Local soccer fans have been asking us for a while whether a new Vikings stadium -- if it is approved -- would have an impact on the Twin Cities chances of getting a Major League Soccer franchise. The Vikings added fuel to their hopes Thursday, bringing up MLS in conjunction with their stadium announcement. Per the Strib's Hot Dish Politics blog:
The Vikings have exclusive rights to bring Major League Soccer to the new stadium within five years of its opening, and the team could play there without paying additional rent. "The team intends to actively evaluate pursuing an MLS franchise," the term sheet says.
Just how viable is MLS here? What are the league's current expansion plans? We asked Dan Courtemanche -- MLS Executive VP of Communications -- those questions and more. Here are the highlights of our conversation this afternoon:
*MLS had 10 teams in 2004. It will have 19 in 2012, when the expansion Montreal franchise begins play. The league would like to add a 20th team in the New York City area, giving that market two teams. Beyond that, there are no specific plans to expand. "But we certainly believe we could expand beyond 20 teams," Courtemanche said. "It would be hard for us to say, 'Of course we'll be ready by 2016 (when the proposed Vikings stadium could open).'"
*Courtemanche said the Twin Cities would be in the "primary tier" of target markets if the league expands further. "We certainly believe we'll go to the Midwest, which bodes well for the Twin Cities," he said. Other markets that would be a good fit that he put in the same category as Minneapolis/St. Paul: Atlanta, Miami and Orlando, the latter of which is getting a visit today from MLS commissioner Don Garber.
*Why is Minnesota viable? There are four key criteria the MLS looks at for possible expansion targets, Courtemanche said: committed local ownership with resources (Montreal paid a $40 million expansion fee and the figure will continue to rise); a stadium plan -- preferably but not necessarily in a soccer-specific stadium; good market size; and a history of fan support.
"If you follow that model, then clearly the Twin Cities would be very attractive," Courtemanche said.
He mentioned the fan support the Kicks received in the 70s and said the new stadium -- though not ideal -- would pass the test. The biggest thing MSP would seem to have going for it in terms of facility is the success of the Seattle franchise, which shares a home with the NFL's Seahawks. Most of the league's teams play in soccer-specific stadiums. Also, turf (as opposed to grass) is not the preferred soccer surface. But fans have flocked to Seattle -- the Sounders drew more than 38,000 fans per game last year -- and the team's new turf surface is drawing strong early reviews. Even a fixed-roof stadium wouldn't be a deal-breaker, Courtemanche said -- though the Vikings still have the option to go with a retractable option per that Hot Dish blog post.
*Bottom-line: Even if it's unclear just how serious the Vikings are about bringing in MLS and just when/if the league will be ready to expand again, a new stadium would jump-start the conversation. "Not once have I ever heard the Metrodome considered for an MLS exhibition game or international match," said Courtemanche, a league veteran.