No. 16 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: MinneapolisSeptember 2, 2014
No. 16 Best City to Be a Sports Fan: Minneapolis
How much does where you live matter as a sports fan? The short answer is: It depends.
If you're an Alabama football fan, there's no better place to live than Tuscaloosa. If you're a Red Sox fan, there's no worse place to live than New York City.
But what if you were a free agent, so to speak? What if you loved sports, but didn't have a specific affiliation to any team? You're moving to a new city. What city would have the most to offer you as a sports fan? What city would give you the best overall experience?
That is what we're here to find out. We took 25 of the best writers from Bleacher Report and beyond to objectively look at their cities and come up with a ranking. To get a better understanding of the categories and grading criteria, click here.
Minneapolis comes in at No. 16.
The center of life in Minnesota may not be a sports mecca like New York or Boston, but Minneapolis and St. Paul still offer a smorgasbord of teams, several incredible venues, plenty of star power and an undeniable passion for sports. A city short on title banners now craves a winner like few other locales in America.
Let's see how it comes out.
Number of Teams/Events: 18/20
Minneapolis is one of just 12 cities to have teams in all four of the major professional sports (NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL). The Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves and Wild* make up the quartet, giving Twin Cities sports fans all they can handle in terms of year-round entertainment.
But even if the four major sports leagues do not attract your interest, Minneapolis also provides professional teams in women's basketball (Lynx, WNBA), soccer (Minnesota United FC, NASL), indoor lacrosse (Swarm, NLL) and independent baseball (Saints*, American Association). If college sports are more your thing, the University of Minnesota (which is located in Minneapolis) offers competition in a variety of Division I sports as a part of the Big 10 Conference.
Also, the Twin Cities area is the site of arguably the top collection of high school hockey talent in the United States. The Minnesota state hockey tournament remains one of the most viewed and attended high school events in the country.
Few other American cities can provide such a complete sports landscape.
*Note: The Wild and Saints are actually based in St. Paul, which is located less than 15 minutes east of Minneapolis. Together, the two make up the Twin Cities.
Success of Teams in the Last Five Years: 8/20
Despite having an impressive breadth of professional teams, Minneapolis hasn't been home to many sporting successes over the last five seasons.
The Vikings have recently found themselves on both ends of the spectrum. The club won 12 games and advanced to the doorstep of the Super Bowl in 2009, but the last four years have provided only 24 wins (compared to 39 losses) and just one postseason appearance (a loss to the rival Green Bay Packers). The Vikings have now lost at least 10 games in three of the last four seasons. For context, consider that Minnesota finished with 10 or more losses just three times from 1991 to 2009.
The Twins have hit a similar rough patch. After winning 94 games and an AL Central title in their first season at Target Field in 2010, the Twins have won fewer than 70 games in three straight seasons (2011-2013). This season, Minnesota has spent the majority of the year under .500. The downslide follows a nine-year stretch (2002-2010) in which the Twins won six division championships.
The Timberwolves have been one of the NBA's worst teams over the last five seasons, winning just 32.7 percent of their games since 2009 (129-265) with zero postseason appearances. In fact, Minnesota hasn't qualified for the Western Conference playoffs since 2003-04. The relatively young franchise (its first season came in 1989-90) has never advanced to the NBA Finals.
The Wild and Lynx provide more optimism. The Wild have made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, losing in the Western Conference quarterfinals in 2012-13 and in the semifinals in 2013-14. The team also has just one losing season over the last five (2011-12) years. The Lynx have been the title-winners of the city, taking home division titles during every season since 2011. Cheryl Reeve's club has also won two WNBA titles, in 2011 and 2013.
The Swarm have made the postseason in four of the last five seasons. Minnesota United FC won the NASL title in 2011 and advanced to the finals in 2012. The Saints haven't won a division title since 2006.
Winning isn't everything to a sports city, but it certainly helps. Losing has been too common in Minneapolis recently.
The stadiums in the Twin Cities area have improved considerably in recent years, and the ongoing construction of a new Vikings stadium will only add to the live viewing experience.
Completed in 2010, Target Field replaced the outdated and rundown Metrodome as the Twins' home. The beautiful, modern design provides an open playing field and fantastic views of the Minneapolis skyline out to right field. It hosted the MLB All-Star Game in 2014.
The Target Center—located just a few blocks from Target Field—opened in 1990, but it still serves as an attractive venue for basketball and other events, such as WWE and UFC shows. Both the Timberwolves and Lynx call the building home.
Nicknamed "The X," the Xcel Energy Center provides a home for the Wild and Swarm, plus the state hockey tournaments. The building was completed in 2000 and now serves as a living shrine to the sport of hockey in the state of Minnesota. Few NHL teams possess a better home-ice advantage than the Wild.
The University of Minnesota boasts iconic basketball (Williams Arena, nicknamed "The Barn") and hockey (Mariucci Arena) venues, and TCF Bank Stadium—which will host the Vikings the next two seasons—was built in 2009 for the football team.
