Written by Sabine Demosthenes
MONTREAL – During this year Collision 2019 conference in Toronto, I had the opportunity to have a nice chat with Steve LaCroix. Steve LaCroix is the vice-president and chief marketing officer of the Minnesota Vikings. We did talk about the branding, music, the US Bank Stadium and maybe, converting myself to become a Vikings fan. It was such a fun and every insightful interview about a man with a mission. His mission is to give the best experience to the Vikings fans from all around the world.
SD: Thank you so much Steve
SL: It’s my first time in Toronto, so it’s exciting times.
SD: My first question actually: What is your biggest challenge in promoting a well-established brand like the Vikings in two thousand nineteen?
SL: There are so many different platforms we communicate to our fans on so it’s really just picking what those platforms are and really trying to get to know who the fans are and how they want to be communicated to. Not everybody wants to get emails or certain postings online. We’re trying to get to know our fans on a personal basis and frankly trying to make sure we know the fans that are in the stadium on game day. And through our digital ticketing and our mobile app its really starting to pick and fans are adapting well to that.
SD: it’s something brand new?
SL: Yeah. There are no longer paper tickets. Now you can use your phone to enter, so that allows us to then, security wise, there’s less fraud because It’s authenticated on your phone versus a piece of paper that can be copied.
You have to sign up for the app and it’s a way for us to learn more about you in a way that hopefully benefits the fan.
SD: It’s more interactive.
SD: I think other professional sports organizations should follow your lead.
SL: I think the industry is going in that direction. We are just trying to find out who our fans are. We’ve known who our season ticket members are because we used to send them a packet of season tickets, but once those tickets left our office and got in their hands, we would lose track.
Now we can start to follow the fan along the way, even if they are not they’re not the ones that original purchased the ticket as a season ticket.
SD: And that they will become regular fans.
SL: Yeah, that’s the goal, to make them more passionate fan and more games you come to, the more that is going to resonate and the more ways you interact with us online through our different social media channels, it just further builds that fandom down the road.
SD: Speaking of social media, in twenty years, or even fifteen years, social media have been everywhere. Did it changed your way of selling your brand to the world. The fan is helping you. You get a lot of feedback from them. How do you deal with it?
SL: We definitely take as much feedback as we can. It can be a little overwhelming at times obviously, but we really try to create as much unique, exclusive media content we can that other media companies cannot have access to. Whether that’s locker room footage or whether that’s photography on our road trips, taking pictures as the players get on the plane, what kind of wardrobes they are wearing, just that kind of behind the scenes type content that other outside media companies don’t have that kind of access to. We built up the Vikings entertainment network which is a content generation media company and it’s one of those that the more content we produce, the more the fans just consume it, so it’s really just a cycle you try to keep up with.
SD: Yeah and actually the fans feel they are actually part of the team.
SL: Absolutely. The more you can make them feel like they’re part of it in a more authentic, unique way; the more they feel like they are part of the family. I’m with you when it’s going good and I’m with you when it’s going down or not as well or hopefully not downhill, or at least not for long.
We would love to win every game we play, but that’s not how the business works, so you want fans to be passionate and stick with you through the ups and downs of our profession.
SD: You have been a sports fan maybe forever. I think, I presume.
SL: Yes. Son of a high school coach .So from birth I’ve been a sports fan.
SD: Before you were with the Vikings, you were with the Pacers in the NBA, so this is a different kind of sport, is the branding aspect is pretty different between the NFL and the NBA?
SL: What we do on the on the business side of every league is pretty much the same. The difference is in the NBA, you have forty-one regular season home games. In the NFL, we have eight. So, we have fewer games, but they are bigger events. There is more pressure to win. There is more pressure put on a great game entertainment experience and put that fan experience first is our motto.
We built our new stadium three years ago, US Bank Stadium and it’s been very well-received it’s been a great home field advantage and just a great entertaining experience for the fans that attend our home games.
SD: It’s one of the most beautiful stadiums.
SL: There’s lots of natural light, so you know we’re not open air, but we have the world’s biggest pivoting doors so we can open those up to get some air flow through the building on nice fall days in winter we can lock it down. We still get all that natural sunlight through that the clear partial roof. And it almost as if you’re outside watching the game in the stadium, you’re in a climate controlled environment.
SD: Can you sell the idea of having the same kind of roof you have to our Mayor in Montreal for the Olympic Stadium ? Just kidding.
