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Friday, May 11, 2012
Vikings stadium: To retract or not to retract?

By Kevin Seifert

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Because none of you have gotten your fill yet on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium story, I made a rare daytime appearance outside of NFC North blog headquarters for a visit with team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.

I reported to the ESPN.com news desk that Mark Wilf hopes to begin the Super Bowl bidding for Super Bowl LI, which will be played about six months after the new facility opens for the 2016 season. The Wilfs made clear the team will play at least two more seasons, 2012 and 2013, in the Metrodome but that their 2014 plans could take a year to develop. (They will play the 2015 season at TCF Bank Stadium.)

But to me the most intriguing takeaway was what seems like a preference to outfit the stadium with a retractable roof.

The final stadium bill allows for that possibility if the Vikings pay for the upgrade, which could cost an additional $25 million to $100 million. It would enhance the Wilfs' hopes to draw a Major League Soccer team to the facility, but it would also mesh with Zygi Wilf's long-stated desire to capitalize on what he thinks would be the competitive advantage of outdoor games during the Minnesota fall and winter.

(I have no opinion on it as long as the press box is enclosed.)

Neither Wilf would commit to a retractable roof but here's what Mark Wilf said about it: "We're going to try to get the maximum number of features within the budgets that we can make this a facility that is going to be exciting to the fans. We know it's a competitive landscape to attract our fans to the facility and we're going to want to make it something special. To the extent that retractability can get there, we're going to try to do it."

It's worth noting that the Vikings' original plan for the suburban Arden Hills site included a retractable roof, one that would allow for the outdoor experience the Vikings once had at Metropolitan Stadium but also provide the flexibility to host games and events that require a roof, whether it is the Super Bowl or a Final Four or Grave Digger's next performance.

After noting the possibility on Twitter earlier Friday, many of you asked about the rule at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Field that requires the roof to be closed when outside temperatures are lower than 40 degrees. All I can tell you is that the NFL's official rules on operating retractable roofs has no such requirements, at least not the set forwarded me Friday by the league office. The rules do, however, give the gameday referee the option to close the roof pregame because of precipitation or weather that is otherwise deemed hazardous.

You could have an interesting debate about the better home-field advantage: Really cold weather with the roof open or presumably louder crowd noise with it shut. I don't know where the Vikings will land on that, and I'm not entirely convinced the Wilfs are prepared to kick in additional money for retractability after increasing their initial contribution to $477 million in the final negotiations this week. Just know it's very much on the table moving forward.