of the day that drew chuckles even from Bagley. “Mr. Bagley, since a lot of people like to see soccer played outside would that mean that you might, at your expense, put on a retractable roof.” (Laughter)

Bagley answered, “Madam chairman, I think that is something that we have discussed.” The Vikings spokesperson then carefully avoided the question by speaking to the contributions that team will be making to the cost of construction and maintenance of the stadium.

Finance committee member Terri Bonoff of Minneapolis sounded quite enthusiastic about an MLS team and even seemed a bit knowledgeable about the sport. “I see a huge opportunity for us and I’m excited about that opportunity,” said Bonoff. “I hope when you pursue the soccer team you will strongly consider the retractable roof.”

IMS recorded the 20 minutes of conversation concerning the MLS portion of the agreement and you can listen to that here.

Yesterday afternoons finance committee hearing can be viewed here.

29 Responses
  1. April 26, 2012

    I had been dismissing the MLS talk as nothing more than the obvious attempt at political leverage– Vikings have been trying to get a new tax-payer subsidized stadium since at least 1998 when Red McCombs bought the team, perhaps even longer– so this seemed like the latest ploy in a long run of them.

    But given these new revelations, the possibility seems very real, perhaps even… certain?

    And of course I have that same old recurring feeling whenever someone brings up getting an MLS club here… we already _have_ a fantastic team, it bothers me that people won’t get out and support Stars, yet act like woodwork supporters whenever MLS gets mentioned. If they can’t get out to support the team we’ve already got, do they deserve an MLS club?

    In any event, thanks for covering this so closely Brian!

  2. Taylor permalink
    April 26, 2012

    There’s another saying of “Build it and They Will Come” – probably this might apply to the MLS in Minnesota ?
    Some people might not be interested in supporting the Stars, but they might be interested in seeing MLS players. I know this seems harsh, but this is the reality.

  3. Yankiboy permalink
    April 26, 2012

    “Bagley said that there is tremendous economic activity in MLS with 18 home game and average crowds of 17,000. He also said that it would cost the Vikings 30 to 40 million to acquire the franchise. (MLS commissioner Don Garber has stated the next franchise would most likely go for between 70-90 million. The Montreal Impact purchased their franchise 3 years ago for 40 million.)”

    I don’t have a dog in the fight and my local MLS team’s difficulties in finding a stadium solution are well documented (just google DC United & stadium if you are unfamiliar)–but the above numbers crack me up.

    17K attendance (thank you Seattle–where they have a great retractable roof) and the MLS buy in price tag–they are looking for a 2009 price when we are living in 2012. And after the Don has clearly said that the price has gone up. Sorry but I don’t think that MLS is going to be giving them the “Land of 10,000 Lakes” discount. Makes me chuckle.

    And they want to not have to pay rent–”ongoing”? That sounds a lot like “indefinitely” to me.

    Great work on the audio and getting the story out.

  4. Bruce permalink
    April 26, 2012

    I am curiously to find out where the possible MLS team will come from.

    The league’s 20th team seems destined for New York, so would the Vikings have to buy an existing team and move it to Minneapolis?

    Which current MLS teams would be candidates for moving?

    The Hunt family owns both Dallas and Columbus, and both continue to have big trouble drawing consistent crowds even when they have winning teams, so would they sell one and allow it to be relocated? Or would Vergara sell Chivas USA which has struggled to find its own audience while trapped in the shadow of the LA Galaxy?

    How about DC United who have failed over and over again to get a deal done to build a stadium? They currently have a 2 year lease at RFK but no future planned out beyond that. And owner Will Chang has been openly looking for new investors for the team. Would he be willing to sell and let the team move away from DC?

    Any other candidates?

    Or will MLS move beyond 20 teams in the next 5 years.

    And if they do would the cost of a new franchise really be as low as $30-40 million? That price seems very very unlikely unless the Vikings already negotiated that with the league too. (Doubtful.)

    Lots of great questions.

    I would like to see the Vikings show us how serious they are right now and buy the Minnesota Stars immediately and begin building an organization toward MLS.

  5. Yankiboy permalink
    April 26, 2012

    @Bruce-Big ups, Playah!

    Excellent list.

    If the Hunts tried to move Columbus or Dallas, local leaders are going to lose their freaking minds after both of those clubs having stadia built. They might even try to block it legally. The local governments would probably lose (they usually do, right?)

    Vegeara selling ChivasUSA to a group that would rebrand the club and move it to Minnesota sounds like another possibility. The last thing that I heard is that they are trying to get their own stadium, somewhere else in the LA area.

    If DC moves then they will most likely relocate to “the Land of Pleasant Living”, Bmore. In the People’s Republic of Maryland, the Maryland Stadium Authority has had a lot of success with helping stadium deals get done. The owners usually get a sweet deal in the MD.

