The food will be better, the restrooms plentiful, the views unobstructed, and the team potentially improved when the Minnesota Vikings play the first of two seasons at the University of Minnesota's football stadium in 2014.
The tough part for fans will be getting a ticket into the TCF Bank Stadium. Single-game tickets will be severely limited, and even luxury suites will be at a premium.
Phil Huebner, the Vikings' director of ticketing and hospitality, said the team spent more than a year devising a plan to shoehorn fans in a fair and equitable fashion into TCF Bank Stadium. The process involved hiring a consultant and even visiting specific seats to check them out for the fans.
"We're excited about it, but it's certainly been a challenge," Huebner said. "Basically, we had to squeeze everybody in."
Members of the Vikings front office met with the media Friday in the same Winter Park room where executives confer during the draft. They discussed the interim seating plans for downsizing from the 64,000-seat Metrodome, which will be unplugged and deflated Saturday, Jan. 18, in preparation for demolition. The new stadium is to open on the site for the 2016 season.
The Vikings' 11,000 season-ticket holders were notified this week of their seat assignments at the team's interim home. Those ticket holders have the first option to buy their seats at the Gophers' stadium. Those who remain as season-ticket holders through the two years at TCF will have first dibs on seats at the new stadium.
The Vikings will bolster TCF's capacity by adding 2,000 seats, making room for 52,000 fans — roughly the equivalent of the number needed to accommodate seats held by every season-ticket holder in the stadium.
"The invoices are out and the phones are ringing, which is good. We want to talk to everybody," Huebner said.
Said communications director Jeff Anderson, "The important thing is, every season-ticket holder was accommodated."
For the first time in 32 years, the Vikings will play an entire home season outdoors and at the whim of the weather. Anderson said the team understands that some fans might not be up for the open-air experience. Season-ticket holders who don't keep their seats at the outdoor site will lose a minimal amount of seniority, but they won't go to the back of the line, Anderson noted.
After season-ticket holders signal to the Vikings their intent for 2015, the team will know what they have for single-game sales.
No one was guessing Friday.
The move will be an adjustment, and in some ways an improvement, the Vikings quickly pointed out.
Anderson said an unqualified yes to beer sales throughout the stadium rather than just at the beer garden at Gophers games. And the Vikings plan to develop a seat-back rental program for the seats without backs at TCF. Also on the plus side, team officials cheerily noted that TCF offers additional restrooms and more diverse food choices. The Gophers' M Club will become the Vikings Gridiron Club.
The lower level at TCF has just 22,000 seats, 7,000 fewer than the lower level at the Dome. There are no 50-yard-line seats at TCF; an aisle passes through the area where those seats would be.
But the Vikings countered that seats on the Gophers' upper level are cantilevered to provide sweeping views of the field that are much better than the higher seats at the Metrodome.
"What we like to tell season-ticket holders is, 'We chose your seat here; you'll get to choose them in the new stadium,' " Huebner said.
Seat assignments at TCF were made based on a loose mix of current seat location, number of current seats, and seniority, Huebner said.
The squeeze is on in the luxury suites as well. The team sells 60 suites for the season at the Metrodome. The TCF stadium has 38 suites, and Gophers suite-holders have first dibs on those for the Vikings games. Roughly one-third of the suite-holders have told the Vikings of their plans and of those, half are signing on for the NFL season, according to J.P. Paul, director of new stadium corporate development.
TCF also has 60 "loge boxes," outdoor seating with chair-side food and beverage service, which could appease some suite-holders at the interim site, Paul said.
The team expects to hold another briefing in a couple of weeks with more details on amenities and upgrades.
Still unknown is whether the team will find a means to provide heating for fans during frigid winter games or whether the team's new coach will insist on a new quarterback.
The team has posted ticket prices and other information on its website, www.vikings.com. The top season-ticket price is $1,390 for 10 games ($139 per game), up slightly from last year's $1,197 for nine games ($133). The lowest season-ticket price is $350 ($35 per game), up from last season's $279 ($31 per game). Season-ticket packages include preseason games.