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