Unless you're in your mid-50s or older, you likely don't know that the Vikings used to hold their training camps in Bemidji, Minn. – a town closer to Canada than the Twins Cities. All the current Vikings know is Mankato as their training camp home. Thanks to an agreement announced Tuesday, the Vikings will continue to train in Mankato at least until their new stadium is ready to open.
The Vikings and Minnesota State, Mankato announced a three-year deal that will allow the Vikings to reach their 50th anniversary of holding camp in Mankato. The final year of the contract is 2015.
Vikings Owner/President Mark Wilf said the Vikings have always enjoyed giving fans an up close and personal experience in the old-school setting in Mankato.
"Being in front of our fans for training camp is a storied team tradition," Wilf said. "We appreciate Minnesota State University, Mankato and the City of Mankato for continuing to welcome the team and Vikings fans and we look forward to reaching 50 years in Mankato."
The Vikings have been part of speculation over the years of moving away from Mankato for training camp. The most recent threat came several years ago when the Vikings were courted by officials from South Dakota to move training camp out of state – a move met with a furious backlash from both fans and governmental officials alike.
Having training camps at college campuses away from a team's normal practice complex is becoming a dying event. More teams with the facilities to house an organization and the crowds that are attracted to training camps have abandoned the old-school isolation of an out-of-town site at a college campus with most of the student population still on summer vacation. Instead, many teams have opted for controlling the dollars spent and maximizing on the fan experience by creating a carnival atmosphere in which the money spent is centralized to single box office. Over the last decade, more and more teams have brought training camp home – the Vikings are now just one of 14 teams that don't conduct training camp at their own facilities and it's a number that has been steadily shrinking.
For the record, it should be noted that the teams that still conduct their training camps off-site are among the elite in terms of a rabid and loyal fan base, including the Vikings, Packers, Steelers, Cowboys, Bears, Raiders and Chiefs. Is that a coincidence? Ask their fans.
The Vikings' new training camp agreement runs from 2013-15. While it marks a half-century that Mankato has served as the Vikings' home away from home, by the time 2016 comes around, there may be other options. The number of teams that still take their operation on the road for training camp is close to being classified as an endangered species. In a copycat league, it may only be a matter of time until the Vikings jump on the in-house training camp bandwagon, but, for now anyway Mankato will remain the destination for Vikings fans.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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