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For many years Minneapolis and St. Paul lived together somewhat fretfully, separated partially by the upper reaches of the Mississippi but more completely by a sort of sisterly jealousy. With the advent of major league baseball in 1961 the Twin Cities concluded an uneasy peace, like two feuding maiden aunts drawn together in admiration of a first nephew.
Now another sports baby—the pro football Vikings—has appeared, and it seems likely to convert the Twin Cities to lasting friendship. Indeed, the two cities have joined so enthusiastically in support of the Vikings that the club will open its first National Football League season with an unprecedented 27,000 season tickets sold for eight home games—seven league and one exhibition. At $40 per set of tickets, this represents something over $1 million already in the bank.
The extraordinary prosperity of the Vikings' birth did not, of course, come about by accident. It happened as the result of a carefully planned, well-thought-out program which could stand as a model for promoters of the future. The man responsible is Bill Boyer, a big and dynamic person who is now president of the Vikings and the owner of two automobile agencies in Minneapolis. The son of a lumberjack, Boyer never attended college, but he has an old grad's enthusiasm for football and sports in general.
"We formed a major league sports committee about 10 years ago," Boyer says. "We hired a market research firm in Chicago to find out for us what we could expect to draw in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area with a major league baseball club."
The market research report showed that a major league club could expect to draw some 770,000 people in 1955, the figure increasing to well over a million by 1965, the 10-year period covered in the report. It erred on the conservative side. The Minneapolis Twins, in this projection, should have drawn about one million people this year—but if their home attendance continues for the rest of the season at its present pace, the attendance will be nearly 1,300,000.
"The whole thing was based on baseball at first," Boyer says, "and on the strength of that report alone we decided to build a stadium and woo one of the existing clubs to move here."
The stadium was completed in 1956 and is strategically located in Bloomington, the apex of a triangle with St. Paul and Minneapolis on the other corners. It is also strategically located in Minnesota, which is to say, in the heart of football country. During the last 19 years, the University of Minnesota has averaged almost 50,000 at each home game, and this despite the fact that only once during that time were the Golden Gophers the Big Ten champions.
It was only natural that Boyer and his four associates, in looking around for a way to fill the stadium when baseball wasn't in season, should turn to pro football. A successful franchise would pad out the baseball rent and help pay off the bond issues. Boyer's group first tried to lure the Chicago Cardinals from their uncomfortable juxtaposition to the Chicago Bears but failed. When the new American Football League was formed two years ago, Boyer and his friends showed a great deal of interest.
"It would have given us a pro club," Boyer says. "But we really wanted an NFL franchise. When we heard from George Halas of the NFL expansion committee that one might be available. we hesitated before committing ourselves absolutely to the new league."
This hesitation proved to be a thinking man's falter. In January of 1960 the NFL granted Minnesota a franchise, to become operative in the 1961 season. The long time lag between the granting of the franchise and the actual fielding of a team was another bonus. It allowed Boyer and his associates to move as carefully and methodically in the organization of the team as they had originally in the development of the Twin Cities as major league baseball territory.