SD: You were with the Pacers and you are right now with the Vikings. Was it like a dream of yours to be involved in the professional sports industry
SL: Well, it’s a little bit of both I guess. It takes a lot of luck on the way. You need to be prepared when it comes up, be prepared for that opportunity. I knew wanted to get into sports but I didn’t want to go to the coaching and to the teaching route. At the time, I was in undergraduate college, there were some master’s programs that focus on sports management and one was very close to my hometown, very close to where I went to college. I decided to do the master’s program and that led me to the Indiana Pacers. I worked hard and I had the opportunity to come to Minnesota ten years later and I’ve been there since.
SD: Oh wow, what a journey.
SL: It’s been a long, long journey, a really fun unique journey. Every season is different, every year is different. We’ve grown a lot as an organization at the Vikings and we’re in a really good position. Just moved into our new quarters for our team and that has a two hundred acre development around it, so we’ll get into multi-use housing, we’re building a hotel, some destination entertainment, destination retail, and just some really cool STEM technology building and our Vikings museum for the first time, we’ll build one of those. We have our team store on location. It’s just a very vibrant environment which could take a few years to develop.
SD: Its must feel like going back home from a fan point of view.
SL: Yes. For the fan’s point of view, everything is there. It’s not only a big stadium but we hope not just the residents of the Minnesota Twin Cities area but the fans who come in for home games from outside the market when they come in on a Saturday to come to the museum, they’ll come to the campus and participate.
They’ll feel like it’s a Vikings weekend and the game day the next day, on Sunday. We’ve had a really good response. We hosted training camp, preseason basically, at our facility. We have an outdoor stadium there, so we had a scrimmage underneath the lights. All the practices were open on the natural grass fields. We used to be in Mankato, which is a city of about ninety minutes south of the Twin Cities. Now we’ve brought training camp back to our home campus.
SD: Feel closer to home.
SL: Yeah, the players can use the same locker room they use during the season. We can set up temporary bleachers and about five thousand fans a day. It’s just a great way for them to get up close and personal with the team whereas on game days and you’re in a big stadium with sixty-six thousand fans and it’s a lot more intense, this is a little more laid back. It’s serious for the football team but it’s one of those where the fans can get close access as they get ready for the season.
SD: I would like to ask my pop culture question: Hmm…If you had the power to set up one of the biggest concerts ever in the US Bank Stadium, which band, past present, would you like to have a big concert with?
SL: I’m a country music guy. We’ve been fortunate to have Kenny Chesney play twice. We’ve had Luke Bryan, we just had Garth Brooks play twice earlier in the month. I would say it would be great to have a country music festival, a multi-day where it’s a lot of the big headliners, whether it’s Kenny Chesney or Luke Bryan, Garth Brooks, Darius Rucker, or Blake Shelton and just make it a true fest. It would be a lot of fun. We’ve had Metallica, Guns and Roses and we’ve had a lot of big acts that come through in the part because of US bank stadium and be good to take it to the next level and make it a multi-day, multi-artist type of event.
SD: I have two last questions for you. The first one is If you could go back in time to when you were a small little boy, what advice would you give to your older self?
SL: Wow, that’s a tough one!
I would spin it more so; even if you are not in sports, as you start your career keep a journal. It sounds kind of trite to write things down, but it would be great if I could look back to just kind of track the time in the industry and I didn’t do that. So it’s all my head as far as the experiences and stories and would like to write a book someday just to document the journey along the way.
SD: You know, I myself keep multiple journals about everything and nothing and it’s all at my mom’s place – hi mom. I think this is good advice. Maybe you should write a book.
SL: Maybe I should start now it’s not too late.
SD: And my last question: What is your favourite memory with the Vikings?
SL: Wow, the Minneapolis miracle when we won in the last second of sixty yard touchdown catch by Stefon Diggs and go to the NFC championship.
That was it was a tough loss the following week, but to experience that in the Stadium was really special and the year that Brett Favre came in and was our quarterback in 2009.
It was a really special year.
I’m hoping my favorite memory will be a Viking Super Bowl Championship at some point and that’s what we’re working hard to try to accomplish.
Winning is really fun. It’s energizing for the organization, it’s energizing for the fan base and you wish you could win all the time and it’s hard to do, but we work hard to bring that Lombardi trophy home to our fan base.
SD: I think it will happen (by the way, I’m a big fan of the Steelers)
SL: Yeah, I like your optimism. I’m with you.
SD: Just remind me not to make my brother listen to it. He will do some wrestling move on me and I will be dead.
Steve, I’m looking forward to maybe another interview, maybe in Minnesota this summer.
SL: Sure, come visit, you are welcome in Minnesota anytime.