The owners of the Vikings have headed south to try again for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise.
Mark, Zygi and Leonard Wilf planned a formal announcement Tuesday of their new partnership with Nashville billionaire John Ingram.
The Wilfs missed in their bid to bring an MLS team to Minnesota to play in the year-old, $1.1 billion U.S. Bank Stadium they helped build for the Vikings. The New Jersey-based Wilfs lost out to a group led by former United Health executive Bill McGuire. A new soccer stadium is under construction in St. Paul’s Midway area.
Stadium savvy is one reason Ingram said Monday that he was drawn to the Wilfs. Stadium plans are crucial to winning an MLS franchise.
Ingram said in a phone interview that he got to know Mark Wilf last spring when the Vikings’ co-owner joined him on the board of trustees of Vanderbilt University. One of Mark Wilf’s sons graduated from the private Nashville school.
Ingram and the Wilfs both help lead multigenerational family businesses. The Wilfs made their fortune in real estate. Ingram’s family created a marine (river) transportation business as well as book distribution.
In addition to seeing a stadium through to construction, the Wilfs have something else Ingram doesn’t: experience owning a professional sports franchise.
“All of that is really valuable to us,” Ingram said, adding that the Wilfs will strengthen Nashville’s bid.
Mark Wilf said exhibition soccer matches have been wildly popular in Nashville, which is also a strong sports market.
“We’ve got a lot of great appreciation for soccer, and we think it’s a growing sport,” Mark Wilf said.
If Nashville gets a team, the Wilfs would be minority owners to Ingram.
“We’re here to support him as best we can,” Mark Wilf said.
Next week, Ingram said he will make stadium presentation to the city and regional governance councils. He said he’s got a site on the fairgrounds in the city and that he will seek public assistance in the project. He didn’t divulge numbers.
As to whether the Wilfs might get distracted by a second sports franchise, Mark Wilf said an unequivocal no, adding that from the day they bought the Vikings, the “No. 1 goal” remains the same: “Super Bowl championships. Plural.”
The MLS is expected to grant two expansion franchises by the end of the year and possibly two more next year. Twelve cities are in the mix.