The Vikings are currently building a new stadium, which will be located on the previous site of the Metrodome. It is projected to open in 2016 and is currently scheduled to host the Super Bowl in 2018.
While not exactly a "stadium," the Hazeltine National Golf Club (located in Chaska, just southwest of Minneapolis) has previously hosted two U.S. Opens and two PGA Championships. In 2016, Hazeltine National will be the home of the Ryder Cup.
Once the Vikings' new stadium is complete, this score will improve. For now, Minneapolis takes a slight hit for having one of its major teams playing at a temporary location.
Fan Passion: 7/10
Over 20 years without a championship in the major four sports (the Twins last won a title in 1991) and a number of tortuous losses have predictably made Minnesotans hesitant on optimism. But don't mistake the understandable hesitation for a lack of passion, as Minneapolis sports fans still support their many clubs with undeniable infatuation.
Despite a down season, the Vikings still had 99.8 percent attendance numbers over their seven home games. The Twins are on pace for at least two million in home attendance for the fifth straight season. Over that span, the Twins have had two years (2010, 2011) with more than three million in home attendance.
The Wild once sold out 409 straight games at The X. And in each of the last two seasons, the team has averaged more than the total capacity of the building for all home games.
The Lynx finished second in the WNBA in attendance with over 9,000 fans per game in both 2012 and 2013. Last season, the club set a franchise record for a home game when 16,404 fans showed up for a July battle against the Phoenix Mercury.
However, the Timberwolves have consistently ranked near the bottom of NBA attendance over the last five years.
There is still a slight "woe is me" attitude in the Minnesota fanbase, but the occasional bout of pessimism can be excused. Few cities, outside maybe Cleveland, have a more tortured history. But not even gut-punching losses or ridiculously difficult weather has sucked the life out of the sports fans in Minneapolis. Passion survives, as the craving for another title continues to grow stronger.
Note: All attendance figures taken provided by ESPN.com.
General Fan Experience: 11/15
Despite the sometimes nasty and unpredictable weather, Minneapolis still provides a quality experience for a sports fan.
The sports bar scene around Target Field and Target Center includes popular hangouts such as Hubert's (which is actually connected to the Target Center), Bar 508 (selected as one of the top 10 sports bars in the United States by USA Today), Sneaky Pete's (55 HD TVs always tuned in to sports) and Kieran's Irish Pub (spacious outdoor patio located across the street from the Target Center).
Helping the downtown experience are the relatively cheap and available tickets for the Twins, Timberwolves and Lynx.
At Target Field, you can enjoy Walleye on a Stick or pour your own beer. The Target Center offers up a half-pound kielbasa called the "Ball Hog," plus local brews from Grain Belt and Summit.
Vikings fans have consistently braved the elements and the lack of space around the Metrodome to provide an NFL-quality tailgating experience. Inside, few sporting venues were louder (thanks in part to the Gjallarhorn, which would blow after every big play). In 2014 and 2015, Vikings games may take on a college-like feel at TCF Bank Stadium.
Meanwhile, attending a Wild game remains a rite of passage in Minnesota. Jerseys of every single Minnesota high school hockey team line the concourse. The fans know the game in intricate detail, which creates a unique and passionate environment every time the Wild play on home ice. The Xcel Energy Center has been consistently ranked among the best venues in the NHL, in large part due to the incredible fan experience.
Looking for all the fun and shenanigans of minor league baseball? The Saints, who are partially owned by Bill Murray, have you covered.
Weather does play a factor. While the forecast in the Twin Cities can often be miserable for most of the calendar year (see: 2013 and early 2014), summertime is certainly worth the wait. The bitter cold eventually gives way to three or four beautiful months from June to September.
And don't forget about the people. "Minnesota nice" isn't a hollow label. Visiting fans are generally treated with respect—unless you're wearing green and gold; in that case, all bets are off.
Media judging other media can be an uncomfortable exercise, so I enlisted some help from the locals to get a better read on what the Twin Cities area has to offer.
"Do I think Minneapolis is on par with cities such as New York, Chicago or Boston? No," Minneapolis resident Don Rioux told me. "But do I think Minneapolis is on the cusp of something special with the young core of very talented writers and bloggers? Absolutely."
The Twin Cities area features several respected reporters, including Michael Russo (NHL, Wild), LaVelle Neal (MLB, Twins), Jon Krawczynski (NBA) and Ben Goessling (NFL, Vikings). Tom Pelissero, a rising star in NFL media, left ESPN 1500 for a job at USA Today, but he remains based in Minneapolis and frequently reports on Vikings news.
Among the rising group of young reporters now covering the Vikings are Matt Vensel, Master Tesfatsion and Andrew Krammer.
Popular local radio personalities include Paul Allen and Dan Barreiro at KFAN, and Judd Zulgad and Phil Mackey at ESPN 1500.
"I think the hidden gems for Minneapolis and St. Paul are the blog writers," Rioux said. "Minnesota is blessed with some of the most hard-working and educated sports bloggers."
