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Talking Soccer, MLS and Stadium Construction with Minnesota Vikings Lester Bagley

2012 October 9
by Brian Quarstad

Lester Bagley, Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development for the Minnesota Vikings.

During the Minnesota Vikings stadium campaign, owner Zygi Wilf and his brother Mark made it known that if built, the organization had a possible interest in bringing soccer to their new facility with Major League Soccer also being mentioned. While some soccer fans felt it was a ploy to get backing for the stadium others were intrigued by the possibility.

During the stadium negotiations a clause was brought forward and approved that would give the Vikings what amounts to right of first refusal to bring an MLS team in to play at the new venue within 5 years of the date that the Vikings play their first match in the stadium.

IMS reached out to the Vikings and has continued to stay in touch with them and follow the organization as they have navigated their way through the legislative process including the passing of the stadium bill and more recently the selection of an architect for the project.

Recently, Lester Bagley, Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development, offered to do a Q and A with IMS which is the first soccer-related interview the organization has done.

IMS: While it may not be as visible as it was during the legislative push I take it the Vikings are still very busy with stadium plans, correct?

Bagley: Yes, since stadium legislation passed in early May, we have been working hard to ensure this building opens on time and on budget. Together with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, we recently selected HKS, Inc. as the architectural and engineering firm to design the new stadium. HKS is extremely creative; they designed two of the most recent NFL stadiums to open – Lucas Oil Stadium and Cowboys Stadium – and have extensive experience building sports facilities. We are confident they will design a stadium that is unique to Minnesota and serves the needs of the Vikings, our fans and all users of the facility.

IMS: Do the Vikings truly have an interest in soccer, and what is your organization doing to make sure the stadium doesn’t just comply with FIFA specs, which vary widely, but will also be attractive to professional or international soccer teams, including U.S. National Team matches?

Bagley: As we get into the design process, we will ensure that the new stadium will accommodate professional and international soccer.

IMS: The reality is you have a pretty short deadline to get all the preliminary things done to meet your deadlines. What sorts of things are you presently working on and how many different events beside soccer have to be considered for a multi-use facility like that?

Bagley: There are aggressive timelines on the stadium development project, for sure. That’s one reason we have had to set the soccer discussion aside for the time being. Together with the Stadium Authority, we will immediately begin designing a stadium that fits the budget, serves the needs of the community and the State and is capable of hosting all types of events, including NCAA basketball, Big Ten championships, a Super Bowl, concerts and conventions, as well as the smaller community events the Metrodome currently hosts. The next step in the process is to jointly select a construction manager, which will involve a similar fair and open process that we just followed to select the architect. We are on schedule for groundbreaking in late summer 2013 with the stadium opening in time for the 2016 NFL season.

IMS: How serious are the Wilfs about bringing in an MLS team to play in this new venue?

Bagley: The Vikings made it clear during the legislative session that team ownership is interested in bringing Major League Soccer to this market, if it is feasible. The team has had conversations with MLS representatives, including Commissioner Don Garber, and we were serious enough about soccer to include a clause in the stadium legislation that gives Vikings ownership the opportunity to bring a soccer team to the new stadium during the first five years after the stadium opening. When we get the stadium development project moving forward, we will begin to research and explore a potential investment in a MLS team.

IMS:  There was some interesting language in the MLS portion of the stadium bill mentioning 3% ownership. Can you explain that?

Bagley:  The Vikings ownership includes several limited partners. The purpose of the right of refusal language was to give the Wilfs and their ownership group the right to bring a MLS franchise to the new stadium given that they are guaranteeing nearly 50% of the facility’s cost.

 IMS: Can you tell us more about the possibility of some sort of retractable feature and what that might entail or look like? Would the Vikings be willing to come up with more money to make that happen or if a retractable feature does happen, would it have to fit the already tight budget of $975 million?

Bagley: Together with the MSFA and HKS, we will explore all options for retractable features, including a window, a wall and/or a roof. When we bring on a construction manager, those options will be priced and we will have a better understanding of what is possible. Any retractable feature in the new stadium will have to fit within the $975 million budget.

IMS: You recently met with North American Soccer League Commissioner David Downs. Can you speak about that conversation?

Bagley: Yes, Commissioner Downs spent time with us at the Vikings Winter Park training facility earlier in September. It was an introduction and a discussion about the North American Soccer League and the Minnesota Stars. We wanted to better understand the Stars situation and make it clear that it is not our intent to negatively impact the future of the Stars. We felt like it was a productive conversation and we look forward to a continued dialogue with the NASL in the future. We have also met with Stars Coach Manny Lagos, whom we consider a friend. We are fortunate to have Manny and the Stars in this market. Like Manny, the Vikings are very interested in seeing soccer thrive in the Twin Cities. We will continue our discussions and support for soccer as the Vikings make progress on the stadium project.

