MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings will play at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time on Sunday afternoon when the team hosts the San Diego Chargers in their nationally televised third preseason game. But while it's the first time the $1.1 billion stadium will stage an NFL game for its main tenant, it's already the fourth major event inside the facility's walls this month.
The stadium has hosted three events already, as a Chelsea-AC Milan friendly and concerts from Luke Bryan and Metallica have functioned as soft openings of sorts before the Vikings move in. As such, we've put together this user's guide for the stadium, based on tours we've taken of the facility, some suggestions from the Vikings and the reviews all of you submitted this week on Twitter and Facebook.
Two general themes emerged from what many of you said about the stadium: Aesthetically, it's as impressive as the Vikings and architect HKS hoped it would be, with natural light streaming through the clear roof, ideal sight lines and striking views of downtown Minneapolis through the glass doors on the west side of the stadium. And logistically, it's a work in progress.
The biggest source of frustration during the first events at the stadium was with the entry and exit from the stadium, as most fans filed through the pivoting glass doors on the stadium's west side, creating bottlenecks going to and from the light rail platform. The Vikings estimate 75 percent of fans will enter the stadium through the glass doors during its first season, and there's little doubt the must-take-selfie-at-new-stadium impulse had a hand in clogging the lines as fans got their first taste of the new venue.
For their part, the Vikings know the first games at their new home won't come without some headaches, and they're urging fans to be patient and sensible during the first games at the stadium. Once fans are within range of the stadium's wi-fi network on Sundays, they can get push notifications on their phones from the Vikings' app about gates with shorter wait times, as well as help finding concessions and merchandise. The team is also introducing a sports bar outside the stadium, called the Longhouse, which will be open two hours before and two hours after games. A game ticket is not required for admission. That, the Vikings hope, will give fans another option should they choose to arrive outside of peak travel times. It's probably best to remember, though, that while it opens for football this weekend, U.S. Bank Stadium will go through its share of modifications in the next year or two as it becomes evident what works best for fans.
Let's delve into things in a little more detail:
Getting there/going home:
If you're driving to the stadium, the Vikings suggest you park in an area of downtown that corresponds to your route getting to the stadium. The team has divided the neighborhoods around the stadium into four zones -- red, gold, purple and blue -- and has more information here about where you should park, depending on where you're coming from. If you're heading to the stadium from Apple Valley, for example, you'd likely take Interstate-35W northbound, take the exits toward downtown Minneapolis and park in the blue zone on the southwest side of the stadium. Fans from Maple Grove, on the other hand, would take Interstate-94 eastbound, enter downtown Minneapolis near Target Field and park in the red zone on the northwest side. Ideally, the plan should help fans get parked sooner and minimize congestion as cars enter and exit downtown.
Using the light rail was a sticking point for many of you who went to the initial events, and there figures to be plenty of foot traffic going to and from the light rail platform. Metro Transit will release its plans for Vikings game later this week, and it also plans to provide buses to several light rail stops other than the one outside the stadium. The Vikings app also has information on how to use Metro Transit on game days. Should you want to wait out the crowds somewhere other than a bar, the Downtown East Commons park to the west of the stadium has alcohol-free, family-friendly events on game days.
It's also a good idea to reacquaint yourself with the NFL's stadium baggage policy, which limits fans to clear tote bags or one-gallon Ziploc bags inside the stadium. And while we understand the glass doors make for a good photo opp, maybe you should limit the selfies for a few weeks to help with traffic flow. Your Instagram followers will still love you.
Getting to your seat:
This was another area of concern, and it seems likely that U.S. Bank Stadium will get updates to help with way-finding in the future. Vikings fan Max Turner wrote that it's hard to see section numbers in the concourse, and added that it's even more difficult to see them once you're in the seating area. Ushers and attendants are still learning how to direct fans, too, and while the concourses are between 32 and 50 feet wide (compared to a 24-foot average at the Metrodome), it will take some time before fans can navigate the stadium efficiently.
