The new paradigm in NFL venue design is not only state of the art electronics, or sweeping expansive plazas and public spaces, or multitudes of premium seating options and viewing areas. It now includes a jaw dropping “wow factor” of architecture, something that looks like no other structure and takes ones breath away. That is the case with Minneapolis’ new U.S. Bank Stadium, a monstrosity of an edifice, and that is meant in a good way, built on the old footprint of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome downtown. Even with the economic growth and vitality happening in Minneapolis and all the additions to their impressive skyline, one can’t help but notice the stadium and its imposing presence on the landscape.
Designed by sports architects HKS, Inc. and built at a cost of $1.06-billion, it is the first NFL fixed roof stadium since Ford Field in Detroit opened in 2002, but with a twist. For the roof is built largely with a plastic based ethylene product, allowing natural light to flood in to the seating bowl, giving the interior and outdoor feel even while actually being indoors. Additionally, massive glass wall panels on the west side of the building open out, offering striking views of the Minneapolis skyline, and providing fresh outdoor air on warmer days, while keeping the elements and the bitter cold out once the winters hit. It is a structure uniquely built for Minnesota, and because of the unique way the building is designed to adapt to weather variables, major events such as the 2018 Super Bowl and the 2019 NCAA basketball Final Four are just two of the big events to be staged here in coming years.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Concessions here have a local theme, and mimic the branding offered at the Minnesota Twins' Target Field. Mill City Classics offers the standard hot dogs, brats, pretzels, popcorn and nachos. North Star Grill adds burgers, chicken sandwich, tenders and fries. State Fair Favorites has cinnamon rolls, peanuts and ice cream.
But the signature food item, and not to be missed when visiting this region, are their famous cheese curds. What are cheese curds? Basically globs of cheese deep fried in batter, some mixed with bacon. Not the healthiest of options but incredibly delicious and addictive. They are available at the State Fair stand.
Other themed concessions include a canteen rotisserie offering pork, chicken and lamb sandwiches. The Fire and Rice stand offers fried rice bowls, including one offered with, what else, brat curds, R Taco sells baja shrimp and friend chicken tacos. Look for the Kramarczuk's sausages, a local meat packing company that is a fan favorite.
Food Network's Bizarre Food's star, Andrew Zimmern, has several concession stands which have specialty items like a Skol Dog, bacon onion jam, maple mustard, purple potato chips on a beef frank ($12).
In the upper deck at The Rival near section 340, there is a sausage stand which sells food associated with what the opponent's city is known for. I witnessed the Lions on this day and a Coney dog was served ($10).
I passed by a stand and witnessed a man who just purchased a giant bowl of food called Share Your Stack ($25), a beef, pork chunks, potato chips and vegetables, to be eaten like nachos.
As for the basics, Pepsi products are sold here with a bottle of soda or small 16oz. fountain drink priced at $5.50, a souvenir 32oz. soda is $8.
Beer is a wide range from domestic standards to local craft. A domestic can is $8.25 with Miller and Coors the mainstays. Craft beer is offered at $9.75 for draft and $10.25 for a can.
Look for the MYLO Craft stands for local and state Minnesota brews. There is one unique craft beer, only served in the stadium, Leinenkugel's Special Ale (less intense then a red ale and very, very good).
Basic food and prices include a hot dog for $5.25, nachos for $6.50 and a bratwurst for $7.
There are so many choices, way too many to list here. My advice is to download the App and get a fan guide from Guest Relations on the way in.
This is Vikings country. A huge Viking ship greets fans on the spacious entry plaza from the southwest corner toward the stadium's four, massive main doors, which on a good weather day, are wide open. The structure itself is enormous and at first glance, appears as though it were a bulky vessel, moving across the water toward battle.
Enter through the main west side, through one of the doors. Upon entering the stadium here you will be greeted with a giant scoreboard in the west end zone multiple levels of massive decks and seats. Here, you will see the roof is clear on the south side, to your right, and covered and dark on the north side, to you left. Also from this view, the Vikings charge out of the opposite end zone, in the southeast corner while their opponents enter from the end zone you are standing in the southwest corner.
