After losing out to the local Minnesota United group led by Bill McGuire on a bid to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Minnesota, the Wilf family — which owns the Vikings and would have had an MLS team here play at U.S. Bank Stadium — turned its soccer attention to Nashville. This past week, the Nashville group led by John Ingram and with the Wilfs as minority partners was awarded an MLS expansion franchise. Mark Wilf chatted about that process and the ongoing Vikings season with the Star Tribune’s Michael Rand:
Q: When your group here in Minnesota lost the bid for an MLS franchise, did you immediately still have a sense that you wanted to be a part of Major League Soccer?
A: Yeah, we did. Listen, we’ve been passionate about the game of soccer and believe in its future in the United States. Our interest in being part of MLS has not wavered all since our efforts to bring it to Minnesota. We’re excited here about the opportunity in Nashville. It’s a really great, vibrant, growing market with great passion.
Q: Did it take a while to get over any disappointment here or did you move on pretty quickly to the next thing?
A: There are no guarantees in life on anything, but when the opportunity came around and I know the commissioner of MLS was well aware of our interest, when John Ingram brought up the idea of us being involved we thought it was a great match. To the extent that we have sports experience and stadium experience that we can bring to the table, we’re here to help.
Q: You mentioned stadium experience. Aside from the sport, are there differences between building a soccer stadium and NFL stadium?
A: Sure there are. But we understand fan experience, and that still has some crossover from any sport. The uniqueness of facility design, how to deal with contract workers and professionals, we’ve gone through that experience. Stadium construction is a unique experience, and what we’ve learned from U.S. Bank Stadium, which we feel is the finest venue in the world, we’ll be happy to share and hopefully give Nashville what we hope is the best soccer stadium in the country.
Q: Your other team, the Vikings, is having quite a season. What’s been your favorite highlight of this year?
A: I just think obviously Coach [Mike] Zimmer and the team have had great togetherness. The attitude of next man up, you can preach it, but it really has come to fruition where every person is doing their role, it’s about the team, it’s about getting wins, and even with the great win [last] Sunday and locking up the division, this team knows that their goals are higher. They’re going about their business in a very professional and united way.
Q: Do you hear from fans directly who are excited, or maybe even nervous, about how well this season is going and the prospect of reaching the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium?
A: We do, and it was great to be back home this past Sunday. We have the best fans in the NFL, there’s no question about it. You can just feel it. We’re looking forward now that we know we’re hosting at least one playoff game, it’s going to be rocking. They’re very appreciative of the kind of team that’s representing their community and how they go about their business.