Vikings targeting Wrestlemania, other events

The Minnesota Vikings are pursuing other major events for U.S. Bank Stadium beyond the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four.

In August, the name Lester Bagley was on the lips of wrestling fans everywhere.

As seems to be the wont of social media that assuming confirmation can lead to something going viral. Bagley inadvertently became a victim of that.

Making a statement regarding the events that have been locked down for U.S. Bank Stadium – the Super Bowl and the NCAA men’s basketball Final Four – Bagley stated that the Vikings were spearheading bids toward other big-name events, like the NCAA football championship game and Wrestlemania. Bagley was explaining in an interview on the Vikings website that U.S. Bank Stadium had put in bids on the college football title game and Wrestlemania, but, as it played out, it sounded like Wrestlemania was a done deal.

It’s not.

Things got so bad that WWE had to release a statement saying that no deal has been finalized for Wrestlemania 33 in 2017.

Bagley was a bit surprised by the amount of attention his comment received, but he was clear that the Vikings are working hard to help bring other national events to Minneapolis and that he was taken aback by how quickly his Wrestlemania remark spread.

“The good news is that people were paying attention,” Bagley said. “The word ‘hopefully’ wasn’t in. We missed it in editing. We probably should have corrected that. It kind of went viral. A wrestling website picked it up. Then, WWE made a comment. We explained to WWE and those in the media that it was not exactly what was said – we clarified that we were in position to host Wrestlemania. We were not announcing that we had secured it. It showed that it was a big deal to a lot of people.”

The addition of Wrestlemania to the roster of events that the stadium group is attempting to attract is an impressive lot. The facility has already locked down the Super Bowl in February 2018 and NCAA Final Four in April 2019. A bid proposal was made for college football’s BSC Championship Game in 2020, for which a site visit was quietly held in August.

As it pertains to the BCS title game, there are three bid proposal packages being voted on – the games in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Minnesota bid is only for 2020 because it already has the winter season covered for 2018 and 2019 with major events. The NCAA is expected notified Nov. 5 if the bid is approved or denied.

Regarding Minnesota’s Wrestlemania proposal, because of the events already scheduled for early in 2018 and 2019, the target zone for Wrestlemania would appear to be 2017 or bust for a couple of years.

“Our target would be 2017,” Bagley said. “That would be the ideal year. That’s our hope. It brings anywhere from 70,000 and 90,000 people to the market. It’s largely an out-of-market attendee. It’s a three-day event. There is a Fan Fest. There’s the Wrestlemania event itself and then it’s followed by WWE Raw. It’s a three-day deal and they have a formula that is very effective.”

For Bagley and the Vikings organization, the transformation of their stadium vision has been altered drastically, but they have evolved with the project – looking to make the most of their investment. The finalization of U.S. Bank Stadium is a far cry from what they initially expected when the talks of replacing the Metrodome began.

Related: Vikings debuting stadium documentary

Initially, the Vikings planned to build a stadium village in the suburb of Arden Hills, atop some sketchy soil left to contaminate by a former Vietnam War-era munitions plant site. Nobody ever found out how that would have played out had that site been approved, but Bagley feels the downtown site has more than its share of advantages for drawing big-ticket events.

“When we were looking to build a stadium in the suburbs, we were looking for an open-air stadium with 20,000 parking spaces,” Bagley said. “As the project evolved into a partnership with the State of Minnesota and the City of Minneapolis, we obviously selected the former Metrodome site. In hindsight, we see it now as the ideal site. It’s cost efficient. It’s on the LRT (Light Rail Transit). As part of a private-public partnership, the state required a roof in order to have multiple events at the venue.”

Key to the process of making the stadium a multi-use facility was the hiring of the facility management firm SMG by the Vikings and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. They’re no strangers to booking a facility for high-visibility events. A selling point for both the Vikings and the MSFA was that they are also familiar with the NFL and the demands their fan base bring to an event.

“The Vikings and the Stadium Authority jointly hired SMG, one of the nation’s top stadium management/arena management companies,” Bagley said. “This is the seventh NFL stadium that they run. They are a very experienced, not just in building operations, but in marketing and securing events. They’re going to play a key role in securing events for the stadium.”

The Vikings have a finite number of dates that they have reserved events for the stadium, but the organization can serve as a promoter. With soccer apparently out of the equation as that ownership group lobbies a deal for an outdoor stadium, the Vikings have a game-plus 10 arrangement for the new stadium.

“We have the opportunity to bring an event in as a promoter,” Bagley said. “What our use agreement allows is all Vikings games – preseason, regular season and playoffs – plus 10 Vikings events per year, so we do get 10 additional events.”

Those events can range from the annual draft party, which, given previous events held at Winter  Park could become destination nights, but it will be the nights that the Vikings aren’t using the facility that will be just as important to the life of the facility.

Stadium officials are already in discussions to get major concert events. There aren’t many musical acts that can garner a full stadium of the size of U.S. Bank, but for those who can command that kind of an audience, SMG is putting out the word that Minneapolis should be a stop along the way.

In addition, a variety of events will keep the building hopping throughout the year, including internal friendly soccer games, monster truck shows, Minnesota State High School League events, 300 or more high school and college baseball games and community events. While the Vikings are the faceplate on the project, there is going to be plenty of use for the new stadium.

“There are going to be a lot more events at this building,” Bagley said. “People are going to want to come into this building. It’s already creating a buzz nationally about the iconic nature of this stadium. When it opens, people are going to want to come to this building for a lot of events.”


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