As for your seats, if sun is a consideration, as I witnessed it was for fans on the north side of the stadium, choose the southeast corner. For noon games, the sun will illuminate the field from behind you and falls to your left as the game proceeds. The thought of watching a game and all of the high-priced amenities and consumables is not fun when your hand is against your forehead shielding your eyes.
All seats include cup holders below, near your feet and the row pitch enables you to feel so much closer to the field. This was a promoted design element of the venue and you will enjoy this feature.
I sat in section 337 where my view included a magnificent view of everything, including the west side downtown skyline with sun at my back and the sensation of being outside. It was $137 on the secondary market.
One thing that would be worth looking into is the seating area in the northwest corner of the building known as Club Purple with open seating free and clear of walls and restriction bars with a couch setting (see gallery).
The gates were opened, adding another nice feature element to my left while the Vikings entry to the field was directly in front and below me to the right.
A mammoth Gjallarhorn is placed in the upper deck, northwest corner of the end zone, sounding off to start the game. Just below this is the massive drum which leads the Skol chant (chills up my spine just thinking about that stadium cheer).In Norse mythology that horn was sounded to announce the arrival of the Gods.
But Skol Vikings. Ahh, Skol Vikings.
The anthem of Vikings nation is sung when the team takes to the field, and following every Vikings score. It is a catchy and snappy tune that everyone in the crowd engages with. There is little in the NFL that bridges the old days and football traditions like these types of fight songs, whether it be Hail to the Redskins in DC, Fly Eagles Fly in Philadelphia, or Shout in Buffalo. among others. First time visitors will remember the song easily, and keep humming it long after the game is done.
Noise levels are off the charts. The Metrodome and its intimate seating bowl were already known for huge decibel counts. This indoor stadium which mimics an outdoor stadium has a roof which keeps the sound in. Vikings fans answer the call to become the 12th man and the noise is deafening. Put it all together and the game day experience is an exceptional one.
Already mentioned is that this is a downtown venue, right? But truth be told, the wrong end of downtown. While the bustling Warehouse District adjacent to Target Field flourishes with its plethora of restaurants and shopping and trendy lofts and apartments, the neighborhood surrounding US Bank Stadium is largely office buildings, urban parks, parking structures and some vacant buildings awaiting adaptive reuse.
There are a number of taverns and eateries nearby the stadium, but nothing truly notable. Maxwell's American Pub and Day Block Brewing Company are good gathering spots just a couple blocks north of the stadium. I struggled to find a place for coffee and breakfast at 730 AM on game day. I wasn't quite ready for beer ad brats at that hour. The Warehouse District just a half mile west or four stations down the Metro.
Tailgating here is a joke and little of it is to be found. A public park just west of the stadium has a collection of food trucks and a music stage offering pregame entertainment. Curiously, there are no beverage sales anywhere, even at these food trucks. A simple vending cart offering soda pop and bottle water would make a killing.
How did the community manage to pay for such an expensive stadium? About $125 million was raised from the fans via "Seat Builders Licenses", a version of a personal seat license that tethers the ticket buyer to a specific seat location for a number of years. 50,000 of these SBL's were sold, giving the team a robust season ticket base. Being a new stadium, this is one hot ticket in its opening season, and sellouts and waiting lists, along with a robust secondary ticket market, is pretty common.
How this will play out in coming season has yet to be determined, but a winning football program certainly helps, and the Vikings right now are the toast of the town.
A well laid out street and expressway grid, and an even better public transportation option, gives US Bank Stadium top marks. Fans arriving by car have several exit options throughout downtown Minneapolis, and great directional signage to the many parking structures and lots. Best to pre buy parking and passes are offered online at several parking web sites.
