Professional soccer in Minnesota brings to mind not only a love of the beautiful game but also a thirst for pregame parking lot festivities.
Having a couple of cold ones with a grill going — better known, of course, as tailgating — was a major component of the early big crowds drawn by the NASL's Kicks in the 1970s out at the old Met in Bloomington. Of more recent vintage, the ample space out at the National Sports Center in Blaine lent itself well to tailgating fun — a practice that became a staple for Minnesota United's Dark Clouds supporters group, among others.
But United's move to Major League Soccer this year also meant a venue shift. The team has its first-ever MLS home game at TCF Bank Stadium at the U of M on March 12. That's the first of 17 home dates spanning into early October. And the rule is this: no tailgating at any of the matches.
United officials say they are still attempting to work something out with the U. United fans who heard the news recently are disappointed — and have been asking why the rule is in place.
It's a fair question. After all, tailgating is allowed in surrounding parking lots for Gophers football games at TCF Bank Stadium. It was also allowed for Vikings games during the two seasons the NFL team used the stadium as a temporary tenant — a similar situation in some ways to United's, which is only playing there while its stadium in St. Paul is being built.
Tim Busse, communications director for the U, explained the decision via e-mail. "The university promotes tailgating on Gopher game days as a community-building activity for students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Tailgating certainly enhances the stadium event experience within a safe, responsible, and controlled environment. However, tailgating for events unaffiliated with the university mission does not serve a similarly important purpose for the university."
When asked why it was allowed for Vikings games but not United games, Busse noted several factors were at play, including irregular start times over a season that spans three academic sessions. He added that tailgating is not allowed during concerts at TCF Bank Stadium.
"During Viking games, we didn't allow any other campus events. The Vikings filled the stadium and campus parking facilities and we concentrated all of our resources and efforts on managing the football game. We also knew when they would be playing and could generally plan on a consistent start time," Busse said. "The United won't fill the stadium so we won't have the same prohibition of other campus events during their games."
That makes a decent amount of sense, but it doesn't make the decision — made by the vice president of university services, "in close consultation with the president's office and public safety leadership," Busse said — any more popular with United fans.
Busse encouraged those fans to have their pregame fun at surrounding bars and restaurants — which, it should be noted, are far more plentiful than they were at United's old home in Blaine. Surly, which fueled many Dark Clouds tailgates at the National Sports Center, has its sprawling brewery less than a mile from TCF Bank Stadium.
Still, if you like a long-standing local soccer tradition — or just the idea of tailgating in general — it appears you are going to be out of luck at United games this year.