The Minnesota Vikings arrive Sunday.
And for some in Mankato, sweeter words were never spoken.
At Johnny B’s restaurant — across the street from training camp facilities at Minnesota State University — a manager said over the din of clattering dishes and rock music: “We’re glad to have them back. We fill up wall to wall when (the Vikings) are here.”
The Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors Bureau has estimated that training camp is worth upward of $5 million to the local economy. The roughly 60,000 annual visitors from 28 states, said Executive Director Anna Thill, would have been a sore loss for local businesses that depend on the revenue.
“We’re so excited,” she said. “The rollercoaster is over.”
Rollercoaster might be an apt term.
The Vikings are one of 15 NFL teams that hold training camp on the road, away from their team headquarters. But until Monday, the lockout between NFL players and owners had threatened to close those camps before they even opened.
In fact, several NFL teams — including the Jets, Giants, Ravens and Rams — canceled their off-site training camps weeks ago.
But the Vikings held out.
In June, the team announced it would make a decision on camp by July 18. When that date arrived, the Vikings and MSU agreed to delay the decision in an apparent attempt to hold out for a deal between players and owners.
They stalled just long enough. An official decision on the Vikings’ 46th camp in Mankato was made just hours after the NFL’s labor agreement was finalized.
“We wanted to prolong our decision as long as possible in an effort to maintain our training camp tradition of practicing in front of Vikings fans in Mankato,” said Vikings co-owner and president Mark Wilf in a statement to media.
“The Vikings appreciate the patience and flexibility shown by Minnesota State University and the Mankato community in making this work, and we look forward to returning to our training camp home in August.”
Players will report to camp Sunday. Practice begins Monday.
The camp will be shorter than usual with the constricted timeline. The Vikings need to vacate campus at least one week before classes begin at MSU on Aug. 22 so that residence halls and facilities can be prepared for students.
Preston Lougheed, general manager of the AmericInn Hotel and Conference Center near the MSU campus, said the shortened camp has already affected business. Rooms that are typically reserved well in advance of camp, he said, remain vacant — though he expects business to increase once word reaches fans that camp is official.
By Monday afternoon, he said a handful of die-hard camp attendees had already called to book reservations.
“Our reservations are way down,” he said. “Even us getting one week or a condensed camp is a good thing for our hotel and the city of Mankato.”
The Vikings began moving equipment to Mankato even before a labor agreement was reached and an official decision about camp was made.
During the weekend, trucks began transporting equipment to MSU’s dorm rooms. On Monday afternoon, more trucks arrived carrying blocking sleds, camp apparel, medical equipment — even a covered cart labeled “PLAYBOOKS.”
Several media, including some from the Twin Cities, were on-hand to film the move-in.
Mankato Mayor Eric Anderson said in a news release that training camp is “integral” to the community. The Vikings 46 years of camp at MSU are the second-longest such stretch in the NFL.
“For two weeks, our hotels, restaurants and bars are filled with thousands of Vikings fans,” Anderson said. “The citizens and businesses of Mankato welcome those fans back in 2011 and moving forward.”