A Conversation with Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright (Part Two)

After 26 years with the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, Chris Wright has taken the reins of Minnesota United FC as it prepares for its second year of competition in MLS and its relocation to Allianz Field in 2019.

  • Chris Wright, CEO, Minnesota United

 

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Watch Part One of our exclusive interview with Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright.

Is there going to be new mixed-use that blooms from this project? What is the real estate going to look like around the stadium?

We’re really concentrating on the stadium right now, but we do control, with a developer, another 20 acres around the site that will become part of a mixed-use development. We see some type of condominiums. We see two or three major companies coming to that area. We see a restaurant district as part of it.

So in terms of urban redevelopment, we have a strategy around that, but that [strategy] will really begin immediately after the stadium is open in 2019 through about 2021-22.

What are the synergies between the Minnesota United and Allianz brands, and why were they the right fit to name your building?

Allianz has an incredible history in sports. Headquartered in Munich, Germany, they have their name on the Bayern Munich stadium, but they also have their name on six other stadiums around the world. We became their eighth.

Allianz Life is headquartered here in the Twin Cities. They were looking to align with a partner around stadium naming rights somewhere inside of this country. The fact that we were building this iconic 20,000-seat stadium right in their own backyard was very compelling to them.

[The partnership] also leads to more than developing a naming rights relationship. The fact that they are involved with so many different buildings around the world and have major tenants in those buildings – Bayern Munich, Rapid Vienna, Juventus, Nice, Sydney from an Australian rules football standpoint, Saracens rugby in London – gives us an opportunity to network into those teams and some of those other sports with the potential of bringing some of those games and those sports to our stadium here. So already, we’re networking through Allianz into some of those other teams that play in those stadiums that they have put their name on around the world.

In addition to the potential for those other events and of course Minnesota United matches, how else will Allianz Field be used?

We will be very careful, particularly in the first year, relative to the grass. I mean, it’s Minnesota after all. The grass is actually being grown on a farm in Colorado right now. When it’s ready, we will actually cut the sod, roll it up, put it on trucks, bring it up here, and lay it out for it to become our pitch. But because we’re doing it that way, we’ll be very careful in the first year as to other events that we actually put on the field.

“Esports is where it is going for every league in this country. What we’ve all got to do is figure out what our role in that is, how we can support its growth, but really in the end, support the growth of fans for your brand.”

– Chris Wright, Minnesota United

It will be mainly team sports in the first year. It could be rugby. It could be football. It could be more soccer. It could be lacrosse. We’ll certainly look at smaller concerts initially, but bigger concerts will come in 2020 once the grass is weathered, worn in, and ready to take the beating that a concert puts on it.

The stadium is being designed with a lot of different hospitality opportunities. We have a field club whereby we could put 450 people in there for an event. We have a stadium club that has a capacity of 1,000 people. We have an Upper 90 Club that can host smaller events, board meetings, overlooking the field. We also have a brew pub that is part of the design that can host about 300 people.

One of the things that we’re looking to do with [the brew pub] is make it the home for soccer in the state of Minnesota. When there is a Premier League game, a Bundesliga game, a La Liga game, a Serie A game, we would have that brew pub open for those games, attracting fans from many different cultures in this diverse community in which we live to be able to come in and see those teams play, but at the same time, be inside of Allianz Field.

What will the food and beverage experience look like inside Allianz Field?

The food and beverage side of our industry is fascinating right now. Many years ago, you would go to a game, and food would be a byproduct of going to a game. Now it’s a reason to go to a game. The food experience is really outside of the team and the game itself, and the win or the loss.

One of the things that we did was engage our fans. Soccer is the international game. We believed that we needed international foods inside of our stadium, but we didn't know specifically where these people were from, what their roots were in this incredible diverse community that we’re working in. So we asked them. We put focus groups together. We put surveys together to look at the types of foods that our fans were going to expect inside of the stadium.

There are many different ethnic restaurants inside of the market that are known to have authentic food, so we identified all of those [restaurants] and then working with [Delaware North], we’re going to make sure that these foods are brought to life inside of the stadium. Lots of different teams do it in lots of different ways, but the food sampling that we will have inside the stadium will be second to none in terms of its diversity, representing this incredible international game.

In closing, I want to ask you somewhat of a tangential question, and that’s your take on esports, especially eMLS which has emerged, your organization participating in that league. What are your thoughts on the future of esports within sports and entertainment?

The wonderful thing about the MLS is the demographics of our sport very much lean towards the Millennials. And the Millennials get their information around sports in a completely different way to my generation. They’re gamers. They’re into streaming. They’re multitaskers. They are involved with the game around many different touchpoint – they listen, they watch, they attend, they play. FIFA is their game of choice.

It’s exciting because a lot of these people who are involved with esports actually played the game. They’re the people who were on the youth playing fields of Eden Prairie, Bloomington, Apple Valley etc. And now as they go through college and go into the workforce, they’re still playing this incredible game, but in a completely different way.

When we launched [our eMLS team], we looked at the market very carefully. We looked for players who loved our game, who had a following, and we felt would represent the team from a cultural standpoint in the right way. When we announced that we were going to be one of the 19 teams in the eMLS, if memory serves me well, we had over 750,000 hits in one day around the announcement of these four people who were going to represent Minnesota United in April, I believe, in Boston, where the tournament will take place.

These are the fans of the future. So the cycle of new fans and the way you associate with those fans, reach out to those fans, have touchpoints with those fans may be completely different today than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

Esports is where it is going for every league in this country. What we’ve all got to do is figure out what our role in that is, how we can support its growth, but really in the end, support the growth of fans for your brand.

Watch Part One of our exclusive interview with Minnesota United CEO Chris Wright.

 

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