It's becoming increasingly obvious that the two groups vying for -- or at least interested in -- bringing Major League Soccer to the Twin Cities have very different public strategies.
While a group spearheaded by Minnesota United FC and owner Bill McGuire has been largely silent, the Vikings have been far more frontal with their plans moving forward.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley confirmed Tuesday that the Vikings are partnering with Relevent Sports, a heavy hitter in international and U.S. soccer, as part of a "strategic alliance" aimed at promoting major soccer events in the area but also in ultimately landing an MLS franchise. The two are pairing up on the Aug. 2 match at TCF Bank Stadium between Manchester City and Olympiakos and will detail more of their plans in a news conference Wednesday. Bagley said they have hopes of bringing in another major event next year -- and then in 2016 and beyond at the new Vikings stadium.
A Vikings group including Mark Wilf also met with MLS President and Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott on Monday in New York to give the league a status update on soccer-specific design elements of the new Vikings stadium. While there is no specific timetable for the Vikings to make a bid on a franchise -- Minneapolis is considered a frontrunner in the league, which has plans to expand to 24 teams by 2020 -- Bagley said this will be a busy summer.
"I'm not sure if we have a specific plan of 'here’s what's going to happen by Aug. 1,' but certainly our intention is to work through this stadium design with MLS and our architects to get it in position," Bagley said. "I think we’re going to be busy, aggressive over the next 2-3 months over the summer, do the game right, and at the same time work with MLS and work internally to put a viable proposal together."
The main advantage the Vikings have over the United group is a stadium that is already in place. United and its partners would need to finance the cost of a stadium on top of other expenses -- including an expansion fee, which for recent MLS teams has been $70 million and could be $80 million here. While only a handful of MLS teams currently play in football stadiums instead of soccer-specific stadiums, the Vikings are working on a design to reduce capacity for MLS matches. Bagley also stressed the "indoor-outdoor" nature of the stadium, which has a glass roof and five large sliding glass panels that can be opened during warm-weather months. Bagley said Vikings management has also been calculating costs for a separate practice facility and team headquarters.
"It’s definitely a long-term strategy," Bagley said. "We’re excited about MLS, this market and the vision. We believe in MLS in this market. But it’s long-term in that this is going to have to be done brick by brick, fan by fan."