When the Minnesota Vikings announced what they termed a "broad strategic alliance" with soccer event management company Relevent Sports, I was quick to assume that - given Relevent's MLS ties - the partnership would include the Vikings' effort to bring an MLS team to Minnesota. As it turns out, that is not the case.
At a press conference on Wednesday to promote ticket sales for the August 2 soccer doubleheader at TCF Bank Stadium, Vikings VPs Kevin Warren and Lester Bagley and Relevent CEO Charlie Stillitano were all quick to stress the close relationship between the Wilf family and Stephen Ross, who owns both Relevent Sports and the Miami Dolphins. However, Stillitano was very blunt when asked what his company's relationship with the Vikings' MLS push is. "I wouldn't overstate our position working with the Vikings," he said, in the Q&A portion of the press conference. "I think you would more put us as consultants on the soccer side to bring international events here."
While Stillitano was happy to enthuse about helping the Vikings, he also noted that he's really only focused on the possibility of playing these types of big international games in Minnesota. "Our relationship and our agreement is really one of collaboration and marketing. Our commitment is to bring as many international games as we can bring here."
Stillitano did his best to not downplay the impact that these big international games can have on a market. The Relevent CEO also noted that he has worked to bring international events to cities that later got MLS franchises, like Toronto and Seattle. "It seems like wherever we go, an MLS team follows," he said. "We test the market."
The Vikings' involvement with the game on August 2 should give them more insight into the local soccer community, which is certainly important for a group that's in some ways starting from scratch on building those relationships. However, it also puts them in the awkward position of promoting an event that has their rivals for an MLS bid, Minnesota United, playing in the second half of a doubleheader.
This is not to say that the Wilfs and the Vikings aren't serious about acquiring an MLS franchise. du Nord Futbol Show co-host and sometime SoccerCentric guest columnist Wes Burdine (@MnNiceFC) was nice enough to send me a clip of a conversation he had with Bagley, following the press conference, and the Vikings VP quoted a number of statistics that indicate that the Vikings have done a fair amount of research on MLS ticket sales, both from talking to other MLS teams like Seattle and Kansas City, and from surveying their own season ticket holders.
That said, the Relevent partnership appears to be set mostly to extend only to games like the Manchester City-Olympiakos tilt, and not to that MLS effort. The Vikings will have to continue to work on their relationships - both with local fans, and with the league itself - from the ground up.