It’s an intimidating sight. Thousands of fans clad in purple with their arms raised in a V formation. A drummer beating a war drum larger than a human being in a two-beat rhythm to which fans respond with a single clap. Then, those same thousands scream a single word, “SKOL!”—a cheer borrowed from the Icelandic men’s soccer team. The chant repeats until an honorary guest blows the traditional Gjallarhorn (think of a horn that might have fallen off of Paul Bunyan’s Babe the Blue Ox) whose low-rumbling Minneapolis blast is probably heard across the river in St. Paul. The Minnesota Vikings have embraced a true Viking tradition, striking fear into the hearts of their competition.
Game day traditions and fan engagement are part and parcel to the day-to-day for Steve LaCroix. The executive vice president and chief marketing officer at the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings has spent nearly twenty years at the home of purple and gold, and with the successful debut of the Metrodome’s successor, US Bank Stadium, one might think things had slowed down for LaCroix. The team’s new suburban headquarters in Eagan has put training camp back closer to home and the organization under one roof for the first time in decades, but LaCroix is looking for ways for the entire organization to contribute to another NFC championship run and, ultimately, a shot at the Super Bowl.
LaCroix says that outside the white lines of the field, the Vikings’ focus is on providing a best-in-class fan experience. “I think some may consider US Bank Stadium to be the best sports stadium in the world with one of the best fan experiences,” LaCroix says. “We’ve employed all kinds of traditions and videos that we think are really cool experience for those who are there in person.” If the war drums and horn blowing aren’t intense enough, there’s also a fire-breathing dragon that signals the team entering the stadium.
The organization has a lot to be proud of. US Bank Stadium was the site of Super Bowl LII in 2018, and the team was only one win away from being the first team in NFL history to play a home field Super Bowl. “It didn’t work out our way, so we made the most of the week and really tried to participate in it as much as we could,” LaCroix says. The EVP has been to the past eighteen Super Bowls and hosting the site of the biggest game in football was a dream come true—even though it was the coldest Super Bowl of all time, somewhere in the neighborhood of two degrees.
US Bank’s partnership with the Vikings goes far beyond the name on the stadium. “Steve has a lot to do with that,” says Beth McDonnell, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at US Bank. “It is important to us to have a partner like Steve and his team at the Vikings to strategize together how we can make an impact on this community, which is also our headquarters market. Steve’s deep experience and expertise in sports and partnerships is unmatched. We appreciate the numerous employee, fan, and community activations we have successfully launched due to his leadership.”
The harsh Minnesota winters inevitably give way to the harsh Minnesota summers, but they’re at least easier to practice in. In 2018, the Vikings organization moved into its new headquarters, Twin Cities Orthopedics (TCO) Performance Center, uniting the entire organization in the same location and bringing training camp back from Mankato for the first time in fifty-two years. “It’s amazing to have our players practicing literally outside my window,” LaCroix admits. “To see hundreds of kids down there and our TCO Stadium full for the Saturday night practice under the lights is helping get our fans even closer to our brand.”
The 200-acre development will be home to much more than football fields. The Viking Lakes development plans on including a 320 room, 4-star Omni hotel; new restaurants; residential housing; and an endless amount of possibilities depending on which way the organization decides to go, LaCroix says. “We’re looking forward to developing the entertainment and retail environment and really providing a live/work/play situation for our players, staff, and fans.”
And while the amenities are nice, LaCroix says there is no question about the organization-wide focus. “Winning obviously helps every part of the organization,” LaCroix says. “We are trying to empower every Vikings employee to think about how they can contribute to our on-field success. It’s part of our new strategic plan, and we’re examining what we can do to get those one or two more wins that will help propel us into the playoffs and be able to win the Lombardi Trophy.”
“It’s amazing to have our players practicing literally outside my window. To see hundreds of kids down there and our TCO Stadium full for the Saturday night practice under the lights is helping get our fans even closer to our brand.”
The Vikings have come dangerously close to the trophy a handful of times over the past couple decades, and LaCroix says that Vikings employees will do whatever to give the team that added little boost. From vendors selling food to the executive leadership team, LaCroix wants every employee to ask themselves the same question: “How is what I’m doing helping the team?” Wins or losses, the fanaticism of Vikings fans is well documented and LaCroix says that in eighteen years, it’s all the motivation he’s ever needed.
It might also be that sports are in the EVP’s blood. LaCroix is the son of Illinois Hall of Famer cross country and track coach Bob LaCroix. “I’ve been around teams and athletics from day one,” LaCroix says. “I knew I didn’t want to take the exact path my father took, but I knew that I wanted to wind up in the business of sports.”
He spent ten years prior to joining the Vikings with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers, helping the team move into Bankers Life (formerly Conesco) Fieldhouse. “To be part of a new NBA venue and a new NFL venue in a single career is something I’ve been really blessed with and have never taken for granted,” LaCroix says. “It was a role that really set me up well for coming to the Vikings.”
With the fourth season in US Bank Stadium under way, LaCroix says his word for the year is collaboration. “I have a real team-first mentality,” the EVP says. “I’m a big believer in executing strategically, not just executing, and that affects how you go about your day-in-day-out business. My goal is to get all of our departments working together seamlessly.”
If the disciplined chanting of the Vikings Nation is any indication of the organization’s ability to work together as one, it’s going to be a good year for everyone wearing the purple and gold.