Turns out scarves come in handy in Minneapolis in February, for more reasons than one.
The first reason is obvious: 30 degrees is considered a heat wave during the Minnesota winter. But the second reason came as a surprise to me.
While traversing Minneapolis’ famous elevated (and thankfully indoor) labyrinth in the sky, I unzipped my coat, exposing my new Minnesota United scarf (thanks to Bryant Pfeiffer for the swag). The scarf is a mark of tribal significance for soccer clubs around the globe that also rings true in the Twin Cities as I quickly learned from one innocuous passerby.
“Scarves Up!”, he said, unaware that I was a warm-weather foreigner just visiting the American arctic. No matter. That scarf was like knowing the secret handshake, demonstrating the fervent culture already built by the club.
“Scarves Up Minnesota” is this year’s marketing slogan for Minnesota United FC, who begins its second season competing in MLS this spring. The marketing mantra is in reference to the MNUFC ritual of spinning scarves overhead like a helicopter (Petey Pablo style) on every corner kick for the Loons.
For me, I was warm, and I met a new friend. “Scarves Up” I say.
I visited the North Pole… er Minneapolis… this winter to visit the Minnesota United front office and go behind the curtain of its new Experience Center, a preview of what’s to come at the 19,400-seat Allianz Field when it opens in St. Paul in 2019.
This preview center is unlike any other I’ve toured in the industry, including others in the Twin Cities market. It’s lower budget. It’s 2,100 square feet of repurposed office space, befitting of an organization proudly identifying as a “start-up” company feeling its oats. But the Experience Center feels anything but cheap or small. It’s smartly designed, brimming with excitement for soccer in The North, and a lesson in creative storytelling. Scarves Up Minnesota.
Chapter One – Wonderwall
Upon arriving in the Experience Center, guests enter a mock MNUFC supporters section, dubbed the Wonderwall. Yes, like the Oasis song. A television display immerses guests in singing, in chanting, in the youthful tomfoolery of passionate soccer fanatics. Prospective buyers either seek one of the 2,800 supporters spaces, not seats, in the safe-standing Wonderwall section or enjoy people-watching the Wonderwall. In either case, they want to be a part of the atmosphere. To feel young is to be young.
“The fan experience is the hallmark in MLS,” says Bryant Pfeiffer, Executive Vice President and Chief Revenue Officer for Minnesota United. “Like we always say in MLS, the product is the fans. It’s so different than the other sports because it’s so organic and authentic.”
“[Wonderwall] will drive this iconic feel that we have inside the stadium.”
– Chris Wright, Minnesota United
So about this Wonderwall ritual. It dates back to the club’s NASL days when after a big win, the coaches and players would sing the Gallagher brothers’ ditty.
It didn’t take long for the crowd to catch on and join in, transforming every frat boy’s wannabe acoustic guitar hero song into a rally anthem for Minnesota soccer. Thank you Minnesota United.
“[Wonderwall] will drive this iconic feel that we have inside the stadium,” says Chris Wright, CEO of Minnesota United.
“It gives you chills,” adds Pfeiffer. “It is really one of the most unique things that we have going in our fan experience. Teams in pro sports work for years and years and years to create those moments and those traditions, and we stumbled across this our first year. It’s really part of our identity.”
Chapter Two – Identity
Experience Center guests next make their way down a hallway, the walls lined with the governing principles for Minnesota United FC. First comes the mission statement, painted in large white font over a black canvas. It more than holds the wall, both in size and in message.
“What we’re all about is really inspiring and uniting our community,” Pfeiffer says. “That's what it all comes down to.”
Next comes the organization’s six core values. The club is Resilient, Inclusive, and Dedicated, and it believes in Passion, Teamwork, and Respect.
“As an organization, we aspire to live those words,” Pfeiffer continues. “They’re very reflective of people in Minnesota and our fans, as is our crest.”
“It’s being designed so that there is not a bad seat in the house. Arguably the worst seat in the house will be a very good seat.”
