It was a Thursday in mid-September when I picked up a message from a friend asking if my wife and I would like to join him and his wife for the Viking’s first regular-season game at the new U.S. Bank Stadium that Sunday. Would we? Of course the answer was “Yes!”
The new stadium was more than impressive—especially compared with the concrete-walled, dirty-balloon-topped Metrodome we used to suffer through. Lighting, seating, field view, and, of course, a glass ceiling and partial glass walls lived up to the hype. The weather was perfect, the Vikings won and Minnesota shined brightly on the nation’s sports stage that night.
A week later, I had the good fortune of taking in a Thursday-night Twins game at Target Field. While the team finished the season as the worst in Major League Baseball, it held on for more than six innings that night before falling apart. And it was enjoyable taking in a game at what USA Today calls America’s ninth-best ballpark.
The next week, there was the Ryder Cup. My wife and I attended on the last day, getting to the first hole at Hazeltine by 7:45 a.m. to get front-row viewing of the pros tee-off . The crowd was electric—NBC Sports didn’t capture it, but the exuberance, combined with camaraderie between Europeans and Americans, was exhilarating. And the experts say this may go down as the best-ever Ryder Cup in terms of quality of play, how competitive some of the matches became (Mickleson vs. Garcia and Reed vs. McIlroy), general sportsmanship and the absolutely perfect weather. Minnesota shined on not only the nation’s sports stage, but the world’s.
Then it did again the next night, when the NFL debuted this season’s Monday Night Football from Minneapolis on another picture-perfect evening. And as I’m writing this column less than a week later, more than 30,000 runners are finishing “America’s Most Beautiful Urban Marathon” (and the nation’s ninth-largest) on a crisp, blue-sky autumn morning.
All of this made me realize how fortunate we are to live in a state where, within four weeks it’s possible to experience the best there is in pro sports. I started thinking about everything else we have here that’s sports related—from boating and fishing to hockey and snowmobiling—and wondered, could Minnesota be the best place in America for sports?
The answer is a resounding “yes” from a couple of vantage points. First, there’s pro sports.
Minnesota is ranked as the best state for sports fans by Men’s Fitness magazine, which considered such factors as number of sports bars and sporting goods stores per capita, sports radio stations and stadiums in the vicinity. “Minneapolis—along with its twin city, St. Paul—has solid MLB, NFL, NBA, and NHL teams, but here’s the kicker: It had more than 3 million in stadium attendance between those four teams last year. That’s more pro game attendance per capita than any other city in the United States. Then there are the 353 sporting goods stores, two ESPN radio stations, and 20 sports bars per 100,000 people.” We’re also one of the few states that provides an abundance of public transportation to four major league sporting events.
Pro sports here also generate more than $330 million in spending each year: Vikings about $145 million; Wild about $60 million; Twins around $98 million (depending on the season); Timberwolves and Lynx, an estimated $20 million to $40 million.
Then there are the sports that Minnesotans do, rather than watch. When you add amateur and recreational sports to our major league teams and venues, you see what I mean when I say Minnesota’s No. 1 in sports. And this side of the sports economy generates far more taxable revenue in this state—more than $12 billion a year. Here are a few examples:
Snowmobiling: There are more than 214,000 registered snowmobiles in Minnesota, the most of any state, according to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association. It’s estimated to be a $4.6 billion industry here.
Golf: Minnesota has the highest percentage of golfers per capita and is the only state to have hosted every one of the 17 championships conducted by the U.S. Golf Association. This activity fuels $1.2 billion in annual spending in the state, according to the Minnesota Golf Association.
Boating: There are more than 750,000 registered boats in Minnesota, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). We’re fourth in boat ownership, after California, Florida and Michigan. Residents spent $662 million on a new powerboat, engine, trailer or accessories last year. That and other related spending and jobs add up to more than $5 billion in economic activity tied to recreational boating, according to the NMMA.
Amateur hockey: Minnesota is home to the most hockey players (55,000, mostly kids), and produces the most U.S.-born professional hockey players (240 in 2016), according to the United States of Hockey. It amounts to a $100 million-a-year industry in this state, according to a TCB analysis of the sport, “Price of Ice,” in November 2011 (online at bit.ly/2dDBjbk).
There’s much more, of course, including hunting and fishing (Minnesota ranks third-best for bass fishing); cross country skiing (we rank No. 3 on Outside Magazine’s list of America’s Nordic Skiing Meccas); and hiking, bicycling, running and walking (Minneapolis ranks No. 1 in the country for its parks, according to the Trust for Public Land).
Few other places in the country have all of this to offer. And none tops sporting-related lists in so many ways. Food for thought as you finish winterizing your boat, putting away your camping gear, tuning up your snowmobiles and skis, organizing your ice fishing equipment or scheduling your next hockey, football or basketball game to attend.