Minnesota Stars CEO optimistic Vikings stadium deal isn't a death knell
Photo: Courtesy Minnesota Stars.
For Minnesota soccer fans, Zygi Wilf might be the Grim Reaper.
As part of the Vikings stadium deal, the football team's owners will get a five-year monopoly running a Major League Soccer franchise in the new facility, projected to be ready by 2016. What exactly that means for the Minnesota Stars -- our division-two team based in Blaine -- is putting fans on edge.
"It makes things a little bit interesting, that's for sure," says Djorn Buchholz, Stars CEO.
First, some background: The National Sports Center announced the formation of the Stars in 2010, a year after the Minnesota Thunder buckled under an impossible financial situation. In 2011, after the U.S. Soccer Federation implemented new ownership regulations, the NSC passed the team to the North American Soccer League.
But that was intended to be a temporary solution. The league sent Buchholz in to turn the Stars into a successful franchise, with the hopes of finding a buyer within three years, he says.
"The league doesn't want to own the team forever," says Buchholz. "I got brought in here to help get this firing on all cylinders, so that it becomes attractive for someone to come in and take over."
Before the stadium deal, everything was going according to plan; the Stars won the NASL championship in 2011. But soccer fans worry that the prospect of a Major League Soccer team coming to Minnesota could make the Stars a "lame duck," despite the team's success. And if no one wants to buy the team, it's unclear how long the league will hold onto it.
"They were struggling already to find an owner, so this certainly hasn't made it any easier," says Brian Quarstad, who runs IMSoccer News. "Soccer in this town seems to be a little bit of a hard sell in some ways."
What's worse: The Vikings have no concrete plans to buy a team at this point -- team vice president Lester Bagley called it a "back burner issue" in an interview with Minnesota Public Radio last month -- suggesting the possibility of a nightmare scenario for fans where soccer disappears in Minnesota completely.
Photo: Wikipedia. Is this man the harbinger of death for the Minnesota Stars?
"Totally, that could happen," says Quarstad. "We could end up with no team."
But three months after the stadium deal, Buchholz is optimistic, and even thinks the specter of a future Major League Soccer team could be good for creating more buzz around the Stars.
"You've heard a lot about soccer in the last year and a half," he says. "Every time there's been an article about MLS potentially coming, there's always a little side note of the Minnesota Stars. And I like that - that's good. People are talking about soccer."
Ideally, by the time the Vikings are ready to seriously discuss soccer, Buchholz hopes the Stars can be good enough to be a candidate, and make the leap to the major league. He points out that four of the last five teams to join the majors -- Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, and Montreal -- have come from division two.
"We're going to continue doing our thing and building this thing up so if it does get to that point where the Vikings are interested in an MLS team -- well, there's a pro team here already that's hopefully doing quite well and can't be ignored," he says.