The Minnesota Vikings host the San Diego Chargers on Sunday for the inaugural football game in U.S. Bank Stadium, which cost $1.13 billion and is twice as big as its predecessor, the MetroDome.
The 1.75 million square-foot stadium offers the Vikings’ purple and gold-clad faithful fans a number of unique upgrades in architecture, design, and technology.
Here are five amazing things about U.S. Bank Stadium:
“Clear Is the New Retractable’
The Dallas-based architectural firm HKS Sports and Entertainment eschewed the retractable roofs used on some recent NFL fields. HKS found these roofs are opened on average just four to five times a year and cost some $75 million more to construct than a fixed roof.
Instead, HKS capped the stadium in a clear space-age plastic called ETFE (ethylene-tetra-fluoro-ethylene) to open up the field to natural light and the elements while keeping fans cozy.
“Clear is the new retractable,” quips Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf in an interview. “I love the fact that you’re inside in a temperature controlled environment but feel the elements. You feel like you’re outdoors, you see the sky and the city and the weather.”
U.S. Bank Stadium marks the North American debut of ETFE, which was notably used at the Beijing Olympics Water Cube facility.
“The ETFE roof is the most unique feature, it’s probably the differentiator besides the iconic, super single frame,” says John Hutchings, who helped design the structure as principal in charge of the stadium HKS.
Hutchings says the ETFE allows sunlight to come through 60% of the total roof surface although it is filtered by small dots in the material known as fritting. He notes the material allows some heat to pass through and melt snow.
The roof has gutters to collect snow for a 100-year storm and Hutchings chuckles while saying he had “several lively discussions” with team ownership that it won’t collapse like the Metrodome’s fabric roof famously did after some large snowfalls.
You Should See the Knockers
U.S. Bank Stadium features five of the world’s largest hinged doors, ranging from 75 to 95 feet tall.
The doors can be fully opened on warm days with smaller, sectional entryways built right into the larger glass doors that can be opened when the weather turns wet and cold. That allows the natural light and clear views of the snowy environment to flow in while keeping the damp weather and drafts out.
The facility itself cuts a sleek modern profile in the cityscape, designed to resemble rock and ice formations in the Mississippi River, although some observers see an imposing Viking ship ferrying warriors across the frozen waters.
“You can feel the buzz and electricity, and it’s only just starting,” asserts Wilf. “It elevates the community in a special way.”
It’s that sense of community and a joie de vivre related to sports that attracted U.S. Bancorp (USB) to spend a reported $220 million over 20 years for naming rights to the hometown facility.
“When you go to a stadium, it’s always a happy event. You’re there for fun,” U.S. Bancorp CEO Richard Davis told Fortune, adding: “We wanted to make it clear that this is headquarters and Minneapolis is home to the nation’s fifth-largest bank and we’re not interested in going anywhere.”
The bank chief wouldn’t confirm the naming rights spend but he did say “the hurdle for (marketing) ROI is 15 percent, this is well twice over that.”
Before inking the naming rights deal, Davis helped Wilf successfully pitch a Minneapolis Super Bowl to the other 31-team owners. U.S. Bank Stadium will host the NFL’s marquee event in February 2018. It will also stage the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four in 2019 and the X Games in 2017 and ’18.
All the Comforts of Home, and Then Some
This gridiron palace is selling fan features including a fantasy football lounge with couches and the closest seats and suites to the action in the NFL.
“It’s all about making the fan experience greater than what they can get at home, which is great,” says Wilf. “We have over 400 concession points, obviously a revenue generator, but it’s tied to making the fan experience as rich as it can be. We have a great mobile app to direct people where great food is, where to park, which lines are shorter for the bathroom.”
That app and its platform were created by VenueNext, which itself is backed by owners of the San Francisco 49ers and has created similar apps for that team, Super Bowl 50, and the Kentucky Derby.
“The whole goal is to improve the fan experience,” says VenueNext Founder/CEO John Paul says. ”The competition is the couch so you’ve got to make the venue compelling, take the hassle out of it, bring convenience in, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The app will not only feature directions to the shortest lines and in-seat ordering, fans can take advantage of the stadium’s massive bandwidth and watch six different live feeds with instant replays and shareable clips straight from the VenueNext app.
Fans can stay also hang out in the fantasy football lounge where updates from other games and player stats will be posted in the bar and Wi-Fi installed in hand rails around the stadium allows instant updates and watching highlights of the Vikings game on your phone right after the play ends.
So Close You Can Almost Taste It
Although Vikings players have yet to play on the turf field, veteran center John Sullivan says he is “blown away by the scale” of the stadium.
He’s also excited that fans will be just 41 feet from the first row to the gridiron, the closest seats to the field in the league: “You can’t replace being there and seeing the action first-hand, getting a feel for the speed and size of the players and the violence on the field. I still think that’s the preferred way to watch a football game.”
Tech and architectural amenities aside, Vikings Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren says, “the product on the field must be excellent.”
And Warren adds the new building and a forthcoming state-of-the-art training facility may help lure future talent as the franchise gets a boost from its new home field in the quest for its first Super Bowl title: “It supports the notion the Minnesota Vikings are doing the right things on and off the field to attract free agents and it’s a franchise that will be a long-term player in the NFL.”
That’s Billion With a ‘B’
U.S. Bank Stadium was financed with $498 million of public funds (mostly from appropriation bonds) in a partnership with the team, which kicked in the balance. Wilf told Fortune the total has reached $1.13 billion, putting the stadium in the billion dollar home field club with the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium, the York Jets & Giants (who share MetLife Stadium), and the San Francisco 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium.
Atlanta’s new stadium will join the list next year with reports putting the total there at $1.4 billion, and the Los Angeles Rams are planning to build the most expensive stadium complex on Earth with a $2.6 billion price tag.
A number of economists, including Stanford Professor of Economics, Emeritus Roger Noll, have argued pro sports arenas do not spark the economic growth politicians promise and that the facilities are not healthy for public finances.
Even though U.S. Bank Stadium is a multi-use facility that will host concerts, soccer matches, high school baseball, and WWE (WWE) in addition to the Vikings and marquee events, Noll says that may not be enough.
“The finances of stadiums that are able to host more events are better than the stadiums that can’t. But additional income from these events is not sufficient to make the facilities come close to breaking even,” he argues.
Both Davis and Wilf refute these arguments with research predicting the Super Bowl will ring up $400 million by itself for the local economy.
The Super Bowl 50 Host Committee recently reported the big game brought in $240 million in net economic activity. But host cities are not guaranteed to hit paydirt as Glendale, Arizona has actually lost money hosting two Super Bowls in the past decade; although an Arizona State University report touted $720 million in regional economic impact during the 2015 Super Bowl.
Back in Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium proponents also point to benefits of the gentrification and development ongoing in Minneapolis’s East End neighborhood.
Wilf and Davis both say more than $1 billion has been invested in the area including Wells Fargo’s new regional headquarters, apartments, restaurants, and shops as well as the recently-opened a new four-acre green space near the stadium known as Commons Park.