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Vikings Stadium Situation: The MLS Issue

One of the minor bits of stadium wrangling that seems absolutely ridiculous to me is the discussion around who would own the opportunity to bring a MLS team into this new closed-roof, presumably gargantuan stadium that the Vikings are demanding.

It has gone back and forth, you see. But we have a resolution, according to the bill that is going to be presented to the Minnesota Legislature. Here is the Hot Dish Politics blog from the Star Tribune:

"The compromise would also restore exclusive, five-year rights for the Vikings to obtain a professional soccer franchise that would play at the new downtown Minneapolis stadium, a provision legislators had earlier eliminated."

Guess what? That compromise, as I understand the aims and goals of the MLS, does one thing--it guarantees that the MLS will not be coming to Minneapolis for the next five years. It is a terrible giveaway, and one that was wholly unnecessary. I don't understand the motivation, from the Wilfs, to demand it in the first place.

But I can list some of the major (if not all) reasons that Major League Soccer is going to say, "Hey--no thanks!"

1. It's an NFL Stadium. It is therefore huge, compared to the crowds that the MLS can reliably draw. The MLS kind of hates that. There's been a concerted effort to get MLS teams out of NFL stadiums and into "soccer-specific" stadiums, that hold no more than 30,000. Because you know what? A soccer team that draws 25,000 people shouldn't have to play in a place that looks empty. It is bad for the MLS brand, it is bad for the soccer brand. It is bad for the fans at the stadium; it is bad for the fan watching on TV. And really, no team that draws 25,000 should feel like they are failing. A sport that outdrew the NBA and the NHL in per game attendance in 2011 doesn't need half-empty stadia messing with their branding.

And not for nothing, soccer stadiums in Europe tend to have totally different dimensions than football stadiums, and that's worth recreating here in the US (a concept you can see looking at the dimensions of current MLS stadiums). There are 19 MLS teams right now, and only four (Vancouver, DC, New England, and Seattle) play in stadiums that have "artificially limited" seating capacities. Which means they are playing in NFL/CFL stadiums. The other 15 have had stadiums built for soccer, with a capacity averaging around 20,000 or so. The MLS has worked towards expanding, and sure, Seattle is a case in point in which the MLS will take a football stadium in the hopes of gaining goodwill to work towards a soccer-specific stadium. But..

2. The proposed stadium is a closed roof. Maybe, that in and of itself, isn't a deal breaker, though I do think it leads to one. However, it does echo a major complaint of the Twins all of those years they were stuck in the Metrodome, which is, "Hey, Minnesota weather is neither too hot or too cold for like 3 months a year, and our season happens to be during those months. It is really hard to compete with bearable warmth for the short time it exists." The MLS, with their season extending from the beginning of spring to end of the autumn would presumably prefer a stadium that could at least be open during the beautiful days of May and June and September. Why this Vikings stadium doesn't have a retractable roof is beyond me, but that would surely be important to the MLS.

3. GRASS. In terms of importance, this is probably the issue that the MLS would have at the top of their list of concerns (though admittedly, natural grass is difficult in a closed stadium. They kind of go hand in hand.) Just for fun, look again at that MLS Stadium List. There is one team playing in a "soccer-specific" stadium that has anything but natural grass, and that's Portland. And their stadium was built in 1926. So, clearly, renovations occurred along the way to make it a FieldTurf stadium. Every single stadium built with the MLS in mind has grass. End of story. Soccer is played on grass. Speaking as someone who has played on grass, astroturf, and FieldTurf, grass is how it should be, and the MLS recognizes that. Just as importantly, they recognize that every touring team, like Manchester United and Barcelona and whoever else you'd like to come visit the Twin Cities, want to play on grass. In fact, they probably won't play on anything else.

So, in summary, the only problem with guaranteeing the rights of an MLS franchise to the Wilfs/Vikings is that the MLS won't come here, the great touring teams won't come here, and in the meantime, the agreement presumably hamstrings anyone else from putting together a package that would actually bring a MLS team to the Twin Cities for the next half-decade. Good job, everyone!


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