41 Responses
  1. smatthew permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Good interview, BQ. I guess the next thing we should watch for, in regards to soccer, is when they unveil the actual stadium design, has there been any word when that will be done?

  2. October 9, 2012

    Thanks, smatthew. I believe I recall them saying sometime after the first of the year.

  3. October 9, 2012

    Unless the Wilfs are planning to buy the Stars and take them to MLS on the Portland, Vancouver, Montreal path, I don’t see how they can avoid “having a negative impact” on the team.

  4. tomASS permalink
    October 9, 2012

    @Justin – my sediments exactly :-)

  5. David L. permalink
    October 9, 2012

    I recall Lester Bagley declaring, with a straight face, that the north suburban location for the stadium was best for the metropolitan area and the game day experience.. Neither he nor his bosses then had any committment to or concern for anything other than their own best interests which did not include all the other users of this kind of a facility, such as the various high school championships. Lester Bagley is nothing but a shil for the Wilf brothers.

  6. Minnesota Nice FC permalink
    October 9, 2012

    That is a pretty hilarious interview. Glad you got it, BQ, but this has to be my favorite non-answer: “As we get into the design process, we will ensure that the new stadium will accommodate professional and international soccer.”
    Did he walk away from the interview to let a robot respond for a bit?

  7. thesuperrookie permalink
    October 9, 2012

    I like that Downs and Manny have been in touch. That is a positive step.

    I can’t imagine that running the Stars could be all that big of a line-item on the Vikings budget…

  8. tomASS permalink
    October 9, 2012

    go figure I agree with David L for once. Is it April first?

  9. Max permalink
    October 9, 2012

    I think it is safe to say, at the very least, soccer is at the bottom of the pile of priorities for the Wilf’s. But sadly, what new owner of Stars FC would want to gamble on that?

  10. Fotbalist permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Thanks BQ. The interview was very good. It’s also remarkable that the Vikings decided to meet with you/IMS for the Vikings organization’s first soccer related interview. Impressive.

    Unfortunately, looking at the answers, I’m not very encouraged. The fact that Downs and Lagos both met with them is a good sign of those two men being proactive and determined. The one glimpse of light that I got was from Bagley expressing such positive impressions of Lagos.

    They could really succeed if they took over the Stars FC! Someone, somehow, sometime soon needs to shed some light on that!

  11. Skippy permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Viking FC? Maybe an int’l affiliation with Viking FK? Anyone?

  12. Stephen permalink
    October 9, 2012

    As I read this, I can only help but thinking Minnesota soccer fans will have no team to support at all by the end of this month…

  13. tomASS permalink
    October 9, 2012

    @ Skippy MY FAVORITE NORWEGIAN TEAM out of Stavanger !!!
    Now your talking lefse and krumkake !

  14. Jeff permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Speaking as someone who has followed MLS for a long time and has no connection to Minnesota:
    Garber and MLS should only consider these guys as serious MLS owners and not rich NFL dudes looking for a tenant if they buy the Minnesota Stars. And if the stadium is retractable, MLS games should not be played in a dome.
    Otherwise, there is no need for MLS to enter that market at this time, sorry local fans. I think Minneapolis is ripe for soccer, just like Toronto, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Philly, but we don’t want another New England Revolution. The Minnesota Stars name and logo is perfect as is, it would be revealing if they were killed off and we end up with some team that’s basically trying to (badly) be part of the Minnesota Vikings brand, that hasn’t worked in New England and it won’t work anywhere else.

  15. Chrös permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Nice interview, Brian. Would be nice to see the Vikings truly partner with the Stars in some way.

  16. Fotbalist permalink
    October 9, 2012

    @ Jeff – you make an interesting point. I appreciate that.

  17. anon permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Bagley: “There are aggressive timelines on the stadium development project, for sure. That’s one reason we have had to set the soccer discussion aside for the time being. Together with the Stadium Authority, we will immediately begin designing a stadium that fits the budget, serves the needs of the community and the State and is capable of hosting all types of events, including NCAA basketball, Big Ten championships, a Super Bowl, concerts and conventions, as well as the smaller community events the Metrodome currently hosts. The next step in the process is to jointly select a construction manager, which will involve a similar fair and open process that we just followed to select the architect. We are on schedule for groundbreaking in late summer 2013 with the stadium opening in time for the 2016 NFL season.”

