The NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota United, a NASL team with ties to the Minnesota Twins ownership, continue their pursuit of a Minneapolis MLS expansion team, and the winner may depend on an unlikely ally: the Dark Clouds.
It’s no secret that one of the reasons for MLS’s popularity is the presence of supporter clubs made up of the most loyal fans. These are the people banging the drums, chanting the team song, wearing the long scarves and showing the most enthusiasm for the team. Virtually every new MLS stadium built in the last decade contains a special section just for these supporters.
In Minnesota, the Dark Clouds are an important part of Minnesota United FC: the 400 or so members are an institution at the National Sports Center. (Why the Dark Clouds? United was formerly known as the Minnesota Thunder. And you can’t have Thunder without the Dark Clouds.) And while a membership of 400 may not be huge in terms of the big economic picture, it is important where MLS officials are concerned. Reps from both potential ownership groups seeking a Minneapolis MLS expansion team were at the recent MLS All-Star Game, laying out the merits of each group.
In Portland, the prospective ownership groups met with existing MLS owners and a likely topic of conversation was “supporters groups.”
Courtemanche said the league is looking for three things from the eventually successful expansion bid: an ownership group with financial fortitude; a stadium (or a plan for one); and a dynamic market that can support a franchise.
A “supporters group,” an organically grown collection of rabid fans independent of the team, is a prime example of that third tenet.
Minnesota United FC brings a solid ownership group (Bill McGuire is the former UnitedHealth CEO), a record of attracting soccer fans (a recent friendly with Swansea City attracted more than 9,000 fans) and a potential partner (United Properties, the real-estate arm of the Pohlad family, which owns the Twins) that can deliver a downtown soccer-only stadium. The Vikings also bring a solid ownership group, as well as a new state-of-the-art stadium that can be configured for soccer a la CenturyLink Field.
But the Vikings don’t have the Dark Clouds. And in the end, that may matter.