– Chris Wright, Minnesota United
Minnesota United’s award-winning crest has been incredibly popular from a merchandising standpoint, its appeal stemming from its clean design and connectivity to Minnesota. It depicts a loon, the state bird of Minnesota, peering up (and presumably singing Wonderwall) with its red eye gazing at the North Star, inspired by the state motto: L’Étoile du Nord. The red eye is also illustrated on the team’s kits, a red button sewn into the jersey’s collar. The loon majestically flashes a wing of 11 feathers, one for each player on the pitch, flying over a blue stripe, representative of the Mississippi River which bisects Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The Experience Center next pays tribute to a couple of Minnesota United’s star players, the history and growth of MLS, as well as the history and growth of soccer in the state of Minnesota. Many people are unaware of the 40-year heritage of professional soccer in Minneapolis-St. Paul, dating back to the 1970’s and the Minnesota Kicks, and including the Minnesota Strikers, whose general manager back in the day was none other than Chris Wright.
“A theme in our organization is a lot of people with different stories connected to the game,” says Pfeiffer. “There's a real passion and belief of growing the sport in this country.”
With the scene set and characters introduced, prospective suite and seat buyers next step foot into Allianz Field for the first time, getting a sense for its configurations by enjoying a fly-through video presentation on a wall adorned with seven television displays.
“It’s a very tight stadium,” says Wright. “It’s being designed so that there is not a bad seat in the house. Arguably the worst seat in the house will be a very good seat.”
Chapter Three – The Hologram
Turning the corner of the Experience Center, visitors spill into a larger second room, featuring multiple technology tools to showcase the interior elements of Allianz Field. First, a webcam provides a loons-eye view of the construction site, 12 miles away on I-94 (the most traveled interstate in the state of Minnesota) in the Midway neighborhood of St. Paul.
“In about nine or ten months, it’s going to look like a spaceship landed in St. Paul.”
– Bryant Pfeiffer, Minnesota United
Today, the display shows a forest of structural steel, construction being approximately 40% complete. Next, three touchscreens programmed with stadium renderings ignite the seat selection process. But the star of the show is a piece of hardware that looks like it was teleported from the USS Enterprise.
In place of the standard, Lego-like physical model exhibited in most preview centers, Minnesota United invested in a hologram display to take fans on a high-impact, 3-D journey around Allianz Field.
The hologram presentation begins with a welcome message from CEO Chris Wright, with multiple video files available for sales reps to deploy custom viewing experiences depending on the prospective buyer. There are interactive maps to demonstrate the public transportation options around Allianz Field in the new Midway super block, soon to be accessible through the region’s light rail and bus systems, bike-friendly streets with 200 bike racks, as well as walking proximity to several colleges and universities. There are animations demonstrating the stadium’s signature design elements, premium clubs, weather-shielding roof canopy, and ideal sightlines. It’s a soup-to-nuts exhibition, albeit without an appearance from Tupac.
Chapter Four – The Close
After buyers have enjoyed the interactive experience, compared options, reviewed pricing, and settled on seat locations, they are ushered to a glass-walled seat selection room, populated with tables manned by sales reps eager to make a transaction and even more television displays should guests need to revisit the seating options like a Napa Valley wine tasting.
“It’s another chance to tell the story,” says Pfeiffer. “This is where we’ll complete the transaction and get people excited with their seat selection.”
After credit card numbers are exchanged for seats, new Allianz Field seat holders document the occasion by grabbing a scarf for a photo op in front of a backdrop of rabid MNUFC fans, scarves up of course.
One final wow moment awaits new season ticket holders as they walk out the door. Anyone who purchases seats is invited to sign a flag that will fly in Allianz Field. As fans approach and apply their John Hancock, an overhead, motion-sensor speaker triggers the playing of Wonderwall, reinforcing the rite and ritual of being a MNUFC fan, and closing the story arc where it began. Today is definitely gonna be the day for Minnesota United.
Watch our entire six-part video series on Minnesota United and Allianz Field.