Sunday, June 21, 2015

Small Town Roots: Vikings VP Bagley Elected to BASD Hall of Fame

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Minnesota Vikings Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development Lester Bagley has been elected to the Barron Area School District Hall of Fame. Learn how small town roots guided Bagley as he worked towards passing the new stadium bill. 

Updated: June 21st, 2015 10:40am

By: Daniel House

The wind whispered as a baseball flew through the air on a lawn outside a county courthouse. The crack of a bat echoed through main street and city-goers flocked to take in a small game of baseball. Newspaper cameras flashed and kids played the childhood game that brought them together each and every summer. At the time, young Lester Bagley was just a kid living in a small community in northwest Wisconsin. These pick-up games were what brought together the youth of Barron, Wisconsin back in the late 1960's. Nobody knew that years later, Lester Bagley would land on the east coast as an intern at the White House. Decades later, nobody would have guessed Bagley would land a position as the Vice President of Public Affairs and Stadium Development for the Minnesota Vikings. Not to mention, he would become one of the pivotal leaders in passing the bill for a $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis. Bagley was the driving force behind an accomplishment that is considered one of the largest off-the-field achievements in the history of Vikings football. It wasn't an easy battle for Bagley and it took hours of dedication to pass a stadium bill inside a hostile political and economic environment.

After putting his public affairs skills to use, Bagley watched all of his hard work come to fruition as the Vikings stadium project was approved in May of 2012. After 12 years of being told to come again next year, Bagley finally watched the stadium bill pass through the Minnesota legislature. The once small-town kid had grown into one of the most influential business leaders in the Twin Cities area. He was accomplishing a goal he never thought he would reach. Lester didn't expect an honor would be coming from his hometown to commemorate all of his achievements. This spring, Bagley was elected to the Barron Area School District Golden Bears Reaching Their Dreams Hall of Fame.

“Golden Bears Reaching Their Dreams” is a program designed to provide inspirational role models for students and community members. Those who are honored will be placed in the elite history of Barron Area School District students, alumni, and Barron area community members. Bagley will be honored with a plaque during a ceremony in the spring of 2016 at Barron High School.

"I have great fondness for Barron and the experience I had growing up there. I still have a lot of my life friends that either live there or are from there that I'm still very connected to. We've been through a lot in this stadium project and in my career, so to get honored is very humbling and very exciting at the same time," Bagley explained.

Bagley treasured his time in the Barron area and remembers all of the moments he spent with his friends riding bike and playing pick-up sports. Those small town values of perseverance and hard work have kept Bagley grounded throughout the entire stadium project. He attributes much of the man he is today to the time he spent in the Barron Area School District system.

"Work ethic and small town values have served me well. One thing I didn't know that I had was perseverance and the persistence that it took to get this deal done in 12 years at the capital. I'm going into my 16th season with the Vikings organization and getting the stadium done is one of the most significant off-field developments for the organization in its history. So to be apart of the team that put that together, I think it got there through perseverance, hard work, and small-town values," Bagley discussed.

In high school, Bagley played multiple sports and was actively involved in his school community through various clubs and activities. All of these experiences taught Lester many principles he uses on a daily basis. He recalled one memory from a baseball game he played with his teammates in Webster, WI.

"I played a lot of different sports. I wasn't very good at any of them. I played all of them, but I did have a shining moment when I hit a grand slam home run in Webster with my brother on second base. So that's probably my shining moment memory and that's the story my brother likes to tell. There are a lot of great moments and that's one that will stick with me," laughed Bagley.

Many people assume a man with Bagley's career accomplishments would have had a vision to be involved in sports management long before he joined the Vikings organization. That definitely wasn't the case. After attending the University of Minnesota and transferring to UCLA, Bagley received a degree in political science. At one point, Bagley was considering a career in public affairs with an emphasis in politics. After spending time as an intern at the White House in Washington D.C., he was approached by previous Vikings owner Red McCombs about a stadium development position. The team was already blossoming a proposal and strategy to build a new stadium with years remaining on their lease at the Metrodome. Bagley didn't expect he would spend 12 seasons in the organization and it would take him almost all of that time to pass a stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

Bagley spent hours writing legislation, meeting with community members, and working with his colleagues who were all fixing their eyes towards the same goal: to build a stadium for Minnesota Vikings fans.

"It's an aggressive schedule and I basically work and spend time with my family. I don't have time for much else. It was a lot of hours and it is still going. The whole team puts in a lot of hours and when you add in what our business is all about which is Minnesota Vikings football and winning championships, it is time and a half at least from a regular work week. However, it's rewarding, and it will be when the stadium opens and our team reaches the mountain top," Bagley discussed.

Bagley will never forget the moment when the stadium bill was passed by the legislature and signed by Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. All of the hard work he and his colleagues had labored towards for the last 12 years was finally becoming a reality.

"It was a team effort. Not just at the Vikings, but it was also a community team that helped get it [the stadium] done. It was great for our fans who battled and hung in there with us. When the bill finally passed in the legislature, it was emotional, but the bill signing was the most ceremonial. It was a big accomplishment that involved a lot of people," Bagley explained.

Following approval of the stadium, the Vikings organization submitted a bid to host the Super Bowl in 2018. This process involved hours of preparation to complete a proposal that was presented to all  32 NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell at the annual owner's meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Minneapolis was competing against Indianapolis and New Orleans for the right to host the largest event in all of sports.

"I was sort of the quarterback of the bid and we had to deliver a bid digitally on an iPad to all 32 owners and the commissioner. We had to go and present in front of all the owners. It was an ownership vote. I think where we excelled on the Super Bowl project, is we treated it as a vote and we went and got the votes. We had our owners engaged with other owners and we had a strategy to go lobby and get votes," Bagley said.

New Orleans was considered the wide favorite to win the bid for Super Bowl LII. They had submitted a bid 10 times in previous years and had never been denied by the committee. This was their 11th bid and much of the attention was being shifted in their direction. Minnesota hadn't hosted a Super Bowl since 1992 and many believed this trend would be continuing.

"They [New Orleans] even told us that they would help us get it next year. They just assumed they were going to get it. So the fact that we got it done was huge. The moment when the commissioner read the announcement, we felt pretty good but you never know. It was a secret ballot, so they told us one thing, but you didn't know if they would vote like they said," Bagley described.

Construction of U.S. Bank Stadium will be completed in July of 2016 and all of the effort Bagley poured into this project will be put on display for the entire world to see.

It's hard to believe the kid who grew up in a small Wisconsin town of roughly 3,000 will be making an impact on millions of people throughout the world.

Some things haven't changed since those days, especially the small town values of hard work, perseverance, and respect that Bagley learned while walking the streets of Barron, WI. Those lessons are unvarying.

*Note: Stay tuned for part two of this series with Vikings VP Lester Bagley. In part two, he will talk more about the construction of the stadium, the naming rights deal, and plans for the future of U.S. Bank Stadium.*


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