It’s over for the Vikings and Mankato.
The team announced Tuesday that the training camp starting next week will be the Vikings’ last at Minnesota State University Mankato, after 52 years.
Next summer, the team will hold the 13-day preseason camp at its new headquarters in Eagan. The Vikings’ new home is under construction just south of Interstate 494 in Eagan where Northwest Airlines once operated. The opening is expected in March 2018 — a month after U.S. Bank Stadium plays host to the Super Bowl.
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said logistically it will be much easier for the team to stay in Eagan than to set up camp in Mankato with all the planning and moving that entails.
“There are many hours, days of logistics — we have people down in Mankato right now — that go into the preparation of training camp, that go into the operation of training camp and go into the breakdown of training camp,” Warren said.
Training camp also has changed over the years, going from a six-week endeavor where athletes showed up to “get in shape” to two weeks with players expected to show up in peak condition.
Although the move makes sense, that doesn’t mean it’s painless.
“We’ve had such a positive relationship, and it’s been an emotional relationship over the years,” Warren said of Mankato.
Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said, “It’s a tough day.”
Training camp in Mankato gave the Vikings an annual presence in greater Minnesota for nearly the entire life of the franchise. The team’s visits have had ups and downs. In the good years, fans were excited to see new players and marquee names. Other years, some players’ off-field arrests were bigger news. The darkest day came Aug. 1, 2001, when 27-year-old Korey Stringer, an offensive tackle, died from complications of heat stroke after practice.
The Eagan campus will give the team a lot more space, including more practice fields, than either Mankato or the current practice facility at Winter Park in Eden Prairie. At their new home, the team will have cutting-edge training, physical therapy and video facilities. Its stadium there can seat up to 10,000 people and is only minutes from both Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns.
Bagley said Mankato generally draws about 60,000 fans for the two weeks of camp. The team expects more visitors to Eagan, but he didn’t say how many.
Until now, the team had been cagey about training camp plans. As recently as May, Warren said a move north was “possible” but that the team would “revisit” the terms of the Mankato arrangement in December 2017. Great weather has accelerated construction of the Eagan facility, moving up the decision, he said.
The new headquarters and training facility will occupy 40 acres of a nearly 200-acre parcel purchased by team owners Mark and Zygi Wilf. The Wilfs, New Jersey real estate developers, have plans for a sprawling mixed-use project including housing, hotel office space, retail and restaurants.
Bagley and Warren said they don’t yet know where players will stay during camp — if they will be together. Generally, they say the new facility will be more comfortable for them to lounge and hang out.
As part of the move announcement, the Vikings said they will endow an annual need-based scholarship to Minnesota State Mankato for a student from Blue Earth County.
The team will play host to a recognition ceremony Aug. 5 before the annual night practice and a community “thank you” event Aug. 7.
Minnesota State Mankato President Richard Davenport said in a written statement that the Vikings have been annual visitors for more than a third of the school’s 150 years.
“We have greatly appreciated our relationship with the Vikings through the years, and we will cherish the memories,” he said.
Matt Vensel contributed to this report.
Rochelle Olson 612-673-1747