|New Minnesota Vikings Stadium Rendering|
(Courtesy of vikings.com)
If you aren’t following Inside Minnesota Soccer (IMS) online or on Twitter, you are missing out on some great coverage of soccer in the Midwest and beyond. Recently Brian Quarstad, founder of IMS, has been doing a tremendous job covering the new Minnesota Vikings stadium deal and its relationship to a potential MLS expansion franchise in the Twin Cities. A lot of people have been asking me what the impact is for Orlando's chances of an MLS franchise if Minnesota suddenly has a stadium plan approved and under construction with owners interested in purchasing a team.
If you aren’t up to speed, check out the latest IMS article on the house and senate vote yesterday on the stadium. The short version of the story is that the new public-privately funded $975M stadium plan for the NFL's Vikings has also been tied to an exclusive rent-free deal for MLS if the owners can bring a franchise to the state. Although the free-rent part of the deal may eventually be dropped, the bottom line is that the stadium deal looks to pass and start construction in the next twelve months perhaps opening for the 2015 NFL season at the earliest.
The reasonable question is if Minnesota has two of the three pieces for an MLS franchise (strong owners and new downtown stadium), would they jump ahead of Orlando in the race for the next expansion slot? In my opinion, the answer to this questions is no for a number of different reasons.
First, the Midwest is already represented in MLS either by Chicago, Columbus, or Kansas City depending on your definition of "Midwest". The southeast from DC south and Texas east is completely absent of an MLS team and the league has stated several times that their focus after NY2 is the southeast.
Next is the fan support. The NASL Minnesota Stars currently play their home matches at the National Sports Center, which is outside of the Twin Cities but an incredible facility. The NSC is home to over 50 full-sized fields, several national tournaments, training camps, and is a full soccer facility vice just a stadium in a downtown location. Last season the Stars averaged 1,700 fans for their matches, not impressive numbers. What is more impressive is that the team drew just under 8,700 fans for their first match of the season which was played at the Metrodome. However, even if the team played all of their matches in downtown at the Metrodome or the new stadium, the MLS criteria is 10,000 average attendance to really be considered. Minnesota and Orlando are fairly even in this regard, drawing the same average attendance in downtown locations.
The last issue is ownership. If the Wilfs, owners of the Vikings, want to get into MLS they would have to bring on someone that is familiar with the sport as a part owner. In the past the league would have jumped at the chance of having NFL or MLB owners fork over some of their cash for a franchise, but the dynamics of the league have changed. The most recent NFL-to-MLS purchase was Paul Allen with the Seahawks and Sounders in Seattle, but even in that case additional owners with soccer backgrounds were brought into the Sounders ownership team. The expansion teams in Philadelphia, Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal have been soccer specific ownership groups. Orlando has Phil Rawlins whose resume for soccer experience is as long as any owner currently in MLS. The Wilfs will have to bring in someone with a name that MLS can point to and say, that's the soccer connection in the group.
In the end, money and stadiums will do the talking when it comes to the next franchise after NY2. In my book Orlando still have the advantage, but Minnesota is making moves to get in a better position to take over the lead in the years to come.