Reading this story will not jinx anything.
So here it is: Despite Sunday’s loss, the Minnesota Vikings are still contending for home-field advantage during the playoffs, and the better the 10-3 Vikings do, the more headaches they create for their NFL parent, which is hosting the Super Bowl at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4.
A Vikings home game in January would slash by more than half the five weeks the NFL has to reconfigure, remake and deck out the building for the Super Bowl. The league is scheduled to take over the building Jan. 2 and has big plans for it, from adding space for media to adding coat racks to some repainting.
“Everything is ‘bigger and more’ compared to a regular season or even a game in the playoffs,” said Eric Finkelstein, senior director of event operations for the NFL. “Before the stadium was even built, we’ve been making trips out to Minnesota to see how everything would fit.”
Should the Vikings get home-field advantage, they would be the first NFL team to do so the same year the Super Bowl was in their home stadium. Last year, the Houston Texans played — and lost — a wild card game, the first post-season game that occurs the weekend before the divisional and conference championships, so delays were minimal.
That’s as close as the NFL has come to facing the conflicting needs of a home playoff team and Super Bowl preparations.
The $1.1 billion, 18-month-old U.S. Bank Stadium usually seats 66,200 for a Vikings game. The bowl can be expanded to accommodate 72,000. Instead, the NFL expects to drop the capacity for the Super Bowl to about 65,000 because they need space for the colossal media, security and entertainment at the event as well as additional luxury areas.
If the Vikings played the divisional game at home, scheduled for the Jan. 13-14 weekend, that would close the NFL’s window for doing the build-out work to three weeks from five. If the Vikings advance to the conference game on Jan. 21, the NFL’s build-out window would shrink to two weeks.
The building was required to be free of all events in January through Feb. 15.
Contingencies are being discussed. With the disclaimer that the team is focused on Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said team operations staff is discussing logistics with the NFL with the aim of keeping everything intact.
“We want to minimize distractions with our football team and make it business as usual,” Bagley said. That includes the player parking lot on the southeast corner of the stadium, a surface area where the NFL will want to set up all kinds of equipment.
Finkelstein said the possibility of a home team run is something the NFL always considers.
The goal of the build-out is for the building to be dressed to impress the world the evening of Feb. 4. That will mean huge graphics outside with massive images of star players on the competing teams wrapped on the exterior of the building. The NFL comes in with its own deals with sponsors to replace what the Vikings have.
Club Purple, the 1,000-person lounge area on the northwest corner on the mid-level concourse, will be divided into discrete spaces. At the other end of the field in northeast corner, the NFL will halve some suites and divide some seating in and around the Truss Bar. That work entails installing temporary walls, adding coat racks and bar spaces.
The NFL’s architect, Kansas City-based Populous, has been on-site working through stacks of renderings with planners from the Minnesota Host Committee, stadium operator SMG and the Vikings for weeks. The details range from cosmetic — new paint — to significant — egress and handicapped access.
The press area will also get a major expansion. It accommodates 250 members of the media when it’s packed, which it usually isn’t. For the Super Bowl, 3,500 credentialed members of the media will be in and around the building in need of work space, access to the teams and food.
The NFL will build an auxiliary press box for reporters and put some of them in seats. The main concourse behind the glass doors on the western facade will be lined with new booths for foreign broadcasters — cutting into the fan-friendly but often crowded concourse space. The media also will have a work center in an office building across the street from the stadium.
There will also be three interview areas near the team locker rooms: one for each team and one for the winning coach and MVP. A massive screen with a live feed of the game is set up down there for the media to watch.
The volume of media necessitates enhancing network capacity.
“You can only imagine the amount of bandwidth required,” said Mike Vekich, chairman of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority that oversees the $1.1 billion publicly owned stadium.
To bolster the network, the NFL will widen an access door by the player parking lot to make it big enough for additional cable. That alteration will remain. “That will be a nice improvement done without taxpayer money,” Vekich said.
The NFL also needs a lot of storage space for everything from halftime show materials, merchandise, trucks and tents. U.S. Bank Stadium’s underground loading dock can fit eight semitrailer trucks, and it will get heavy use.
In Houston, the NFL used the vacant Astrodome for storage. In Minnesota, the league will need to look harder. “We don’t have enough space no matter where we are to fit inside the stadium itself,” Finkelstein said with a laugh.
The halftime show planning occurs long before Justin Timberlake ever touches down in Minneapolis.
The show requires a stage to be both constructed and stricken swiftly when the teams are off the field. “It’s timed to the second,” Finkelstein said.
At recent Super Bowls, halftime participants have lined up outside the building during the first half. That won’t work in Minnesota in February.
Then there’s the workforce for security and hospitality. The league brings in some of its own contractors and hires some locally. Everyone needs training in the weeks leading to the game — whether the NFL has five weeks to do so or just two.
Vekich shrugged at the complexity, saying, “the NFL has done this 51 times.”
But they’ve never done it with the home team playing in its own stadium for the playoffs, let alone a Super Bowl.