The fight between financial titans Zygi Wilf and Bill McGuire and his partners over a Major League Soccer franchise for Minnesota continues to escalate, and Thursday will shift to New York City.
Two groups from Minnesota will make presentations Thursday before MLS officials, with Wilf’s representatives arguing that the soccer team should play in the Minnesota Vikings’ new $1 billion stadium now being built. A competing group, representing McGuire, the former UnitedHealth Group executive, has been privately advocating for a new, but smaller, soccer-only stadium and is reportedly eyeing sites near the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.
Minneapolis is competing with Las Vegas and Sacramento for a 24th franchise as MLS attempts to grow to two dozen teams by the end of the decade. A MLS spokesman said the league, following Thursday’s presentations, would discuss expansion at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Both Minnesota bids have significant financial muscle. Wilf is the owner of the Vikings, and legislation for the stadium gave the Wilfs exclusive rights for five years to bring an MLS franchise to the facility. McGuire, who owns Minnesota United FC, a lower-level local soccer team, is being joined by the Pohlad family, the owners of baseball’s Minnesota Twins, and Glen Taylor, who owns the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We have a great story to tell about our great soccer-specific venue [and] our passionate ownership that has been working on this for several years,” Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said Wednesday.
Of the competition from McGuire’s group, Bagley said: “I don’t want to speak for them.”
McGuire’s group, which has largely been meeting out of the public eye, did not officially confirm that it was making a presentation to MLS on Thursday, but a person with knowledge of the group’s plans said it would be in New York.
While MLS Commissioner Don Garber recently said that a new Midwest franchise is a “priority,” both the Wilf and McGuire plans have flaws.
The Vikings would use a “curtaining system” to cover roughly 40,000 seats in the new stadium to shrink its size, and MLS officials have indicated a preference for smaller, soccer-only stadiums.
McGuire does not yet have a stadium and may face opposition from Minneapolis officials, who are already financially supporting the Vikings stadium, which is counting on revenue from a soccer team.
Barb Johnson, the Minneapolis City Council president, said last month that “I don’t think it would make sense for us to be looking” at a new, soccer-only stadium.
MLS spokesman Don Courtemanche said “three markets” will discuss possible MLS expansion on Thursday, confirming the cities were Sacramento, Las Vegas and Minneapolis. “MLS will issue a statement after tomorrow’s meeting,” he added, but he indicated the league would have little further comment.
Sacramento has a minor league professional soccer team that plays in an 8,000-seat stadium, though city and team officials have proposed a new 25,000-seat, privately financed soccer stadium.
In Minneapolis, the Vikings have hired One Simple Plan, a company founded by Clint Roberts, to help boost interest in MLS soccer in Minnesota. The company, according to Roberts, helped the Vikings promote soccer games at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota in August.
Roberts also said that Bagley would attend an event Saturday at a bar in downtown Minneapolis to watch an English Premier League game on television and boost interest in soccer.
“We’re certainly loyal to the Vikings’ efforts,” Roberts said.
Of McGuire’s plan, he added: “What someone is doing across town is really nowhere near to my focus.”