Major League Soccer appears to be determined to come to Minnesota. Northern Pitch has learned that the league has aligned itself with Minnesota United Football Club in pursuit of an outdoor soccer stadium.
Sources say that MLS has provided written support for United’s efforts in building a stadium in downtown Minneapolis, while the team has moved aggressively in recent weeks to make that vision a reality. Northern Pitch has also confirmed that team owner Dr. Bill McGuire recently secured an option to purchase a property on Royalston Avenue, adjacent to the Minneapolis Farmers Market and near Target Field, which has long been speculated to be the future stadium site. Multiple sources suggest an announcement of an agreement to bring United into MLS could come within the next month. A representative from Minnesota United declined to comment on this report.
Rumors have been growing that Minnesota was in the lead for the next MLS expansion spot, with Minnesota United preferred over the Vikings, the local NFL team and a rival ownership group. In October of last year, Brian Straus reported for SI.com that MLS wanted a greater Midwest presence and they wanted that city to be Minneapolis, citing the countries 15th-largest media market.
In late February, MLS commissioner Don Garber told SI’s Grant Wahl, “There’s enormous momentum in [Minnesota]. They’ve got a great NASL team (Minnesota United) … we think Minneapolis would be a great market.” In the first week of March, Dr. McGuire broke a long silence, addressing the team’s Dark Clouds supporters group while wearing a 2014 MLS Cup scarf and saying, “We believe we’ve saved you from watching soccer on football plastic.”
Yesterday, American Soccer Now’s Brooke Tunstall quoted an anonymous source as saying, “The people at the league office love the idea of another team in the upper Midwest… Minnesota is a big market that has supported lower-division soccer for a long time.”
Nicknamed ‘The Loons’, United can trace their history to the Minnesota Thunder, a semi-pro team that later became a mainstay in the American second divisions. In 2009, the Thunder organization collapsed and a new team, the NSC Minnesota Stars was formed to take their place. That team was purchased in late 2012 by Dr. Bill McGuire, a former CEO of United Health Group, and rebranded to the current name. In 2014, Minnesota posted the best record in the North American Soccer League, achieved record season attendance, and saw star midfielder Miguel Ibarra called up to the US Men’s National Team.
However, despite United’s recent success, the decisive factor separating the two local bidders may have been the open air, grass surface stadium proposed by the Loons in the North Loop neighborhood of Minneapolis. The new Vikings stadium currently under construction will have a fixed, transparent roof, as well as an artificial playing surface. No current or future MLS team plays in a domed stadium with a non-retractable roof. The most similar stadium situation is that of the Vancouver Whitecaps who share a dome with a retractable roof with the CFL’s BC Lions. The future Atlanta team will also share a retractable roof venue with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. With all of this information, it appears the Vikings bid has taken a back seat, although they declined to comment on this story.
The remaining wild card is actually getting the United stadium funded. Sources have put the MLS price tag of the Minneapolis franchise around $100 million (which is in line with recent expansion fees) and the complete stadium project with the franchise fee at approximately $300 million. In the ASN article, a source says that United “made a lot of progress behind the scenes the last few months and they don’t expect [a lack of a final deal] to get in the way.”
Hennepin County has already been involved in publicly supporting United’s bid. Last November Mike Opat, the (then) chair of the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners, showed up in New York with the McGuire group to give their bid presentation to the MLS Expansion Committee. The county has a strong interest in redeveloping the industrial North Loop. A new light rail line will also eventually stop directly in front of the future stadium. However, any expenditure by the county could add wrinkles to the stadium plan. In financing Target Field, the state legislature was required to sign off on a small sales tax increase.
The stadium may also rely on significant private financing. Glen Taylor, owner of basketball’s Minnesota Timberwolves, the Pohlad family, owners of baseball’s Minnesota Twins, and former Medtronic executive Glen Nelson have all been reported to be part of the investment group.
From the team’s perspective, any announcement regarding stadium funding and an expansion bid would ideally happen in a fairly small timeframe. It would almost certainly not come in the next twelve days, as the team, president and media staff are in Brazil to prepare for the upcoming NASL season. However, it is likely to occur before the Loons begin their season on April 11th, given its potential as a marketing tool.
Dan Courtemanche, MLS Senior vice president of marketing and communications told NP, “Major League Soccer remains on track to announce the next expansion market during the first six months of this year. While no specific date for an expansion announcement has been set, we plan to have an announcement within the next 30-45 days.”
The status of other expansion bids—including that of Sacramento Republic FC, who have been widely considered favorites along with Minnesota for the league’s 23rd and 24th spots—is unknown to us.
Alex Schieferdecker contributed to this report.