Wilfs may have competition for soccer market

The Wilfs have exclusivity for a Major League Soccer team in the new stadium, but another soccer team could be coming to town and pose a threat to the Wilf's desires.

Minneapolis may be the site of a sports battle of its own in the coming months and years for the professional sports market, as a battle between football and futbol is starting to bubble.

When the Minnesota State Legislature approved funding for the new Vikings stadium, one of the perks that was given to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was a five-year exclusive window to bring a Major League Soccer franchise to Minnesota, but, the battle for professional soccer may be a battle of the moguls.

Bill McGuire was CEO of UnitedHealth Group from 1991-2006 before he resigned amid a scandal surrounding backdating stock options, which was a common practice at time. After an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission, McGuire was fined $7 million and instructed that he couldn't be in charge of a public company. McGuire, who, like Wilf, is a billionaire, is looking to garner steam toward bringing pro soccer to Minnesota for the first time in 30 years and his plan has nothing to do with the new Vikings stadium or the Wilfs.

McGuire wants to build a soccer-only stadium in the area currently the site of the Minneapolis Farmers Market near Target Field that, for a brief time, was being viewed as a potential landing spot for the new Vikings stadium before it was decided to build the stadium on the current footprint of the Metrodome. Two years ago, McGuire bought the ownership rights to the Minnesota United FC franchise, which currently isn't affiliated with MLS. It is a member of the NASL (North American Soccer League), which is viewed as a Tier-2 soccer league in comparison to MLS. However, with MLS looking to expand into new American markets, the Twin Cities might become a hotbed because two rival owners with ties to soccer may end up competing to land a franchise.

The popularity of soccer is growing and soccer stadiums are being built throughout the country to accommodate. When Zygi Wilf brought up the idea of the new Vikings stadium also being the home to a MLS franchise, not everyone took him seriously. But Wilf has longstanding connections with the MLS hierarchy in New York and will likely have in-roads to land a franchise in Minnesota that other owners likely wouldn't have.

As part of the stadium funding bill, very specific language was written into the legislation giving exclusivity to only those whose family owns at least 3 percent of the Vikings franchise to purchases all or part of a MLS franchise. Considering that the Wilfs have no intention of selling shares in the Vikings to other families – at least not during the initial five-year window – it would appear that the Wilf family has the exclusive rights to bring a MSL franchise to the new stadium. It should be pointed out that the language of the legislation only pertains to the new Vikings stadium and has no bearing on other owners at other facilities attempting to lure a MLS franchise to come to Minnesota.

The issues currently being discussed are based largely in the cost of building a soccer-only stadium. Depending on the size and the amount of bells and whistles that would be involved, the cost of building a soccer facility of 25,000 or so seats would be somewhere in the $50 million to $100 million range. Whether private investors would be able to come up with that kind of money for a stadium that wouldn't have multiple other tenants already in place might be a tall order, and the thought of the state or the City of Minneapolis contributing more money toward a stadium effort is unlikely.

Minnesota has showed in previous generations that it could support a MLS franchise. In 1970s when the Vikings and Twins both played at Metropolitan Stadium, it could be argued that the Minnesota Kicks soccer team had the most tailgating fun than any of the Met's other tenants. Back when Pele was the faceplate of soccer – non-fans would contend that he still is to spite the faction that is devoted to David Beckham – drawing stadium-sized crowds wasn't that unusual. The Wilfs hope that, with a state-of-the-art facility that can be altered to accommodate soccer crowds, the new Vikings stadium would be an ideal location to house the a new soccer team in Minnesota.

It may be a tad premature for a business battle over soccer that would potentially be played in stadiums that have yet to be built, but, if there's going to be a war, there has to be a starting point and it would appear that the starting point is taking shape.

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.

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