Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 14th largest metropolitan area in the United States, but it is the smallest to host all four major sports leagues and the WNBA. The Twin Cities add a sixth team to the mix in March 2017 when the Minnesota United Football Club play their first season in Major League Soccer at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
Soccer is the fastest growing sport in the United States. The sport as it stands in the Twin Cities enjoyed a landmark celebration this summer. Chelsea and AC Milan played an International Champions Cup match in front a sold out crowd - the first event at US Bank Stadium.
Like a new kid in a growing suburb, Minnesota United affectionately called the Loons by early adopters, join the upswing of sports in Minnesota. Once MNUFC’s stadium is completed in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood, it will be the sixth new sports arena in the metro area since 2010, including CHS Field and the Target Center renovations.
With six professional teams and the Minnesota Gophers competing in NCAA Division I, the sports market is highly segmented in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Most sports fans spend considerable time watching multiple teams, but there’s still only enough time to commit true loyalties to two or three clubs through the calendar year.
Who will the United attract as sports fans in Minnesota?
MLS plays a 34-game regular season schedule spanning from March to October. With just a game or two per week, the time commitment to watch isn’t overwhelming. Matches are 90 minutes plus extra time. Commercial breaks are generally only taken at halftime, making for easy viewing experience even for the casual fan.
The calendar will allow for a break from the ubiquity of baseball and the Minnesota Twins during the summer. The excitement of a new team in the area will be a welcome compliment to the Minnesota Lynx, who are perennial championship contenders in the WNBA.
A March start to the season will help Minnesotans cure their restless spring fever as they look to get out of the house with warmer weather approaching. By this time, the Minnesota Timberwolves are once again out of the competition, leaving the Minnesota Wild diehards clinging to the last of the melting ice of the winter sports season.
Coincidentally, the Loons could find a welcome fan base to tap into in the Wild. Soccer could be an attractive summer time alternative for hockey fans who enjoy the low-scoring, yet fast moving, go back and try again style of play.
How can I watch the games?
The club has yet to announce any media broadcast agreements for their time in the MLS. Games were previously broadcast last season on My29 WFTC. A local network broadcast of games would allow for maximum local visibility, especially as cable subscribers continue to cut the cord. The Timberwolves were routinely broadcast on local TV affiliates through the 2012-13 season before Fox Sports North took over full-time.
On the radio, it’s tough to tell where the Loons might land. Sports stations KFAN and 1500 ESPN appear well set enough in their ways that they could do without soccer broadcasts. The Timberwolves, Lynx, and Twins each air on a flagship radio station where sports is not the main format.
The Minnesota Gophers women’s basketball team also takes over the airwaves of Jazz 88, a public radio station. The Loons should have little issue finding a willing radio partner in a diverse market of sports and media.
A unique team
The loon is an aquatic bird recognizable for its black and white plumage and haunting call. Minnesota United also add a unique element to the Twin Cities sports market. Their arrival to TCF Bank Stadium and MLS will be anything but one out of many in Minnesota.
Brad Omland is a Minneapolis-based sports writer. Follow him on Twitter: @bradradio.