Armchair Analyst will be a new series to E PLuribus Loonum where a group of our writers intepret the news. We are not experts. We are simply regular people giving regular opinions.
Late last week, the Star Tribune reported that Minnesota United was looking into playing a game(s) at U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minnesota Vikings - feeling their exclusive right to bring pro soccer into the facility was being violated - threatened to sue.
That brings us to today.
The situation surrounding pro soccer in the new taxpayer-supported stadium is a complex and sensitive one. Reactions to the news have ranged from “get over it” to ”if they have a contract...”
This is an important bit of news that has the potential to be hugely impactful to the Loons front office. Let’s break it down and take a closer look.
Where did this begin?
Long ago in a land far, far away (last summer, right here in Minnesota), two organizations competed for the right to the first MLS expansion team in the state. The powerful Wilf brothers - owners of the Minnesota Vikings - wanted an MLS expansion side to be another feather in the cap of their new state-of-the-art football stadium.
In the other corner, an upstart group led by former United Healthcare executive Bill McGuire applied for an expansion team, too. While they didn’t have a $1 billion stadium, the group pitched a smaller soccer-specific stadium in the area and touted United’s existing fanbase. The proposed stadium would sit in downtown Minneapolis near Target Field and the Minneapolis Farmers Market. Hennepin County Board chair Mike Opat and City Councilmember Linea Palmisano of Ward 13 supported McGuire’s plan.
Ultimately, MLS expressed its desire for an outdoor soccer-specific stadium. The Vikings abandoned their pitch
Today, the United are seeking to play a few games at US Bank Stadium while they await the construction of their privately-funded stadium in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood. TCF Bank Stadium has agreed to host the inaugural season, but cold weather concerns in February and March have the Loons seeking respite indoors.
Construction of the United’s stadium is currently delayed because the Minnesota Legislature did not act on a property tax exemption for the stadium before the end of the 2016 session. However, after doling out half a billion public dollars for US Bank Stadium, the legislature may be wary to give up an estimated at $50 million in tax revenue to support another sports facility.
In late 2014, State Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL – Cook) allegedly called MLS to say that the Minnesota Legislature would not approve public funding for a separate soccer stadium. Hope remains for the property tax exemption in the 2017 session which begins January 3. Meanwhile, St. Paul mayor Chris Coleman said groundbreaking for the United stadium will begin “within a few weeks.”
The Wilfs seem more interested on keeping Minnesota United out of “the people’s stadium” than simply holding the MSFA to an agreed upon contract. Two soccer games have already been played at US Bank Stadium, so why are they caught up about the Loons? Some of this motivation could stem from rival business competition and past dealings with the United and MLS.
So, who is right?
By now, most of us have heard about the Vikings threatening to sue over pro soccer in U.S. Bank Stadium. In the Star Triune piece, the Vikings’ brass take a strong stance on the issue.
“First, it’s clear Minnesota United can’t play at U.S. Bank Stadium without our consent,” Vikings Executive Vice President Lester Bagley said. “We invested $609 million to make this building soccer ready and make it a great fan experience.”
This quote makes it seem pretty clear cut. But is it? Without firsthand knowledge of the Vikings’ contract with the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, it is difficult to guess what kind of exclusive right they were given. That said, it is tough to imagine a scenario in which the MSFA would sign away the right to book any pro soccer in the facility.
We don’t have inside information on this, but the Vikings’ argument fails the “sniff test.”
It’s fair that Vikings leadership want to defend their turf after being denied the opportunity to have their own MLS franchise, but why should that preclude the actual Minnesota MLS franchise from playing in U.S. Bank and generating revenue? Additionally, while the Vikings are the prime tenant of U.S. Bank Stadium, it is far from their facility. The stadium is a taxpayer-funded project intended to serve the greater good of the state.
At this time, it looks like United are looking at the possibility of hosting exhibition games at U.S. Bank Stadium. We all know what Minnesota can be like during the colder months. Remember the frigid USMNT-Costa Rica showdown in 2013? It was awesome, but definitely not something the MLS show plan on subjecting their teams and players to.
The crux of the Vikings’ argument seems to be that they invested $609 million to ready the building for pro soccer. It’s a bold claim. For context, United’s propsed stadium at Midway will be in the neighborhood of $150 million.
For $609 million, U.S. Bank should be a much better soccer stadium than it is.
Sure, the facility isn’t without it’s charm. The Chelsea - A.C. Milan matchup and the U.S. Women’s National Team friendly match proved it can be a reat atmosphere. But the fact remains that the stadium was built for American football, not soccer.
Did the Vikings invest a lot of cash into the facility? You bet. But making the stadium ready for MLS matches isn’t a $609 million endeavor.
So, the club’s argumant that they invested north of $600 million to prep the new stadium for soccer is a big stretch. But that doesn’t mean their claim is unfounded. If the Vikings do end up pursuing legal action, it will be interesting to see how a court interprets their exclusive right to “establish” an MLS franchise in U.S. Bank Stadium.
Finally, we were curious what a $600 million stadium budget could buy us. Spoiler alert: It buys a lot. Emirates Stadium, home to the Premier League’s Arsenal, had a final budget of just £390 million (about $510 million). Pocket change!
Keep an eye on E Pluribus Loonum for continued coverage of possible United games at U.S. Bank Stadium.