The Minnesota Vikings' stadium move is a lesson for out-of-tune West Ham
- The Minnesota Vikings moved into the US Bank Stadium this season
- Vikings' supporters seem to have taken to their impressive new home
- West Ham have struggled since their move to the London Stadium
In the sunshine of a beautiful morning in America's mid-West, the reflection of the high-rise Minneapolis skyline glinted from the glass panels of the US Bank Stadium. When evening came and an eager 66,000 capacity crowd packed the arena, the spectators gazed out through the giant windows at the twinkling lights of downtown.
The architectural ambition of the spectacular new home of the Minnesota Vikings makes the Identikit designs of most of English football's new-build stadia look dreary and conservative by comparison. It is a temple to the state's NFL team, a place its supporters can be proud of, a place that plays on its regional identity.
A few British golf fans, refugees from Europe's defeat by the USA in the Ryder Cup at nearby Hazeltine, went to the Vikings' second home game at the stadium, against the New York Giants, last Monday night and marvelled not just at the splendour of the place but also the way in which the Vikings' supporters seemed so immediately at one with their new surroundings.
The Minnesota Vikings are making themselves at home at the new US Bank Stadium
Partly, that is because the Vikings organisation has done a lot of things right. They installed a huge new Gjallarhorn, which in Norse mythology was sounded to announce the arrival of the gods, to replace the one from their previous stadium and its sound acts as a stirring, familiar call to arms, an echo of fond memories. The atmosphere inside the stadium was raucous and loud.
There is locally sourced food on the concourse, fried cheese curd, bratwurst and regional beers. The place is downtown, too. It is at the heart of the community. There is a tram stop right outside. Winning helps, of course, and the Vikings' victory over the Giants improved their spotless start to 4-0 and meant they were one of only three NFL teams this season still with an undefeated record.
The Vikings are an example of how to manage a stadium move in precisely the way that West Ham are not. The Vikings sought continuity in their move. They sought to honour the memory of the past and respect the culture of the team.
West Ham's owners, by contrast, talk constantly of rebranding the club. It makes them seem embarrassed by the past, as if they cannot wait to distance themselves from it.
Both stadiums have been partly funded by the taxpayer. In the case of US Bank Stadium, $498m (£383m) out of a total cost of $1.1bn (£850m) came from the public purse and it is owned, not by the Vikings, but by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority. That's where the similarities end, though.
The Vikings fans seem to be embracing their new home in downtown Minnesota
CAPTAINCY IS NOT WHAT IT USED TO BE
Eoin Morgan is his own man, apparently. I keep seeing that written as if it is some sort of justification for the fact that he has refused to go on England's tour of Bangladesh and yet still expects to remain as captain of the one-day team.
Morgan was being his own man again last week when he bragged about the hospitality he had enjoyed from Guinness at an event in Ireland while his erstwhile team-mates were coming to terms with the heat and heavy security that greeted them in Dhaka.
Captaincy, sadly, is not what it used to be.
Only a fool would dispute the business acumen shown by West Ham's vice-chair, Baroness Brady, in negotiating an arrangement so favourable to the club's owners when they took up residency at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford this season. Financially, the deal has benefited the fans, too; West Ham have the lowest season ticket prices in the Premier League.
But it has all come at a price. West Ham have moved from a football stadium to an athletics stadium. Dress it up how you want but there is no getting around it. They've moved from a raw, visceral, hostile, historic, adrenaline-filled bear pit to a football wasteland.
So while one of the Vikings' legends, former punter Mitch Berger, appeared on the pitch at half-time in the Giants match and spoke lyrically about the new stadium, saying his heart was already there, the West Ham equivalent is rather less enthusiastic. 'I don't think it's a football ground,' Billy Bonds said of the Olympic Stadium. 'The pitch is like an island out in the middle.'
West Ham have also moved into a new stadium but have not taken to their new surroundings as well as the Minnesota Vikings have
The transition to a new stadium was never going to be easy for West Ham but the club has not helped itself. Baroness Brady made an unfortunate appearance at the Leaders Sport Business Summit last week where she hardly endeared herself to the club's supporters by suggesting in her speech that it had 'no culture' until she, David Gold and David Sullivan took charge. She claimed later she had been referring to the club's corporate culture and, amid the resentment and recrimination prevalent among West Ham's fans, it is important to remember that even if Gold and Sullivan's regime is far from perfect, it has restored some sanity to the club's finances and given it a cogent plan for the future.
The stadium move presents that regime with both its biggest opportunity and its gravest danger. It does not help that the club sit third from bottom of the Premier League. Winning is a panacea that the club has been denied and the journalist and West Ham fan John Dillon struck a chord when he discussed last week the reality of the switch away from the Boleyn Ground.
West Ham have experienced problems with their fans since moving to the London Stadium
'No major club has been altered so drastically so quickly,' he wrote. 'Football is about feeling. So the oddity is that while most West Ham fans understood that the move to the new ground represented a raised level of ambition and accepted it that way, many had also never been that troubled by the club's lack of success. Instead, West Ham stood for something else: custom, tradition and social roots. And it hurts to feel that all of that may have gone.'
Not all of it has gone. When West Ham start winning again, much of the dissent will disappear. With time, the Olympic Stadium will start to feel lived in and maybe even loved. Until then, it would be nice if the owners learned a lesson from the Vikings and learned that not everyone is desperate to see the club they love rebranded.
West Ham vice chairman Baroness Brady made an appearance at the Leaders Sport Business Summit
At the summit, Baroness Brady sent out mixed messages about the stadium name. She spoke of the prestige of moving to the Olympic Stadium.
'There is only one Olympic Stadium and it's ours,' she said. Well, no it isn't actually. Because, as the club has pointed out, it is only renting it for 25 days a year. So it's not yours at all.
And if you're so proud of being in the Olympic Stadium, why are you calling it the London Stadium?
'We are in the foothills of the financial sector,' Baroness Brady said, as if that was something to be proud of.
Maybe that's the new culture she has in mind. 'Look,' the newly-branded breed of West Ham fan can say as he takes his seat, 'you can almost see Deutsche Bank from here.'
Magic highlights to savour
It might not have been the result Europe were hoping for but the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine last weekend still yielded some of the best sport we will see this year. The top three things I've witnessed live this year so far are:
1) The Brownlee brothers winning gold and silver in Rio.
2) American basketball star Steph Curry shooting a three-pointer from the halfway line for the Golden State Warriors against the Orlando Magic last February.
3) Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed trading birdies and eye-bulging screams of celebration on the eighth green at Hazeltine last Sunday morning.
Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy traded birdies during the final round of the Ryder Cup
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