Temporary sports facilities shouldn’t be afterthoughts, a lesson that Seattle and Chris Hansen should be aware of. What happened in Minneapolis on Sunday during the Vikings-Seahawks game is a cautionary tale.
Inside sports business
Anyone watching the Seahawks and Vikings act out scenes from “The Revenant” in glacial temperatures Sunday now knows that temporary sports facilities shouldn’t be afterthoughts.
To be fair, the Vikings didn’t have much choice on locales when they paid the University of Minnesota $3 million annually to use TCF Bank Stadium for 2014 and 2015. There weren’t a bunch of 50,000-seat venues in the area to use while the Vikings build their permanent roofed facility.
So the Vikings crossed fingers and hoped for the best by sharing a home with Big Ten football’s Golden Gophers. But then, they won the NFC North for the first time since 2009 and were stuck hosting the third-coldest game in NFL history in a bleacher-laden college stadium with a minus-25 wind chill at kickoff.
That cost everyone: be it fans denied an enjoyable playoff experience, ticket-sellers losing profits and the Vikings themselves missing on additional concessions sales they would have earned had fans arrived earlier Sunday instead of avoiding subzero temperatures as long as possible.
Which brings us to Seattle and our region’s quest for a new sports arena for NHL and NBA teams. Regardless of where it gets built, there will almost certainly be the need for a temporary facility.
If Chris Hansen gets permission and actually builds in the Sodo District, there’s a provision in his Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the city and King County that he pay to refurbish KeyArena as a temporary venue. Clearly, KeyArena is indoors, so weather won’t be an issue.
But it will have to tackle fan comfort, the same issue that plagued the Minneapolis facility long before weather took over. Most of TCF Bank Stadium doesn’t make for a pleasant experience: be it aluminum-bench seating in most of the venue or concrete flooring that feels cold even when temperatures are above freezing.
Vikings officials implored fans to bring newspapers, cardboard and Styrofoam to sit and stand on so they wouldn’t get hypothermia by halftime. They offered free coffee and provided nearby indoor shelter for tailgating fans pregame.
But the game itself wasn’t an experience any professional team willingly puts fans through, so again, comfort level ranks a close second to avoiding arctic conditions altogether.
Over the weekend, I spoke with Venue Kings ticket-resale guru Anthony Beyrouti, a Canadian who knows about hockey venues.
“It can work well if it’s comfortable because the venue is usually smaller, so the fans feel like they’re getting a great view,’’ Beyrouti said of temporary arenas. “So when it comes to selling tickets, those teams can do quite well.
“The problem with the stadium in Minneapolis is that it was never that comfortable to begin with. You could move the Seahawks to Husky Stadium right now and it would easily sell out at any price no matter how bad the weather is because it’s a great facility.’’
But while TCF Bank Stadium is the NFL’s smallest at only 52,525 capacity, with fans raving about terrific sightlines, even diehard Vikings supporters apparently balked at the playoff contest.
That was evident in ticket pricing. Beyrouti said even coveted sideline seats were priced as low as $55 on Sunday morning.
StubHub said the average price of tickets sold finished at only $95, compared to $145 for the other NFC game in Washington, D.C. The “get in” price, which had climbed to $72 on Saturday, collapsed overnight to $47 — half the price of the day’s other wild-card game.
Beyond the limited in-stadium comforts, Vikings fans have complained about limited parking and traffic jams on congested nearby streets.
Minneapolis at least offers decent public transit, with light rail running right up to the stadium. That’s a big issue KeyArena would face as a temporary venue, since parking and traffic problems will linger for years in Lower Queen Anne even if new ST3 transit initiatives are approved by year’s end.
Assuming you can’t fix that, the biggest need is enhancing the experience inside the arena. That means ensuring that sight lines for all seats are as unobstructed as possible.
Also, upgrading concourses so fans get to and from concessions and restrooms without missing too much of the game is important. Spending on fancy scoreboards won’t mean much if fans gripe on social media about a lousy experience moving around.
Again, it’s only a temporary home. You take care of your fans first, worry about bells and whistles later.
The Vikings will get away with literally freezing out their fans because of their NFL history. They know fans will be there once the new venue opens, which is scheduled for next season.
But if the NHL comes to Seattle, you’ll have to win fans over. The NHL is littered with franchises that struggled for years because of lousy fan experiences in temporary venues, much of that due to far-flung locales.
We won’t have a distance issue if KeyArena is that temporary home.
But fans will have to be taken care of inside. Not left to their fate like the bearded fans in Minneapolis resembling Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest icicle-laden movie character by Sunday’s second quarter.
If we want fans filling a new arena — be it in Sodo or anywhere else — it makes good business sense to take care of them while its being built.