Eric Oslund

Sunday slant: ‘Wine and cheese’ at Minnesota Vikings’ new stadium?

Select Minnesota Vikings players got to tour the new U.S. Bank Stadium last month. They were impressed with a stadium designed to be noisy, but with increased prices, what kind of fan base will be there?

The price of being a Minnesota Vikings fan, at least one attending a home game, went up with the opening of U.S. Bank Stadium. Yet, the Vikings are sold out for the 2016 season and have started a waiting list.

The team only had about 5,000 tickets per game held back from the season-ticket list that went on sale for single games in July. The result: Those were sold out in hours. Expectations for the team are high and fans want to see the new $1.1 billion purple palace that will house Minnesota’s favorite football team for decades.

But just what kind of crowd will be attending? Have the Vikings outpriced some of their most loyal fans?

Time will tell, but decent seats for the regular-season home opener – against archrival Green Bay, no less – were inflated to $500 or more on the secondary market. Fans might have been able to make a weekend trip out of it to Nashville for the regular-season opener for that price, yet many are so excited to experience a game in the new stadium that little would stop them, even tickets being sold for triple (or more) face value.

“I was talking with a few people about this first game. They said normally it’s 50-50 when it comes to the fans, or 60-40, but I think they said there wouldn’t be a lot of Packers fans in here,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said last month. “I can’t say that, I can’t disagree or agree with you. We’ll see that first game of the season. They’re going to find ways to tickets if we’re sold out or they could buy season-ticket (holders’) tickets.”

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Packers fans have always found a way to infest Vikings home games – sometimes more than 50 percent and other times it’s just pockets of green here and there trying to raise the ire of Vikings fans with the “Go, Pack! Go!” chants. Perhaps some of them will be priced out, or simply wait for the frenzy of the new stadium to bring down the prices in coming years.

But there is little doubt that U.S. Bank Stadium and it’s more than 135,000 square feet of suite space will be hosting numerous corporate outings that could largely keep nattily attired casual fans in the suite or on the decks overlooking downtown wetting their whistles with beer and mixed drinks instead of wielding their whistles and shouting themselves hoarse in the stadium bowl.

“I did see some wine and cheese places, I sure did, believe me. But for the most part, the people that are going to be yelling at me will be in the first couple of rows hopefully drinking beers and having fun,” new Vikings guard Alex Boone said after touring the stadium.

The Vikings had an immense home-field advantage at the old Metrodome, which was systematically reduced to rubble after the final game of the 2013 season to make way for a stadium built with the increasing riches in the NFL. Noise in the Metrodome was deafening in the biggest games and the Vikings took advantage. According to ESPN Stats and Info, the Vikings had the second-worst disparity in winning percentage, minus-.240, between home and road games from 1982-2013, the life of the Metrodome.

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When it came to entertaining corporate types, the Metrodome failed immensely. But fans inside the bowl were passionate and boisterous and the Teflon roof aided the advantage for players on the field. U.S. Bank Stadium will have a similar setup – enclosed roof, fans closer to the sidelines than in any other NFL stadium, decks of seats stacked closely on top of each other.

Stadium architects say the ETFE material that makes up 60 percent of the roof is a more “acoustically reflective material” than the Metrodome’s fabric roof and “should make the stadium louder,” according to the Vikings’ web site.

But, ultimately, it will be up to the crowds to produce the noise, and the question about what kind of fans the higher ticket prices will yield remains. The players are waiting to find out.

“That’s going to be interesting. I don’t really know how that will shake out. That’s not really my favorite thing in the world, to see prices go up for the NFL’s sake,” receiver Adam Thielen said. “I like when the average fan can come and see a game and cheer us on. Eventually it will get that way; probably not right away. But eventually it will get to the point where anybody can come see a game. I’m just hoping that the atmosphere is electric like it should be in a place like this.”

Joseph saw the opening of a new stadium when he was with the New York Giants. He took time during a tour of the Vikings’ new digs to get the views that the fans will enjoy.

“I’ve been around this whole stadium. I’ve sat in the stands and the view is amazing,” he said. “Even though I’m sitting in the stands I almost feel like I’m still on the field. I feel like I can still touch everything – the vision you want watching a football game.”

Fans at the Vikings’ temporary home the last two year at TCF Bank Stadium took time to heckle opposing players, and that could be more in play at U.S. Bank Stadium with the seats closer to the sidelines. But beyond the heckling, the noise in general could make it difficult for communication on the sidelines.

“I’m surprised by how close the seats are to the field and I’m very excited because it’s going to make it really, really difficult on opposing teams,” center John Sullivan said. “Just making adjustments on your bench with the fans literally on top of you will be extremely difficult.”

That is, if the fans in those front-row seats are predisposed to that kind of gamesmanship.

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Like Joseph, Boone also saw the opening of a new stadium when he was with the San Francisco 49ers. Some of the longstanding fans in Candlestick Park were likely squeezed out of Levi’s Stadium because of seat licenses and increased prices.

“(Candlestick) was the place. You were always guaranteed to see at least one fight,” said Boone, who grew up loving a good fight. “It was going to go down, and then all of the sudden you move into Levi’s and you see people drinking wine and eating cheese and it’s kind of like, ‘How are we going to make this home?’

“You kind of just put your stamp on it. You kind of go in and you know this is our place. It’s going to fun. We’re going to enjoy it and we’re going to go and kick some tail. I don’t see it being a problem here. This stadium is awesome; people here are great. I don’t expect to see any wine and cheese on the sideline, but all I can say is it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

 


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