    I still think that the MLS marketing survey from last year where they quizzed potential fans about supporting a relocated MLS franchise was more than just a bit shrewd. If Baltimore ever gets an gets an MLS franchise that wasn’t DC United, most people who are going to cosumne the product could care less where it came from because the club will be rebranded and a new chapter will begin, a la the Baltimore Ravens (and NOT like the football team that currently resides in Indiannpolis that just let it’s Hall of Fame quarterback walk).

  6. thesuperrookie permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Yankiboy- Seattle has a retractable roof? That is a new one to me.

  7. Yankiboy permalink
    April 26, 2012

    ^ :D

    It’s the perfect complement to the soccer specific stadium that they have–you know–the one that MLS says is all but vital for you to be able to get if you want to buy into the club, the one where you are the primary tenant and preferably control in order to be economically viable, the one the sort of venue or planned venue that bumps your name up to the top of the potential expansion list.

    To the best of my knowledge (admittedly, always quite limited), currently the Seattle Sounders do not have any plans to upgrade to their venue to feature a more traditional style of retractable roof that is currently utilized by their northern, Cascadian brothers in arms, the vancouver Whitecaps (who happen to feature their own, very unique soccer specific stadium which they operate that the MLS brass seems to be so eager to demand).

  8. smatthew permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Wait so the “five year” thingy only refers to a Vikings owned MLS team to how long they could play in the stadium rent free? Ouch. I always assumed it meant that a Vikings lead ownership group had first dibs to put an MLS team in the stadium.

  9. April 26, 2012

    It’s a bit confusing smatthew.

    As simple as I can make it and this is purely just from what I understand:

    5 year exclusivity is part of the stadium bill and may even included the stadium commission. I’m not sure. But it assures a couple of things. The Vikings have the exclusive rights to bring an MLS team in to play in the new stadium. I believe as Bagley stated in this article and as others stated (if you listen to the audio or watch the video) that the Vikings ability to use the stadium for MLS games rent free, is ongoing. In fact some seemed to be upset about that fact and made mention of having to revisit this if the team was successful.

    From everything I understand that Vikings did not negotiate anything with MLS for first rights to a team here. The exclusivity is part of the Vikings stadium bill.

  10. April 26, 2012

    Also, fascinating look inside the politics of the stadium bill this past week. As always, good stuff from Minnpost.

    http://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2012/04/stadium-bill-maneuvering-offers-refresher-course-legislative-politics

  11. 32panels permalink
    April 26, 2012

    @Yankiboy Century Link in Seattle doesn’t have a retractable roof (although Safeco field across the streed does) it is open air… I get drenched (as do most in the stadium) when it rains. Also Vancouver’s BC place is not soccer specific. It is also home to the BC Lions. Similar to how C-Link is home to both the SeaHawks and Sounders.

  12. Mark permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Wouldn’t a football stadium be too big for MLS? Even if we did somehow pull off 17k per game
    that is going to leave the stadium pretty empty and without atmosphere.

    As much as I would like to see MLS make it here I would prefer to continue to build the Stars experience than lose them for a crappy MLS experience.

  13. April 26, 2012

    Yankiboy –

    CenturyLink Field in Seattle is an outdoor stadium. Was built by/for the NFL Seahawks, and was built with soccer and MLS expansion in mind. The only retractable roof stadium in Seattle is Safeco Field, where the Mariners play.

    BC Place in Vancouver was renovated for the 2010 Winter Olympics and later updated again to be a home for the BC Lions of the CFL and the MLS Whitecaps. The BC Lions are still the primary tenant at BC Place. It has a retractable roof (after deflating the old dome) but it’s more like a car with a sun roof than a convertible. LOL.

    Chivas USA is rumored to be announcing a new home stadium in the LA area and will be rebranding along with that. They had been looking to do a deal with a local university to get that done, too (much like how The Home Depot Center is on the campus of Cal State – Dominguez.) We’ll likely hear something official on this over the summer.

  14. The Choosen One permalink
    April 26, 2012

    Mark Seattle doesn’t seem to have a crappy MLS experience.

  15. April 26, 2012

    I say good luck to MN in getting an MLS team, I’d rather see them get one then NYC getting a second team. I would hope that if they do ever get an MLS team up there, whoever it is takes ownership of the Stars brand/legacy.

    On that note, would it perhaps be possible for the Vikings to buy the Stars and have them play, rent free, at a new stadium(or even the Metrodome while the new place is being built)? Yes the atmosphere would not be as great with sub-10,000 crowds at an NFL venue, but it could work from a financial standpoint and it would be downtown. They could build towards MLS with the NASL club.

  16. Yankiboy permalink
    April 26, 2012

    @32Panels and Dave: Thanks a lot for the assist, Playahs. My comments about the soccer specific stadiums in Seattle and Vancouver and the Emerald City’s retractable roof were made just to poke a little innocent fun at MLS (with its ever changing, preferred expansion criteria) and some of those in Minnesota (who think that they HAVE to have a roof in order to handle the elements).

    32, you guys look a lot more “hardcore” when you are getting drenched. keep doing your thang, Playah!

