EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have been good neighbors to Union 32 Craft House.

Being the closest bar to the team’s Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center in Eagan, Union 32 saw plenty of purple-clad patrons during last summer’s training camp.

“Last year, our two best weeks of the year were the 2 weeks of training camp,” said Dan Redpath, co-owner of the brewpub. “We’re expecting it to be even better this year.”

While the Vikings have been gearing up to host their second training camp at their headquarters Eagan, so have the bars, hotels and other local businesses that hope to capture the estimated $4.9 million in economic activity the camp generated last year. Sixteen practices will be open to fans, beginning Friday.

Brent Cory, president and CEO of the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau, said his challenge is to not only keep all that spending in Eagan, but increase it. The bureau’s five-person staff has been ramping up promotions and marketing efforts to attract out-of-town fans to Eagan and keep them there.

For instance, a new online tool on the bureau’s website is aimed at helping fans plan itineraries to nearby restaurants and attractions, Cory said.

“If someone is visiting training camp, we know they are going to go to places like the Mall of America and the Minnesota Zoo, but we certainly want to be the hub of their activity,” he said. “That’s where places like the outlet mall come in play. And if they’re looking for a good steakhouse, why go up to Minneapolis when you can go to Casper’s or Jensen’s?”

For Union 32, it means offering fans things like a shuttle to and from training camp, a patio tent with live music and food and drink specials, including the brewpub’s own Kolsch that will renamed “Skolsch.”

“Training camp is not State Fair-like, like we are Sweet Martha’s and all we have to do is the two weeks and we’re done for the year,” Redpath said, and then laughed. “But we don’t want to miss our opportunity.”

Becoming a draw for fans

To weigh the economic impact of Vikings training camp, the Eagan Convention and Visitors Bureau hired the University of Minnesota Extension to survey fans.

Brigid Tuck, an Extension economic-impact analyst, said the analysis found that football fans from outside of Eagan drove the majority of the $4.9 million in spending, as 93% of camp attendees came from outside the city.

“I think that’s a decent-sized number in my opinion for what they’re doing there for two weeks or so,” she said of the $4.9 million figure. “And they had a good mix of people coming in, too.”

The figure is nearly identical to what training camp brought to Mankato, where the team held training camp for 52 years before moving to its new Eagan headquarters and campus.

To gauge new spending, the survey did not include responses from Eagan residents “since we figured they would spend their money in Eagan either way,” Tuck said.

A third of camp attendees were from outside the seven-county metro area, the survey showed. That’s a promising figure to Cory.

“We were impressed by that, and yet feel we can really grow that number,” he said. “Maybe someday it’s 50-50. And I think everyone wins in that scenario.”

But especially the city’s 18 hotels, which offer up 1,890 rooms, Cory said. Hotels reported an uptick in their occupancy rate during camp, according to Cory, but he also noted it cannot be considered the sole reason because summer is a peak time for hoteliers.

Meanwhile, the Mall of America in Bloomington and Twin Cities Premium Outlets, an Eagan outlet mall with 100-plus stores, led the list of major attractions for fans, the survey showed. Restaurants also benefited, Tuck said.

“I guess that makes sense, since people need to eat, right?” she said. “But what surprised us is that many people actually went out of their way to write in the names of where they ate.”

Tickets and no-shows

Heading into camp, Vikings front-office staff and Eagan city officials said the first year in the St. Paul suburb would be a learning experience. So, what are the lessons?

One is that apparently, some fans like to gobble up training camp tickets and then not use them. More than 90,000 tickets were claimed — most of them were free — but attendance was just over 63,000 over the 17 days that were open to the public. That’s about the same number of fans that Mankato drew the last few years of camp there, according to estimates.

For each public practice, the team put up for grabs 4,000 free, general admission tickets — up to four per person, up to two days — plus 1,000 Kwik Trip Red Zone tickets, which cost $20 each.

Jeff Anderson, team spokesman, said it is difficult to say why about a third of the tickets went unused. One explanation is that fans simply grabbed them because they were free.

“We certainly anticipated no-shows just because it’s a free ticket,” he said. “When you don’t have skin in the game, so to speak, it’s easy to make the decision to do something else instead. Or you grab four tickets and you only need two.”

The team saw an 80% show rate for fans who paid for the reserved seats and a 60% show rate for those who picked up free tickets, Anderson said.

Suffice to say, the team decided not to increase the daily attendance for this year.

As of late last week, about 60,000 tickets had been reserved, “which is kind of where we expected to be,” Anderson said. “After the Fourth of July break, people sort of start turning their attention to the season. And I think when the rookies report on Monday, we’ll see more of an uptick in reserve tickets.”

Building on fan interaction

The Vikings entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1961, and their first four training camps were held at Bemidji State. Over the five decades at Minnesota State Mankato, it was common for fans to see players riding bikes or walking to their dorm rooms — and score an autograph.

While some fans clamored for the unique Mankato traditions last year in Eagan, one the players don’t miss has to do with lodging. Instead of cramped campus dorm rooms, they now stay in an Eagan hotel.

And it’s only going to get comfier for players once the 14-story hotel currently under construction next to TCO Performance Center at the Viking Lakes site is complete. The Nordic-themed hotel, to be operated by luxury chain Omni Hotels and Resorts, will house Vikings players and staff starting with the 2021 training camp.

Future plans for Viking Lakes, the 200-acre site owned by team owners Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf, include apartment buildings, retail and commercial space.

And all of that could bring more of that personal interaction between players and fans, Anderson, the team spokesman, said.

“We tried to create as much interaction as we can last year with the daily autograph sessions and the night practice, which gets fans closer to the team,” he said. “I think as this site evolves out here, it may look different in terms of access to players, just depending on what happens with the hotel and other development here as this campus is built. There will be much more activity here.”

Key vikings training camp dates

  • Friday, July 26: First full-team practice.
  • Monday, July 29: First padded practice.
  • Saturday, Aug. 3: Night practice in TCO Stadium.
  • Friday, Aug. 16: Final open practice.

For more information on schedules, tickets, policies and parking, go to vikings.com/trainingcamp.