    Maybe I’m misreading this, but it sounds like this is a rush job and they don’t have time to consider the needs/requirements of MLS or international soccer matches when designing this stadium. So, they design and build the stadium and maybe think about soccer later, when it is too late to change the stadium design. So you could end up with another dome, plastic pitch, too-narrow field, etc., and only then try to figure out this “newfangled soccer thing” and how it fits in to the stadium. It’s not like it takes a lot of research to figure out the needs of MLS and FIFA in stadium design; but you do need to do that research before you design the stadium, not afterwards. Like I said, maybe I’m misreading this, but, quote “that’s one reason we have had to set the soccer discussion aside for the time being” unquote, looks sort of like a red flag comment to me. I would not be happy with that if I were a Minnesota soccer fan.

  18. CoconutMonkey permalink
    October 9, 2012

    Good interview, BQ.

    I’m willing to take the Vikings organization at their word about making sure the stadium is up to snuff for FIFA events. Based on the attendance alone in from quality friendlies (both club and international) and the Gold Cup, I can’t imagine them not wanting a piece of that pie.

    As for MLS, sounds like they’re definitely willing to look into it when they’re ready, but they’ve got their hands too full at the moment to even think about it.

  19. October 10, 2012

    Bind it all together. IF the Stars are a viable purchase, then the structure could blend, I see the best case scenario becoming full circle. Rename the Stars (sorry – never liked such a generic name that kind ripped off the North Stars). To the KICKS – I think other NASL teams have purchased rights to rename??? Ya? Anyway – bring in some of the oldies but goodies, some names and memories, a marketing ploy yes, but some buy-in from the older soccer fans that filled the Met when it had its largest crowd ever. Kind of like what the Cosmos are doing, Earthquakes, Timbers and so on. But ESPECIALLY like the Sounders have done and since the new stadium and MLS rights are most similar to that franchise – right down to stadium that will be multipurpose and in the city. The soccer folk in North Suburbs and Blaine should realize that a good portion of the soccer playing and fan community is nowhere near Blaine and the loyalty of soccer commuters is nowhere near what says college football and pro football have (Packer Backers – Hawkeyes and so on). Had the Vikings stadium been located in Blaine, it would fill for Vikings and large events. However, if MLS was tried in that venue, it would be at best like FC Dallas – which has to regret the Frisco location – off public transits – suburbs 30-40 minutes from the center of a large metro area.

    So, there it is, make the stadium like the Sounders set up. The NASL Minnesota Kicks can play at NSC or TCF for some events until the new stadium opens and to give credit, RT Rybeck’s vision. On transit, near entertainment and centrally located. For MLS, pro soccer in Minnesota and the growth of the game…….. The Minnesota Kicks in Downtown would be possible in four years. (And while I am a soccer traditionalist, you need to realize ownership is about business – ask Liverpool, Manchester and all the major clubs investors). Wilfs do understand business and stuck through the latest Vikings woooo’s to remain profitable – something smalltime soccer, including the Stars can only dream of…I love the NASL’s effort and vision, but its fledgling at best and can’t be considered stable yet – if ever. The Twin Cities is a major sports market and MLS realizes that, but the pieces have to be in place. Pieces are getting there……..

  20. October 10, 2012

    @Jeff Full retractable roofs are tremendously expensive. Lets see if the Vikings architect, HKS, can come up with a unique and creative stadium design before we cut out all the options and say retractable roof only. By the way, the Vikings would rather be playing football in an open air stadium as well. Because the stadium is partially funded by the State of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis, they are the ones who wanted a roof. While I agree, I would much, much prefer to see the game played with a completely open air stadium, I am starting to believe that with the demands on the US to play a longer season and living in a northern climate like Minnesota, a pro soccer team is going to have to have options to play in a protected environment.

    As to the rest of your argument about NFL owners, I don’t totally disagree but Seattle has an NFL owner, correct? So what it takes is at least one person from that group who is passionate about the sport. However, more on your take from Steve Davis and his blog ProSoccerTalk which referenced this article: http://prosoccertalk.nbcsports.com/2012/10/09/mls-in-minnesota-perhaps-but-at-what-cost/

    @anon Yes, of course they are in a huge time crunch to get everything done that’s needed to be completed to open the stadium for the 2016 NFL season. That’s the way these projects always go. With that said, I have talked to the organization and can tell you, being that it’s publicly funded as well, there are many, many different things they have to consider when building it. This isn’t the Vikings decision alone. The Minnesota State High School League holds it soccer and football tourneys there. They have to make sure it is approved by the NCAA for basketball. They have to make sure openings are big enough for the monster truck rallies and the design is such that it sounds good for concerts. There are hundreds and hundreds of things they need to consider while under tremendous time deadlines. It’s all part of the stadium game.