Vikings game tickets will include information about where fans should enter the stadium, team executive communications director Jeff Anderson said. The Vikings app, again, could also be valuable here; it allows fans to plot a route from their current location to their seating area, and provides information about where food and beverage items are located around the stadium. That craft beer you're looking for might be available in a few different spots across the stadium, and a quick check of your smartphone could save you a walk halfway around the concourse.
Once you're sitting down:
The Vikings have passed up few opportunities to boast about how close fans will be to the action, and U.S. Bank Stadium shines in that regard, with seats just 41 feet from the field and suites that get as close as 25 feet. I sat in the Hyundai Club during the Vikings' stadium ribbon-cutting event, and it was almost unnerving to think about how close the seats there will be to the home team's bench. Even the sight lines from the cheap(er) seats got rave reviews from those of you who went to the soccer match, and it shouldn't be hard to get a great view of the action. Some of you thought the leg room could be better, but there's little doubt it will be an upgrade over the Metrodome, and U.S. Bank Stadium's seats should also be more comfortable than its predecessor's.
Two points to keep in mind, which weren't things I'd thought much about until fans brought them up: While the clear roof and glass doors provide some picturesque views, they also bring in some of the idiosyncrasies of outdoor football. "Wear sunglasses!" Vikings fan Kevin Lillie wrote. "We got to our seats around 6:30 and (the) sun was right in our face. Section 220." Also, because the stadium's seats are installed on a rail system, you might feel your seat get jostled when fans in your row stand up or sit down, as Vikings blogger Seth Ackerman wrote in his review of the stadium.
An art collection, with more than 500 original works, provides a unique element to the stadium, popping up at different points in concourses that otherwise feel a bit industrial with a lack of painted concrete. U.S. Bank Stadium has plenty of local fare for the foodies, too, with offerings from Andrew Zimmern and trendy Minneapolis restaurants like Spoon and Stable and Revival. Be ready to spend some cash, though, even on the standard fare; you're going to pay $9 for a 20-ounce beer, or $5.50 for a 16-ounce soft drink.
Lines for both concessions and restrooms sounded like they improved at the concerts over what fans encountered at the soccer match, and the stadium has more than twice the restroom capacity of the Metrodome. The Vikings touted the robust capacity of the stadium's wi-fi network, though that, too, has been met with a few hiccups at the stadium's first events. There's no test like a live event with 50,000 people using the same network, and the wi-fi could get a few tweaks before fantasy football season and its attendant data crush on Sunday afternoons.
How it will play for football:
Judging by what fans said upon exiting the stadium following the Metallica show, with their heads still throbbing from Lars Ulrich's famous kick drum in "Enter Sandman," U.S. Bank Stadium is going to be loud. Like, possibly louder than the Metrodome. Like, so loud that Health Partners sent me this article with suggestions for protecting your hearing during Vikings games.
The Vikings say the clear plastic material that HKS used on the roof -- a polymer called ETFE -- is more acoustically reflective than the Metrodome's Teflon roof, meaning the successor to one of the NFL's most unnerving venues could be even more harrowing. The Vikings' regular-season home opener on Sept. 18 against the Green Bay Packers figures to put that theory to the test right away.
Time will tell how quickly the Vikings can turn the stadium into a home-field advantage, but the noise inside the stadium and fans' proximity to the field had center John Sullivan excited about the team's new home last month.
The Vikings could have played it safe and built a bland, retractable-roof clone of newer buildings like Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium. Instead, they took some chances, building a distinct venue that is helping to revive a ramshackle section of downtown Minneapolis.
An undertaking that large isn't going to come without some glitches, as the stadium and city get to know one another. In several months, or possibly a year, we'll have a better idea of what U.S. Bank Stadium will be. You can bet that by the time the Super Bowl arrives in February 2018, the new facility will be humming along at its fullest effect.