Minnesota Vikings fans seeking a traditional tailgating experience during the season beginning Sunday might want to consider heading south 400 miles to Kansas City.
There, on Nov. 3, the Vikings play the Chiefs at 47-year-old Arrowhead Stadium, a facility encircled by surface parking spaces ready for pregame grilling and swilling.
In Minneapolis, only half the tailgate spots open last year are available this season, with the balance lost to downtown development — generally considered a good thing in a part of downtown considered a dead zone in Metrodome days.
But the only spots remaining for the popular pregame parties are about 250 spaces just north of U.S. Bank Stadium — spaces controlled by the team and already bought up for the season.
Tailgating at Vikings games is “obviously … a tradition for fans, and we want to look for ways it can continue,” team vice president Jeff Anderson said.
It’s a tradition dating to the team’s years at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, which was ringed by a sea of surface parking lots. Tailgating parties at “the Met” continued long after the game was over and even drew some players as they were leaving for home.
Development around U.S. Bank Stadium was the major selling point for the Vikings when they asked state and local officials to pick up almost half the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium — development that the stadium’s predecessor, the Metrodome, failed to deliver.
But since at least last season, Vikings fans partying outside the stadium could see for themselves the encroachment of development as new apartment buildings and parking ramps sprang up left and right.
“We’re worried … like, where do we go?” said one fan from South Dakota before the final game last season.
Adding tech-friendly toys
While the team can’t control the squeeze on tailgating, it’s worked in the offseason to offer fans new attractions inside the stadium and on the public plazas outside.
Changes at the three-year-old stadium include technology boosts, a quiet room, renovated club spaces, new foods and more concession stands serving up the snacks that fans love most: nachos, tacos and barbecue.
To get into the building, fans will still use the Vikings app or the online portal. New this year are rotating bar codes that change every 15 seconds; that means screenshots of tickets won’t get fans into the building, and fans will need to use their Apple Wallet or Vikings apps to get in.
For the first time, U.S. Bank Stadium will have at least one dedicated lane at every gate open for fans who go bag-free. The NFL requires bags to be clear plastic containers no bigger than 12 x 6 x 12 inches.
A new “sensory inclusive space,” designed by Birmingham, Ala.-based nonprofit KultureCity, is on the upper concourse behind section 346. It’s designed to provide a “safe and soothing atmosphere” for those who need it, such as fans with PTSD or autism. The space includes low lighting, beanbag chairs, autism kits, ear plugs and noise-canceling headphones. Two licensed professionals from Fraser Pediatric Therapy will be on duty at every game.
Tech-friendly fans will have some new toys. The Vikings have installed four remote-controlled high-definition cameras throughout the stadium that will snap photos every 20 minutes. After the game, fans can go online, scan the crowd and tag themselves. The team used the technology for one game in 2016.
The Vikings also have launched Apple Business Chat, which allows fans to communicate directly with the team during the game through the messages app on an iPhone, iPad, Mac or Apple Watch. They’ll be able to scan a code available at the stadium and converse with someone from the team about logistics, concerns or food options.
On a much bigger scale, U.S. Bank Stadium will go live on opening day with Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband network, allowing more capacity and faster downloads. The stadium is one of 13 in the NFL to get the superfast network this season.
Creature comforts? Mystic Lake Casino Hotel is opening a new space, called Little Six Casino’s Club Gold, on the south side of the stadium. Polaris took over and redesigned what was known as the Hyundai Club, a grade-level space with lots of windows on the stadium’s north side.
Stadium food? New items will be available from local vendors such as Arepa Bite Latin Food, David Fong’s, No Name steaks and the O’Cheeze grilled cheese food truck. Also new will be the Heritage Tea House, serving jerk wings, jerk chicken and rice bowls. Heggie’s, the local frozen pizza mainstay, will offer cheese and pepperoni.
Existing vendors will offer new selections, including nut-free/egg-free/sesame-free ice cream from A la Mode Ice Cream. Perennial fan favorites will be offered in more stadium locations, including Rusty Taco, Market Bar-B-Que, Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen and L’il Mini Donuts.
To get a sense of how U.S. Bank Stadium ranks among NFL fans, ticket reseller SeatGeek posted the results of a survey showing that fans appeared to be quite satisfied heading into the facility’s fourth season. U.S. Bank came in fifth for food and bathrooms (first place went to Atlanta’s newer Mercedes-Benz Stadium) and 12th for atmosphere (Green Bay’s legendary Lambeau Field was first).
SeatGeek has published guides for each of the NFL stadiums, in which Vikings fans are advised to arrive early, check out the stadium and then get to their seats in time for the SKOL chant.
This year’s Vikings schedule has an unusual quirk that could provide for a high-energy December in downtown Minneapolis: The team plays the final two games of the season at home against division rivals. The Packers will be in town for a Monday night game on Dec. 23, and the Bears arrive six days later for a noon game on Dec. 29.
In the meantime, those seeking the big tailgating experiences down in Kansas City better bring cash: A gameday ticket to the surface lot down there will cost at least $40. The new breakfast nachos outside U.S. Bank Stadium are a much cheaper alternative.