    I can tell you that myself and others have informed the Vikings about the difference in just making spec on a soccer field and having one that would be attractive to international matches. I have also mentioned the fact that TCF stadium claimed to be able to host soccer. While it could, the narrow dimensions would mean it would be a field that could only be a little over 100 yards long and probably not even 70 yards wide. I’m pretty sure that HKS and the new stadium commission will look at these things.

    @CoconutMonkey Agree.

    @Cam, Kicks? Been there, done that and I’m over it. Agree with soccer now being an urban sport and the success of those that have stadiums in urban locations that are easy to access.

  21. October 10, 2012

    Ahhhh Brian, thanks for the work as always – good stuff. Please remember, there are people my age (and older) who give the Kicks and their history credit. Those same people are at the prime of their earning careers and would bring alot to the table from a market standpoint. All you need to do, is look at the Wild, their fan base, and who buys the more and most expensive tickets and the music they play in the X. Ha – its Generation X and older who pay the bills in bigtime American sports (of course who know in five years). And, have you seen all the North Stars gear in Minnsota schools, colleges and such, worn by kids who never even saw the met stadium or the met center. You can be over it. I will never be over 50,000 people watching teh “Kicks” at the met. (still love your work!).

  22. October 10, 2012

    @Cam and others: If you get a chance to look at (or order?) the latest edition of the Minnesota History quarterly put out by the MN Historical Society, there is an amazing article in there on the Kicks. There are a lot of boxes of records and such that are accessible at the MN historical society archives. Just last year a friend of mine who has contributed to this site, came across a hand written letter from a very young aspiring coach who had written in long hand, his assessment and tactical breakdown of the last Kicks match and sent it to then Kicks coach, Freddy Goodwin. That young coach? Buzz Lagos. I’ve seen and read the letter as was fortunate enough to be able to pass it on to Buzz and Manny. Great stuff in those files.

    Anyway, the current target market for MLS is not the same as the Wilds and especially not the Vikings. It’s really the hipsters and more so the 18-35 year old, principally male fan MLS is targeting and more importantly who are responding to that marketing call. The same age group that not only doesn’t know much if anything about the Kicks but could really care less.

    I will give you that in the case of the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps, they all kept that name going through the years and perhaps even more importantly, in the name itself, there is something that represents the area the team resides in. The Kicks name holds neither of those things. This said from a man who reveres the Kicks and it’s players as it really set the course of my life.

  23. October 10, 2012

    With that age demo – lets call the team “Occupy Minnesota” Blaaaaa j/k. I saw Dallas host Chivas last summer – poor event. KC on the otherhand – have it figured out. Do have former gal player (28 or so – who is a huge Sounder Season Tic fan). Maybe they are onto something. But I would say Wild, Vikings and Twins marketing more relavant than MLS to local fans. NCAA Football marketing completely off compared to Gooophers football. Each local market is unique and more important than the national flavor. But I get your point. Minnesota Occupiers it is. I expect tickets for free and good seats at that.

  24. tomASS permalink
    October 10, 2012

    @Cam …get in line buddy! The end is around the corner and 3 blocks back

    if they do go with the Occupiers name – they would save a ton of money not having to wash the uniforms

  25. Etch permalink
    October 10, 2012

    @Cam… I like “Minnesota Thunderkicks” It works for us old farts and the younger ones who played youth soccer while the Thunder were around. Two target groups, two traditions.

    I also think fans in the stands comes from marketing and Thunderkicks is sort of self-marketing.

    Trivia: some previous Soccer teams were

    Tacoma Stars (MISL), San Antonio Stars (NASL)

  26. tomASS permalink
    October 10, 2012

    @ Etch – if you’re going to combine something it should be as smooth and tasty as a Black & Tan, not like a Black & Tab

    ;-)

    @ BQ – thanks for the lead on the historical quarterly. It sounds very interesting ( yes I’m being serious…..sorry)

  27. smatthew permalink
    October 10, 2012

    The majority of people I talk to who went to Kicks game back in the day could give two shakes bout the sport/game and went just for the party.

  28. Etch permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Questions:
    Who is marketing to the 100,000+ people that live within a 30 minute drive of Blaine?
    If 1 in 10 went to the game there would be 10,000 there.
    A couple times a month trip to Blaine is nothing.
    What about the rest of the metro area?

