The festive atmosphere returned to Vikings games on Sunday … and that was before the team even started on its way to a 24-3 win in the regular-season opener.
Tailgating is back right next to the Vikings' home stadium, and the fans seemed to really appreciate it.
"Great feedback. We had a very solid response," said Steve LaCroix, the team's vice president of sales and marketing. "The fan base is very excited to be close to the Metrodome – you can walk right across the street."
Fans even got a surprise Sunday morning when owner Zygi Wilf joined the masses for smart talk and smiles a few hours before kickoff. Wilf said the feedback was helpful.
"All positive," he said. "Everything I would expect from Vikings fans who have been following the team for many years, and even young fans that have been brought up liking the team. We're going to make a big point to reach out to the kids and loyal fans throughout the country. Not just here in Minnesota, because wherever you go around the country we have fans always reading us."
A short pregame walk through the tailgating lots and to the Metrodome produced the sites reminiscent of the old Met Stadium tailgating. Grills were sending the aroma of grilled treats into the air. Fans were socializing from one pickup tailgate to another. Drinks were served, cards were dealt and tales were told. Wilf said he got offered a few drinks as well.
"I did, but I stuck to my sodas. … I didn't have any foods out there, but I met a lot of interesting people," he said. "It really perked up everyone's enthusiasm. I just hope it will grow and we can establish that and make it a full-day experience for our fans. It's something they deserve."
Yep, tailgating the way it should be is back, if only on a limited basis.
Despite the Vikings' purchase agreement with the Star Tribune newspaper going by the wayside, the team still controls 1,100 parking spots spread throughout four different lots and is selling them for $280 for the eight-game regular season or $40 for a day-of-game sale until all of the season passes are sold out.
"I haven't seen the most recent numbers, but there were still a few hundred available for day-of-game sale," LaCroix said shortly before kickoff Sunday. "We're trying to sell them out on a pass basis, so I think after (the opener), you're going to see the numbers creep up to close to sold out on a pass basis. But if we don't sell them out on a pass basis, we'll continue to sell them at the 40 (dollars for individual games)."
With electrifying rookie running back Adrian Peterson in the fold and a season-opening win in the bank, the season passes could sell out soon. The fact that the team's next home game is against the Green Bay Packers also should help encourage sales.
For the first experience Sunday, turnout was solid. A return to their winning ways might lead to increased demand for tailgating spots, but LaCroix said the team is limited to expansion possibilities by the amount of spaces available.
"We're a little bit landlocked. It depends on the surface parking around the Metrodome. We'll investigate any can kind of space we can in the future. It's just fun to bring tailgating back to the Metrodome, right adjacent to it," he said.
Wilf said the team could look at options with other parking lots along the light-rail line.
Several years ago, the Vikings were able to provide tailgating lots along Washington Avenue, several blocks away from the Metrodome, but when that land was purchased and developed, it took away parking and tailgating opportunities. More recently, the team offered a tailgating option in the Rapid Park area near the Target Center, but that option required fans to either drive or take a bus or light-rail train to the Metrodome after partying miles away.
"It changes that game-day experience when you don't have tailgating right next to the facility," LaCroix said.
Wilf agreed, citing his days as a big New York Giants fan.
"We felt it was important for the fans to enjoy the experience that we all hope to have before the game and we want to make it the most convenient and the most festive that we can make it," said Wilf, who said he'd like to join the masses for more tailgates this year because it is a relaxing break for him before a game. "I wanted to be part of it because of my days of being fans for so many years. I'm still the biggest fan and I felt like we could all experience the pregame celebrations and the optimism that we all felt going into the game. We're going to do that for every game we can."
How big of a hit was tailgating across from the Metrodome on the first day? People starting showing up at 3 a.m., LaCroix said, but he noted that most of the spots started filling up after 6 a.m.