When a small team of people got together in January to discuss bringing a Vikings stadium to Shakopee, it included those you might expect—the recently elected mayor, two state legislators and the chamber of commerce president.
“It would not have happened without Cory being involved,” Mayor Brad Tabke said. "He had a lot of contacts with Vikings and the state and basically he had a financial plan and it was a perfect match. He’s been an amazing help in getting everything done and moving."
Who is Cory Merrifield and why is he so involved in the stadium issue?
The answer to Merrifield’s role in the stadium issue lies perhaps foremost in his passion for Vikings football.
“I’ve always been a big Vikings fan,” he said. “I say I’m one step below the people who wear face makeup.”
Growing up largely in the suburbs of St. Louis Park and Minnetonka, Merrifield and his family watched Vikings games. And his feelings about the team go deeper than just the love of the sport. He credits the game with keeping a relationship with his father alive through some rough times.
“We didn’t speak for six years,” he said. “But we could connect over the Vikings.”
Merrifield also remembers too well when the Minnesota North Stars hockey team left the state, in 1993, and he doesn’t want to see it happen again.
“I grew up playing hockey," he said. "But after the North Stars left, I was done with hockey.”
Today, Merrifield’s basement in Shakopee is purple and yellow, and the tradition of watching games continues with his 15-year-old son.
In 2009, Merrifield said he was watching football and having some drinks at a friend’s house when talk turned to the stadium issue and the lack of a plan to address it.
With his computer skills and connections in the field—he sells Internet technology consulting services at a temp work firm called Experis IT—Merrifield thought he could create a website to address the stadium issue and give fans a place to come together. The next day, he started researching and calling friends. After creating three or four renditions of the website, he launched SavetheVikes.org in October 2009.
“I literally thought I’d be educating people and telling them to push emails around (to legislators),” he said. “I had no idea where this would end up.”
He also created a page for SavetheVikes.org on Facebook. Within a week, the Facebook page had 500 fans. Today, he has an email list of 30,000 fans.
“It just took off like wildfire,” he said.
Rallying at the State Capitol also caught on. At the first one with about 50 fans, a few media outlets showed up. A reporter from the Wall Street Journal even visited his home in Shakopee for a story.
“The next thing you know, the press started paying attention, and the story eventually went national,” he said.
Wanting the Vikings to know what he was doing, he said he began leaving messages for Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley.
As Merrifield puts it, officials with the Vikings thought he was “crazy.” His initial calls went unreturned.
When Merrifield and Bagley did speak, Bagley wasn’t initially impressed with Merrifield’s ideas, which Merrifield says he understands.
“Looking back, I didn’t know what I was doing,” he said.
He said keeping his goal simple—to advocate as a fan for a new Vikings stadium in Minnesota—has helped his relationship with Vikings officials.
Shakopee Stadium Bid
In January, Merrifield said he was more than happy to talk to Shakopee's new mayor about a stadium proposal.
“I applaud everything he’s trying to do,” Merrifield said of Tabke. “I support any site, and if I can (have it done) in my own backyard, even better.”
Merrifield had already come up with a potential funding plan that used no tax dollars but, instead, relied partly on revenue from slot machines that would be installed at Canterbury Park. Gov. Mark Dayton has since said he doesn’t think the option would work because even if a bill passes through the legislature, legal battles could keep it from becoming a reality in the near future.
Merrifield said the governor's dismissal doesn’t mean Shakopee is off the table as a potential site. He said Tabke and others are working behind the scenes on alternate funding sources.
“I wouldn’t rule out Shakopee at all,” Merrifield said. “It could be the dark horse.”
More than two years after he got involved, Merrifield said if the Vikings are going to stay, 2012 is the year in which a deal needs to be made.
“It has to absolutely get done this (legislative) session,” he said, citing the state’s first budget surplus in years, fan support for getting it done and that the lease at the Metrodome has expired.
Merrifield says he does an average of two media interviews a day, which means he spends a lot of time staying current on the issue. He said the time and money he’s personally spent to keep the website up and running, along with time lost with his son, are worth it—if a stadium deal is made.
Letters from Vikings fans thanking him for his efforts also keep him going.
“There’s always one letter I go back to from an Army staff sergeant stationed in Iraq,” he said. “On Sundays, they go to the mess hall and watch the Vikings, and for three hours they forget their hellish conditions. When I feel like I want to stop, I think about that.”