But, with the stadium deal signed, sealed and soon-to-be delivered, there may be a casualty after all – the Minnesota Stars of the North American Soccer League. Unbeknownst to many sports fans, the Stars have been atop the NASL all season, losing for the first time in 11 games with a loss Tuesday night to the San Jose Earthquakes. They are the current king of the hill in the NASL but, given its Tier Two nature in the world of U.S. soccer, if you aren't a Stars fan, you likely don't know they exist.
The Stars have struggled to maintain a franchise, despite their current success. In 2010, the franchise was on the brink of bankruptcy only to be bailed out by the NASL. The league brought in its own people to try to get the franchise healthy enough to sell to a potential buyer, but one of the selling points extolled by the Wilf family and stadium advocates was that they would have a five-year exclusive right to bring a Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise to the new stadium. Given the 2016 projection for the new stadium, the Vikings would retain MLS franchise rights until 2021.
When soccer enjoyed its greatest success in the United States in the late 1970s, it was the NASL that was the king. However, while still in operation, NASL is viewed by soccer aficionados as the minor leagues of soccer. It has been surpassed in fan interest and media exposure greatly by MLS.
MLS is unique in sports in terms of ownership and the division of power among its member teams. Created in 1993 as part of a U.S. push to host the World Cup in 1994, MLS, which began play in 1996, is a single league entity, not run on an individual franchise basis. The league owns all the teams and it is operated by a collection of investors. Each franchise has an owner/operator that is a shareholder in the league as a whole. The league runs an annual schedule from March to December and currently has 19 teams. MLS has been very open to expansion, adding a Seattle franchise in 2009, a Philadelphia team in 2010, teams representing Portland and Vancouver in 2011 and a Montreal franchise this year.
Given that MLS is more profitable and gets much more media attention (some would argue force-fed media attention to a largely apathetic American fan base in comparison to other major professional sports), the stadium deal and the ability for the Wilfs to try to pull an MLS franchise into a market that already has a NASL franchise could end up being collateral damage in the stadium debate.
For all the jobs that were saved and/or created by the Vikings staying, getting a stadium may well be the death knell for the Minnesota Stars.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.