Tomorrow begins the next chapter in the more than half-century tradition of the Minnesota Vikings rolling their entire operation down Hwy. 169 to the southern Minnesota city of Mankato.
This isn’t their first rodeo in Mankato. After spending the first five years sending the team up to the north woods of Minnesota in Bemidji – a trip deemed too far to travel for training camp when a closer option became available – the Vikings in Mankato is a longstanding tradition.
The first year the Vikings went to Mankato was 1966. Fifty years later, they will be returning once again to the practice fields on the University of Minnesota-Mankato campus. Only the Green Bay Packers have conducted training camp at a location for a longer period of time – the Packers have been conducting their training camp at St. Norbert’s College in De Pere, Wisc. since 1958.
But organizations like the Vikings and Packers are a dying breed. There was a time when every team went to a college to conduct training camp, getting players away from outside distractions in hopes of getting them focused on the coming season.
Now the majority of organizations conduct their training camps at their in-season home base. Revenue is one factor.
With any business, improving and increasing revenue streams is a prerequisite for the growing of an empire and the building of wealth to help make their business is as functional and profitable as possible.
As that business model pertains to the Vikings, it almost assuredly means that the clock has started on the process of leaving Mankato for the greener pastures of Eagan.
It isn’t a new concept. Almost every team in the league has already opted to improve their own practice facilities or, in the case of stadiums that the team owner has the keys to, conduct training camp in-house.
The reason? As simple as it can be. Consolidate revenue to be generated by the team, not giving away the ancillary income to outsiders.
The City of Mankato has viewed training camp as a golden goose for the local economy. During training camp, hotels are jammed – at inflated prices because, like the Vikings, hotels are businesses that can raise prices based upon supply and demand. Stores, bars, restaurants, gas stations – they all benefit from the increased traffic the Vikings bring.
For a couple weeks every year, Mankato has become a destination spot for Vikings fans and a family “staycation” location. They get to see their favorite players up close and personal, yell out their names and get responses. You don’t get that in some environments of the modern-era facilities where fans are kept at arm’s length by design. We live in a society where any crowd is a potential target for those with bad intentions, so the days of rubbing elbows with pro athletes is being reduced in some instances.
Next month, the Vikings are going to break ground on their facility in the Twin Cities suburb of Eagan – an open space not unlike Winter Park where not only a sprawling facility can be built, but the businesses that tend to attach themselves to a crowd-generator will also sprout up in the immediate vicinity. If you need proof, check out the area immediately surrounding the Xcel Energy Center. Prior to the construction of that facility, the West Seventh Street area of St. Paul was essentially a ghost town. Not now.
The reality of the economic situation of the NFL is that the rich keep finding ways to get richer. What has made every team in the league competitive is the process of revenue sharing once the games hit the regular season. Everybody gets the same amount of money and what they do with it is up to them. Most reinvest in their own teams because the better you are, the more you make.
One component of that is maximizing training camp revenue. The premise of “build it and they will come” is always in play. Given the footprint of the site selected for the new Vikings training facility and the announcement of a 10,000-seat stadium that will be part of the project, the handwriting is on the wall.
For those that have built happy memories with family and friends on annual sojourns to Mankato, enjoy this year’s abbreviated training camp. They aren’t over yet, but the countdown clock officially starts when a handful of golden shovels and purple construction hats come into play next month.
It’s not a betrayal of Mankato or its residents, who have benefited greatly from the midsummer boost in the local economy. It’s just the way of the world in the NFL these days. If anything, the Vikings have been one of the loyal holdouts to the old way of doing business. But they’ve lost potential revenue by doing so.
From the looks of things, that won’t continue for too much longer.