Better yet, take the Metro light rail. The Blue Line connects to MSP Airport and the Mall of America. The Green Line to downtown St. Paul. They have nailed it in terms of moving a large amount of people on the rails in short periods of time. The round trip day pass costs a paltry $3.50. But that's the good news.
The bad news, and the biggest blotch on this magnificent edifice, are the poorly designed and laid out concourses. Choke points and massive amounts of people trying to move around the stadium make this a real chore. It took 41 minutes after having the ticket scanned to finally arrive at an upper level seat and this is unacceptable on any metric. With opening season glitches, escalators frequently break down and are shut down, leaving fans scrambling to finds alternate paths to upper decks. The upper deck concourse width is an absolute embarrassment, exacerbated by portable vending carts which just further constrict movement.
How this will be corrected will require careful analysis and thinking, possibly a reconfiguration of walled off premium areas which occupy space at almost every level or perhaps shorter, more compressed queue lines at concessions and speedier service to reduce line length.
In the meantime, don't be fooled by the spacious main entry plaza and large amount of security checkpoints and scanning stations. It gets awful once inside the gates. Get there as early as you can and plan enough time.
Ticket prices here average a whopping $315, fourth highest in the NFL. An upper deck seat is priced at $90 but right now commands more on the secondary market. Parking lot and ramp pricing is pretty much fixed at $45 per car. The concession prices climb to "new NFL level" stratospheric prices. It is a magnificent game day experience, but be prepared to pay, and pay, and pay. That $3.50 ride on the train is about the best bargain one will encounter.
There are extras a plenty - 2 stars for the entire Vikings theme, be it the song, the horn, the ship, the colors and logos. The Minnesota Vikings and their fan base have taken a theme and tradition and ratcheted it up to spectacular levels.
1 star for the ring of honor - Vikings legends are enshrined in a circle of names which shoot around the entire seating bowl and it is all very well presented.
1 star for the quality, free game program, unique for each game, draped over the back of each seat for you to enjoy when you arrive. It is a quality printing at a smaller than the typical size, making it a worthy souvenir for you to remember your visit.
1 star for the SKOL line, drum and percussion group, which makes their presence known around the stadium, inside just prior to kick-off and during breaks in the action. These seem to be common among teams to have a group like this present. Seattle Seahawks might have been the first good one with Blue Thunder.
1 star for the diverse and unique collection of art commissioned and on exhibit throughout the stadium, all focused on Minnesota football. It is a nice touch, giving the venue as much of an art museum feel as it does a sports palace atmosphere.
1 star for Vikings Voyage, just above the team store in the northwest corner. This is as much a team hall of fame as it is an interactive space for fans to immerse themselves in the game technologically. The historic team relics are a can't miss and your visit here is free of charge.
1 star for the control room near section 338, where you can see the game's footage, replays and analysis, from the other side of the glass. There must be nearly two dozen technicians working to make sure the game's footage flows seamlessly.
1 star for the fan guide which points you in the right direction for all the things you cannot miss, be it in the way of food and drink and other necessary destinations.
And 2 stars for that view - like in Indianapolis, the glass side walls open up, and all the splendor of Minneapolis can be viewed from almost every seat in the house. It is just one of the architectural amenities, which makes this place so unique and special.
What has happened here in Minneapolis in terms of a signature venue isn't the last word in the NFL. Atlanta's new stadium is taking shape and from the looks of things promises to take the football cathedral structure even higher. Designs on the boards for the new stadium in Los Angeles, and design templates for a proposed NFL venue in Las Vegas, look equally striking.
Make no mistake, 21st century stadium design is hitting uncharted territories, and attendant costs which are staggering and possibly unsustainable. Minneapolis pulled it off, but not without great pain and debate as to the cost. The brunt of that cost was picked up by taxpayers and patrons. How that will play out in other communities dealing with stadium issues will be interesting to follow.
But in the meantime, it's done in Minneapolis, and well worth the visit
-Additional reporting by Dennis Morrell
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