    Answer
    It is hard to compete against the established sports and the activities of daily life.
    They are all part of the culture and representative of Minnesota along with fishing, hunting, and farming. For this reason people drive considerably farther to go to the Xcel, TCF, Target Field, and the Dome and to work everyday.
    The soccer product and how it is marketed is the answer.
    I think it would be fair to compare soccer to Shasta Cola trying to compete with COKE and PEPSI. We need to move up to the RC Cola level.

  29. leper permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Side note, but was someone really complaining about Lester Bagley being a shill for the Wilfs? Isn’t that his job? When they thought they had a chance of the stadium being in Arden Hills and developing a bunch of land and making a bunch of money, his job was to promote that. When that didn’t work and they moved their plans downtown, his job is to promote that. If they decide to invest in a soccer team, he’ll promote that. If they decide not to, he’ll attempt to spin it in as positive a light as possible for the team and the ownership. That’s what he gets paid to do.

  30. Etch permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Tomass

    I was thinking more of Blue & Orange fot the Thunderkicks and general mills KIX as a jersey sponser.

    Incidentally
    Black and Tan is a bad thing. That was the name of the special english troups that killed many Irishmen, women , and children. Don’t order one in a real Irish Pub.

  31. Tom permalink
    October 10, 2012

    @leper
    So how seriously should we take his comments?

  32. October 10, 2012

    BQ Actuals, but a few years ago – I see your point but also other interest FQs:

    http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Daily/Issues/2010/06/Issue-185/The-Back-Of-The-Book/Fan-Demographics-Among-Major-North-American-Sports-Leagues.aspx

    I guess in my summary, I would say the Settle game of ESPN the other night looked awesome. Hope Minneapple can have that environment with Orange and Sky Blue Kicks – vs Chicago or KC or any MLS – would be neat. I just hope technology will allow for a retractable roof and a natural grass. Like Phoenix AZ stadiums. Just need 12 mo. grass in Minnesnowta.

  33. tomASS permalink
    October 10, 2012

    @Cam, if I read the chart right… for the single guys out there, your chances of meeting a women are far greater if you attend a NHL hockey game……when they are NOT on strike. Boy it would suck to have season tickets to the Wild this year eh?

  34. Ryan M permalink
    October 10, 2012

    This season ticket holder for the wild isn’t too upset…I’m making 10% interest on, my investment, better than my retirement account, and I’m witnessing a lot less disappointing hickey games.

  35. tomASS permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Hickey?? sounds like a blood sucking marketing tactic to me.
    ;-)

  36. WSW permalink
    October 10, 2012

    Rawlins commented their will be 2 teams in Southeast:

    Rawlins went on to say that we must act now because MLS will be adding two franchises in the southeast in the next few years and that Orlando wants to be one of them. If the stadium issue drags on, the potential for teams in Atlanta, Tampa, or South Florida to jump in and take Orlando’s place could exist.

    http://www.scoringthird.com/2012/10/orlando-city-stadium-behind-numbers.html

  37. Soccer Boy permalink
    October 10, 2012

    This guy sounds like a politician trying to get my vote. Of course, he is going to give all the right answers. When all the dusts settles I predict MN will be without soccer, we will not have a retractable roof and the new stadium will be a continued eye sore in the Minneapolis skyline.

  38. Ryan M permalink
    October 11, 2012

    damn iPAD…can’t type on it to save my life. Hickey game…much more fun than last years Wild hockey games!

  39. Stephen permalink
    October 11, 2012

    @WSW:

    Interesting… 2 franchises in the southeast? The Tampa Bay market is considered one of the alternatives/threats to Orlando? I’m kind of stunned hearing that based on the other rhetoric I’ve heard.

  40. October 12, 2012

    I’m encouraged somewhat by this article and the Viking’s response.

    It would be very bad news indeed if the Vikings had not talked with the outgoing NASL commissioner, had not met with Manny Lagos, were not familiar with the team.

    There is still a glimmer of hope here.

    Hopefully the Vikes will see the benefit of continuing to grow the soccer fan base, gaining organizational experience, preserving the good will in the market, establishing their own credibility in soccer circles, and basically learning how to walk with NASL before they try to run with MLS. The Stars offer an established low risk path to dip their toe in the water. The Vikings organization should grab this opportunity.

  41. Realist permalink
    October 19, 2012

    I am warming up to the idea the Wilfs ought to buy the Stars FC as a way into the MLS. But then again, I don’t care how the MLS comes to Minnesota as long as it does WITH the help of an owner with commitment and the financial resources to do so… Anyway, the day the MLS comes to Minnesota is the very day I begin following the MLS! Good luck guys in your quest to bring the league to MN! :D

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