He specifically mentioned Arif Hasan, who covers the Vikings for Vikings Territory, as an example of the quality of the blogger group.
Twins broadcasts on Fox Sports North often feature a carefully crafted blend of information and history from play-by-play guy Dick Bremer, and game experience and humor from Hall of Fame pitcher Bert Blyleven. "Circle Me Bert" signs can be found in great quantity for every home game, as Blyleven likes to focus in on a specific group during each broadcast.
Allen is the Vikings' unabashed hometown radio guy, whose "And he's loose!" call for long Adrian Peterson runs has become a weekly part of listening in to Vikings games.
Having a strong media presence in a city works in two ways: It can educate the fanbase, and it can also heighten the sports experience. Minneapolis' group does a little of both.
Star Power: 7/10
Minneapolis might be short on wins in recent years, but there's plenty of star power to drive interest for all of the major teams.
Drafted by the Vikings in 2007, Adrian Peterson has since blossomed into this generation's most dominant running back. He leads all NFL running backs in rushing yards over the last seven years. His powers reached their height in 2012, when Peterson came back from ACL surgery to rush for over 2,000 yards and win the league's MVP award.
The Twins are led by hometown hero Joe Mauer, who grew up in the Twin Cities and was drafted out of high school by Minnesota. He's played his entire career with the Twins, winning the American League batting title three times and the MVP award in 2009. Mauer also has six All-Star Game appearances.
The Wild have another homegrown star in Zach Parise. The NHL All-Star and captain of the United States men's hockey team was born in Minneapolis. After starting his career with the New Jersey Devils, Parise returned to Minnesota as a free agent in 2012. The Wild have since made the postseason in each of his two seasons with the team.
Kevin Love may be gone, but the haul that the Timberwolves got in return for him has fans more excited than in a long time. Andrew Wiggins has a legit chance at becoming a megastar and the young players around him will be exciting to watch. And that's not even mentioning Ricky Rubio and his international appeal.
Meanwhile, the Lynx may have the best player in the WNBA in Maya Moore, who was the MVP of the 2013 Finals. Seimone Augustus and Lindsay Whalen (a University of Minnesota product) round out the Lynx's dominant trio.
Star power provides fans with a reason to follow teams, regardless of the standings. Minneapolis has no shortage in this department.
The big five of Minneapolis sports—the Vikings, Twins, Wild, Timberwolves and Lynx—have combined to win just four total championships.
The Vikings won the NFL championship in 1969 but lost Super Bowl IV. The club has four Super Bowl appearances (tied for 11th all time) but zero wins. However, the Vikings do have 18 division titles, 27 playoff appearances and numerous Pro Football Hall of Famers, including Fran Tarkenton, Paul Krause, Chris Doleman, Cris Carter, Alan Page and John Randle.
The Twins provide Minneapolis with two of its four titles. The club won the World Series in 1987 and 1991 (the Washington Senators, who later became the Twins, won the title in 1924). The Twins also have six AL Central titles and four Western Division titles, plus four team-distinctive Hall of Famers (Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven).
The Wild have won just one division title (2007-08) since joining the NHL in 2000. The North Stars, a hockey team that called Minnesota home from 1967 to 1993, won two division and two conference championships before relocating to Dallas. The team lost both trips to the Stanley Cup Finals, in 1980-81 and 1990-91.
While the Timberwolves have just one division title (2004) and eight playoff appearances (only once has Minnesota gotten out of the first round of the Western Conference playoffs), since becoming an NBA team in 1990, the Lynx have two WNBA titles (2011, 2013) and three conference championships (2011-13) since being founded in 1999.
The Vikings and Twins have rich histories that keep the two clubs embedded in Minnesota sports culture. The Wild, Timberwolves and Lynx are still building their legacies.
However, just four combined titles isn't a great total for a city as endowed with teams as Minneapolis. And all the heartbreak—especially the many provided by the Vikings—gives the city a tradition soaked more in soul-destroying losses than banner-raising victories.
Final Tally: 69/100
Minneapolis and the surrounding Twin Cities area received a total score of 69 points out of 100.
A lack of recent success in the major sports hurt the city, as did a lacking history in terms of championships. To be a truly great sports city, more wins in the present and more banners from the past are required.
All that said, Minneapolis is likely one of America's most underrated sports cities.
There are top-notch venues for a wide variety of teams, including beautiful Target Field and the consistently rocking Xcel Energy Center. The Vikings' new stadium is now on the horizon as well. Thanks to major facility upgrades, Minneapolis has attracted huge events, such as the MLB All Star Game and the 2018 Super Bowl.
Adrian Peterson and hometown heroes Joe Mauer and Zach Parise provide the perfect mix of elite, rare talent and feel-good stories. All three are huge draws.
Throw in a year-round craving for another winner, a strong media presence and unique fan experiences, and Minneapolis offers just about everything you'd want in a sports city.
Forget about the occasionally miserable weather; Minneapolis is still one of the better sports hubs in the country.