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Miscellaneous

Is the MLS Coming to Minnesota?

Unless you have been trapped on a deserted island for the last month you may have heard that the Minnesota Vikings have finally mustered up enough support in the legislature to get a stadium bill passed. Vikings fans let out a collective sigh of relief as the looming possibility of their team being relocated vanished but they weren’t the only ones who welcomed the news that a new stadium would be constructed in downtown Minneapolis. Minnesota soccer fans are cracking a smile at a little provision within the bill that could bring an MLS team to the Twin Cities in the near future.

The main word to focus on in that statement is ‘could’. The provision gives Vikings owner Zigi Wilf exclusive rights to field a professional soccer team within the state. Meaning it’s entirely up to him whether he feels that a professional soccer team would be a worthwhile investment.

At first it appears to be a negative situation considering it gives one man a monopoly over the rights to obtain a team rather than allowing a plethora of investors a shot to concoct their very own bid. Common sense tells us that the more people involved, the better the odds. That’s not necessarily the case when it comes to professional soccer in Minnesota. In all reality, Zigi Wilf is the only hope soccer fans have if they want an MLS team in the Twin Cities.

One of the major reasons for this is the stadium issue. As of right now the only stadium that is fitted for soccer is the National Sports Center in Blaine which holds a maximum of 8,500 people and is the home of the Minnesota Stars of the NASL. To put it simply, an MLS franchise could not survive in such an environment. That’s where the new stadium in Minneapolis comes into play. If done correctly, the stadium could be fitted similarly to CenturyLink Field which is the home of the NFL franchise Seattle Seahawks and the MLS franchise Seattle Sounders. The MLS has made it a point to emphasize soccer specific stadiums in recent years but with the Seattle Sounders success in an NFL stadium it’s easier for the league to overlook this minor kink in the Minnesota soccer plans. There is a catch though. The stadium would need a retractable roof in order to house a team.

This is where WIlf comes into play. Another provision that was placed into the stadium bill gave the option for a retractable roof but it would have come to out of Wilf’s pocket and not the public’s. Some estimates have placed the extra cost to be around $40 million which would raise the cost on the Wilf’s end to about $517 million. In order to justify that kind of increase there would need to be an added revenue stream coming in besides the Vikings. An MLS team would fit nicely into that plan. Zigi Wilf must have thought so or he wouldn’t have proposed the provision giving him exclusive rights to a franchise.

To break it down, Wilf has the only soccer accessible stadium in the state and due to specific provisions in the bill he stands to gain the most from an MLS franchise in Minnesota. It would be a no brainer for him to invest the money, but is it really?

At this moment in time it costs around $40 million just to obtain the rights to a soccer franchise within the MLS and that price is quickly rising. Within the past three years alone the cost of a franchise has tripled. All of this while the league as a whole has yet to be profitable. The main factor contributing to this is the fact that MLS teams heavily rely on stadium revenue as well as local television contracts and sponsorships. What Wilf will have to ask himself is whether he believes Minnesota can support a soccer team.

Soccer proponents will be quick to answer that question by looking back at Minnesota’s soccer history. From 1976 to 1981 the Minnesota Kicks took the state by storm, averaging 24,000 in attendance through their six years of existence. If a Minnesota team posted those kinds of numbers in the current MLS they would rank third in attendance.

The truth is the sporting world has shifted since the late 70’s. When every sporting event imaginable is broadcasted across the entire country the desire to seek out live sporting events that someone normally would not attend isn’t as great. Not only that but the Minnesota soccer culture is not rich by any means. It’s hard to build a program and excitement around a sport that has very little history in the area.

All of this doesn’t mean it’s impossible for a Minnesota soccer franchise to succeed, it’s just not a sure thing. There are positives and negatives that Wilf will have to consider before he makes the decision to bring an MLS team to Minnesota or not. All soccer fans can do is hope and pray that Wilf sees more upside than downside.

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