The Vikings are mixing mystery and sizzle in an attempt to sear Sunday’s debut at U.S. Bank Stadium into the memories of their fans.
“We’re hoping that when people leave they say, win or lose, ‘that was one heck of an experience’ and that they’re not going to forget it,” said Bryan Harper, Vikings vice president for content and production.
Some of the details are tightly held secrets at Winter Park and will remain so until late Sunday. What the team would reveal is that activities will be unlike anything ever at a regular season game. The Vikings got the NFL’s permission to go a minute beyond the usual 12-minute halftime break and they’ve got 215 volunteers who will hustle equipment on and off the field for an eight-minute production.
Featured before the game and during halftime will be DJ Skee, an Icelandic soccer captain, an actor from the “Game of Thrones” television show, the Minnesota Orchestra, 15,000 square feet of projection mapping on the stadium’s turf and an homage to Prince.
“It’s the first regular season game ever at U.S. Bank Stadium and we have a responsibility to provide a memorable event, not just the game, but the entertainment,” Harper said.
The hope is to celebrate the team’s history and the state while electrifying fans by starting new traditions. To help with the massive production for an expected sellout of 66,200 fans in the building, the team hired event and stage producer Michael Shann, whose experience includes closing ceremonies for the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
The eight-minute halftime show will feature the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vänskä. The orchestra last performed at a Vikings game in 1995, when they played the national anthem in the Metroome. The orchestra has never been part of a halftime show.
Orchestra president and CEO Kevin Smith said 70 musicians will be there. He wouldn’t reveal the evening’s repertoire, but said it would be a combination of classical and contemporary music. The bigger challenge for the musicians comes before and after they play, as they hustle on and off the field under the NFL deadline.
“We’re definitely breaking some new ground when it comes to performance etiquette,” Smith said, adding that the members are excited. So is Vänskä, a Finland native who is not a football follower but understands Vikings’ fan fervor. “It’s just going to be a total adventure.”
The celebration begins long before halftime. The Vikings are encouraging fans to arrive early for the 7:30 p.m. game and get in their seats.
After live music and parties on the plaza starting in the afternoon, the action starts moving indoors with St. Paul Central High graduate DJ Skee, a performance artist and television host, providing the music as the players warm up at 6:30 p.m.
Former Vikings wide receiver Ahmad Rashad will host a “Welcome Home” video featuring historical highlights.
The devoted Vikings fans who handed over money for “stadium builder licenses” for the right to purchase season tickets, will also see players enter the field with flash. The athletes will run through a new “interactive tunnel.”
To get fans warmed up, Vikings alumni will lead the new “Vikings Skol Chant.” This is a version of the “Vikings War Chant,” the thunderous crescendo of clapping that greeted the Icelandic soccer team in Reykjavik upon their return from extraordinary play in Europe. A video of thousands of Icelandic soccer fans participating in the chant went viral last summer.
Harper said the video prompted lots of Minnesota Vikings fans to contact the team about adopting the chant. To get it going Sunday, Iceland soccer team captain Aron Gunnarsson and Game of Thrones actor “Thor” Bjornsson, who plays “The Mountain,” will appear via video for a ceremonial handoff.
As to whether Minnesotans at U.S. Bank Stadium can recreate the Icelandic magic, Harper said, “We’ll see.”
What’s happening with Prince and the projection mapping will be a surprise. Projection mapping can turn irregularly shaped objects into video.
Prince, of course, won’t be there. Minnesota’s most beloved musician, a Vikings fan himself, died in April at his home. Neither Harper nor anybody else will give a hint about the plans to honor him.
Smith has been given a preview and insisted it’s much more than a sound and light show. “It’s not only exciting as entertainment,” he said. “There’s a great sense of community and history. They’ve really done something special.”