Picture an evening in late August 2018 when Eagan's football team runs onto the field in a world-class stadium before a packed house of 6,000 fans and many more around Minnesota watching on television.
How's that for a home opener?
It's not just a daydream. The Minnesota Vikings are stepping up efforts to make their future Eagan headquarters a stage for high school football, soccer and lacrosse.
On Thursday, team executives presented the "Minnesota Friday Night Lights" concept of regular-season rivalry football games — broadcast to a statewide television audience — to the Minnesota State High School League's board of directors.
The team wants to hold prep games in the 2018-19 school year at its 6,000-seat, synthetic turf venue to be known as Twin Cities Orthopedic (TCO) Stadium. It could expand to hold 10,000 people.
"There's definitely an interest from the Vikings and the high school league to find a way to utilize this facility for public purpose, for community connection and certainly for high school sports," said Lester Bagley, the Vikings executive vice president of public affairs and stadium development.
MSHSL and Vikings officials have been discussing the idea since last year, but Thursday marked the first time that team officials met with the league's board.
A key challenge for moving regular-season games to Eagan includes determining how to compensate host schools for lost gate revenue that, for some larger metro schools, can exceed $10,000 per game.
Bagley said while much work remains, "What we wanted to do is lay out the details of what we're doing and how it related and connects to the high school league."
Other plans call for holding state tournament quarterfinal games in football and soccer as well as much of the lacrosse state tournament. Those games are currently held at neutral sites arranged through the MSHSL.
Bagley said it's unlikely the football and soccer semifinals and championship games, currently played at U.S. Bank Stadium, would move to Eagan. As far as moving regular-season football games to Eagan, Bagley said "a couple of maybe rivalry games" could be scheduled in 2018, "but we're still in the early stages."
Next steps include solving logistical concerns such as financials and staffing. Bagley said the Vikings are in the "early stages of looking into the financials and how to make the business side of the community connection work."
Dave Stead, Minnesota State High School League executive director, said his group must "get started right away" in terms of scheduling state tournament quarterfinals in Eagan.
As for moving home football games during the regular season, Stead said the league surveyed about 30 metro-area schools to gather financial information.
Activities directors at Eden Prairie, Rosemount and Wayzata — three prominent football programs not surveyed by the league — indicated Thursday that the excitement of playing a showcase game in Eagan was tempered by concerns about losing home-game revenue from tickets and concessions.
Still, coaches are buzzing about the chance to play under brighter Friday night lights. Eagan opens its 2018 season at home against Minnetonka, and Wildcats coach Ben Hanson casually asked the Skippers' Dave Nelson about playing the inaugural high school game at TCO Stadium.
"Nothing is set in stone," Hanson said. "But there's interest if we're able to make it happen."
Kelley Hood, activities director at Cretin-Derham Hall, shared his excitement with school President Francis Miley and football coach Brooks Bollinger.
"Even though I'm a Green Bay Packers fan, I think it's a great idea," Hood said. "It's an opportunity for our kids I wouldn't want to see us pass up."
The stadium, set to open March 1, is the centerpiece of the 200-acre Eagan campus. In future phases, the development is expected to include a hotel, conference center, retail, restaurants, housing and office space.
• In other league action, board members approved St. Thomas Academy's request to opt-up to Class 5A in football. A missed application deadline resulted in the Cadets' Class 4A placement.
Monticello/Maple Lake dropped Annandale from its boys' hockey co-op and as a result will remain in Class 1A.