  17. Dude permalink
    April 26, 2012

    to me this looks like a New England situation rent free and a team that becomes a place holder for events in the NFL off season. do the revs and pats have the same front office? is their any cross promotion.

    Is Wilf Knowledgable about soccer. Will he combine the front offices like Seattle did and promote both teams to their NFL fanbase?

    Will the stadium be designed so that the lower bowl is built with soccer in mind to make the experience like seattle or vancouver?

    Lots of questions

    if they get the stadium folks should be pushing the vikings ownership to buy the stars and get the fanbase ready before the over to MLS

  18. Mike permalink
    April 26, 2012

    MLS will not give any city a team that does not have a soccer-specific stadium. Sorry minnesota. You already have every other major sport in the top professional league in your area which is also a deterrent. Being from Philadelphia, I think the best expansion option for MLS is St. Louis

  19. Tom permalink
    April 26, 2012

    @Mike,
    Do you consider Seattle a SSS?

  20. April 26, 2012

    @Mike: Sorry my man, but that is just not true.

    http://www.startribune.com/sports/blogs/141093003.html

    “Dan Courtemanche said the new stadium — though not ideal — would pass the test.”

  21. Neal permalink
    April 26, 2012

    thanks for keeping us up on the goings on at the State Capital.

    and thanks to all of the comments here, at least they all (even if I disagree) are readable … more than I can say about the main stream media – it is impossible for me to click down into any comments from our local newspapers.

    Peace and futbol.

  22. Pony permalink
    April 26, 2012

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll said it again. If Wilf is truely serious about soccer, he would buy the Stars.

  23. Chrös permalink
    April 27, 2012

    I have to side with Mike and others firmly on the side of skepticism. It’s one thing for a new Vikings stadium to “pass the test,” but the important distinction is that the league no longer has to settle for a situation that simply passes the test.

    Of course that’s not to say I’m anti-MLS, and at the very least this would hopefully mean a new Vikings stadium would be built to accommodate the USMNT or friendlies in the future. But given the success of forward-thinking franchises like Portland or the new Sporting Kansas City, it seems naive to think that an NFL stadium run by old school NFL owners in a saturated sports market is going to be MLS’s best option. I think we’ll have to show the league much more than an NFL stadium and lip service to seriously be considered.

  24. Fotbalist permalink
    April 27, 2012

    Seattle, Vancouver, Portland, Montreal…have all had great success in D2 before they joined MLS. I like the suggestion above that if the Wilf group are interested in MLS, they have a great opportunity to buy MN Stars FC and invest in growing an already successful club/culture.

  25. Yankiboy permalink
    April 27, 2012

    @Mike: Thanks for carefully reading all of my insightful posts in this thread that touched on the two wonderful soccer specific stadiums found in Seattle and Vancouver, Playah…

  26. Chrös permalink
    April 27, 2012

    While it would be great to have the Wilfs invest into the Stars, I think it’s unfair to expect them to. Ultimately a soccer team would be a business deal for them, and outside of goodwill within a small community it’s hard to see where they would get a tangible return on their investment in buying the Stars.

    In the big picture, I don’t see how the Wilf family owning the Stars would change much anyway. The Stars are still a Div. 2 team that will always rely on grassroots marketing (which the team has been doing great at), and even in the best-case scenario the Stars’ average attendance will pale in comparison to any MLS team. Just the nature of MLS vs NASL means that the majority of fans who would support an MLS team don’t have any interest in supporting an NASL team. It would be great if more people here wanted to treat NASL like a major league, but I hardly think you can blame people — or the Wilf family — for not.

    Also, somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the big-money backers came into Seattle, Vancouver or Portland until they were MLS-bound.

  27. smatthew permalink
    April 27, 2012

    “Also, somebody can correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe the big-money backers came into Seattle, Vancouver or Portland until they were MLS-bound.”

    Seattle yes but Vancouver and Portland no both those clubs had the big investors while in D2.

  28. Darren permalink
    April 28, 2012

    Wonderful coverage, Brian. Thanks.

    Unless there’s some closed door deal we don’t know about, it seems the legislature just let Wilf kill our Stars. I doubt NASL will continue to own the team for the next 5 years, and I also doubt anyone will step forward now to buy the team knowing that a billionaire is about to drop MLS on their heads.

    Would love to see my Champion Stars continue their play against MLS teams like Montreal, Portland and Vancouver.

  29. Yuri Nator permalink
    May 8, 2012

    I always thought a good option would be to forgo the idea of letting the soccer team play in the new stadium and play in a SSS in the East Metro. If they played in MPLS, they’d just be another sports team in the city, behind the Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves and the U’s D1 sports. If they played in Saint Paul, they’d be followed religiously. It’s doable too, if it’s done in time. A new SSS costs around 60 million dollars, which is pocket change to Zyggi and would be buildable via using only user fees. It could even attract a coveted Winter Classic.

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