The Minnesota Vikings are hoping to get thousands of their fans into U.S. Bank Stadium, although that’s not likely for the home opener Sept. 13 against the Green Bay Packers.
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the team is in talks with Gov. Tim Walz and the state Department of Health to see if they can safely get fans into the enclosed stadium that hosted the 2018 Super Bowl and can seat more than 66,000.
Bagley said a decision is likely next week.
“We have to sort it out here in short order,” he said. “Obviously health and safety are a priority.”
Accounting for social distancing and public health restrictions, the maximum number of fans who could get in for any game this season would be roughly 20%, he said. But Bagley acknowledged everything depends on what Walz and the state agency allow under public health guidelines.
As of Thursday, an existing gubernatorial order allows no more than 250 guests at indoor events.
Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for Walz said, “The administration is in communication with teams and large venues, including the Vikings and U.S. Bank Stadium, to discuss what a safe season might look like.”
Bagley’s comments came in a telephone interview after an electronic meeting of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the public body that runs the four-year-old building for the state. At the meeting, officials discussed new safety measures, including an ultraviolet cleaner for the field turf called the “green zapper,” and safety measures being added for operations, including sanitizers for electronic headsets.
Officials at the meeting didn’t discuss the prospect of fans being allowed into Vikings games.
To the contrary, John Drum, interim general manager for ASM Global, which runs the stadium, noted the governor’s executive order limiting indoor gatherings to no more than 250.
Since the coronavirus pandemic arrived in mid-March and public gatherings have been restricted, the $1.1 billion stadium has been mostly idled. Structural repairs have continued throughout the exterior, most significantly the replacement and reinforcement of all the exterior zinc panels, but indoors is another story.
The NCAA men’s wrestling championship, scheduled there in late March, was canceled. Major concerts by the Rolling Stones, Kenny Chesney, George Strait and Def Leppard were postponed.
Unlike St. Paul’s CHS Field, U.S. Bank Stadium is a closed venue with a roof.
Bagley said it’s possible that ultimately no fans will be allowed to attend. The Minnesota Twins have been playing games without fans at Target Field for weeks.
In his comments, MSFA executive director James Farstad highlighted the acquisition of the “green zapper,” the ultraviolet cleaning machine that will be towed across the turf to clean the surface hours before games.
Spokeswoman Lisa Niess said the MSFA paid $15,159 for the zapper.
Also at the meeting, the Vikings got permission from the MSFA to add more corporate sponsorship signage near the field inside the stadium. The signs will cover some of the empty seats.
Bagley said the move, authorized by the NFL, won’t add revenue but will give the team’s biggest sponsors visible advertising in the first eight rows of seating.
During the meeting, Commissioner Tony Sertich asked whether the Vikings would use virtual, electronic signs as major league baseball has during its broadcasts of fan-free games at ballparks across the country.
Vikings CFO Steve Poppen said no, the NFL does not allow such signs.
At the meeting, Drum confirmed that the St. John’s-St. Thomas football game would not occur as scheduled in November because the fall college season has been canceled. He said a spring game remains a possibility, but that nothing is set.
Drum also announced that the annual holiday shopping bazaar at the stadium won’t take place because of the pandemic.
Although the MSFA meets in public monthly to discuss stadium operations, this was the first session since June because the July meeting was canceled. The next meeting is at 8 a.m. Sept. 17.