Vikings strike ‘gold’ with Norseman Gold



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The Minnesota Vikings are a professional American football team based in Minneapolis, US. They compete in the National Football League (NFL) as a member club of the National Football Conference North division. Founded in 1960 as an expansion team, the team began play the following year.

The National Football League (NFL) is a professional American football league consisting of 32 teams, divided equally between the National Football Conference and the American Football Conference.

The 73,000-capacity U.S. Bank Stadium is an enclosed stadium located in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota (US). Built on the former site of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, the indoor stadium opened in 2016 and is the home of the Minnesota Vikings.

In an exclusive to ‘Coliseum’, Candy Fuzesy, Director, Premium Seating and Operations, Minnesota Vikings, US, talks about the hugely successful private membership group Norseman Gold of the Minnesota Vikings and how through ‘breakfast and dinner diplomacy’ the whole idea which is Fuzesy’s concept has struck a chord with the C-level in a big way.

The learning curve of Candy Fuzesy is so great. Though she does not boast any sports background, but her rich experience in the hospitality industry helped her come out with ingenious ideas the result of which is the rewarding private membership group Norseman Gold of the ‘Purple People Eaters’ which has hit the jackpot.

As she said, “I have been really lucky to bring in some unique hospitality experience into the sports world that has never been done before.”

Each word of her rings true. She has spent six years with the Vikings and her team is in charge of 135 luxury suites and is also responsible for providing an exhilarating gameday experience to spectators in seven of the luxury clubs inside the U.S. Bank Stadium.
 

Norseman Gold

Fuzesy launched a private membership club called Norseman Gold in the year 2019 which is a very novel concept. It is a private membership club for the Vikings most esteemed clientele. The group of all CEOs/Owners/Presidents allows exclusive access to Vikings executive leadership/ownership as well as networking events with each other.

She elaborated, “Norseman Gold within our premium clientele is a private membership club for our top-level clients. For example, Target is one of our suites. The CEO of Target is extended the invite to be a Norseman Gold Member and then any of our corporate partners who spent a quarter of a million dollars or up annually with us, the CEO of those companies is Norseman Gold Members. All of the big brands in Midwest are Members of Norseman Gold.”

The idea of the above program stems from versatile Fuzesy’s stints with different top-rated hotels prior to her joining Vikings in 2016 – “While I was working with hotels, all of our loyal members received different experience within the hotel brand.”

She has worked with the cream of hotels like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Fuzesy stated that when she joined the Minnesota Vikings fold in February 2016, she realized that the offerings being made to the “esteemed clientele pre-existing with our suite owners and our corporate partners was done in a very dry manner”. With her valuable experience in the hotel industry, Fuzesy decided to add flesh on the bones of the whole exercise and entry to the Membership Program of the Vikings was made easy.

Added Fuzesy, “Our clientele wanted to know their neighbors, the other CEOs that were also invested with the Vikings, other suite owners. And so, it took a couple of years for my ownership group (the Wilf family) to buy off Norseman Gold.”

Fuzesy has the spunk and is always full of out-of-the-box ideas and this is an area where she faced challenges because “the Vikings don’t like to be the very first to try something new but we do like to be one of the first”.

In this regard, she stated that she thanked her lucky stars that the NFL team Houston Texans program on the lines of Norseman Gold called Texans Luxe was “launched a year before us. They were the first one to do it and then we were able to come in second”.
 

Business nuggets

She further elaborated on a couple of specifics as regards the private membership club Norseman Gold like determining the guests’ list. Invites were extended to the head honchos of 200 companies and the invite card was very much akin to a wedding invitation card – “It was very thick and then it had a description of the program on the back of the card. We opt to send it through snail mail (read postal system) as it is very hard to get C-level people (read high-ranking executives) or their admins to read emails sometimes. We described the program in details so that the living-out-of-the-suitcase executives are not at a loss as to what the invite is all about.”

A true businesswoman, Fuzesy ensured that the invitation went out in a very shiny, gold envelope through post with the top grades’ name on it so that it does not “get lost in the sea of things”. It was followed by an email stating – ‘Please watch out for this shiny gold envelope coming to you in the mail’. The gold card was a statement in itself and inside it was the RSVP card.

So, they received this gold card which is a statement in itself and inside it was this RSVP (‘Please Respond’) card as Fuzesy explained, “Each CEO received the invite and then this RSVP card and on the back they are able to put in their information and then go on to determine a secondary member. So, each company got two memberships for Norseman Gold. The trick is this is more of a psychological ploy because we already have all of the information of the top guns. Yet, they make the effort to fill in the information and in a way they are mentally invested in the program and they go, ‘Oh, that’s cool. I don’t know what’s going to come down the pipeline for the program’. Basically, Fuzesy and her team keep the curiosity factor alive through this entire exercise.
 

Goals set

Her goal for the launch year in 2019 was to enroll 75 to 100 members. Due to her untiring efforts with a vision to learn and expand each day, “We ended up enrolling 141 members and now we boast 174”.
 

Dinner diplomacy

The Norseman Gold Program was launched in 2019 with “This big dinner with our ownership group and the dinner decision was very intentional and thought out. We invited all new Norseman Gold members to this business professional launch. Our executive team here at the Minnesota Vikings welcomed them. We did it at a very high-end facility in Minneapolis. We had a local radio personality play the role of the emcee and we thoughtfully determined the seating arrangements.”
 

Smart seating

The seating arrangement was switched up for every course during the dinner bash as she further elaborated, “We had eight people and a round table. For salad course, one would need to walk up to Table 4, for dessert course, to Table 1. The idea behind this is that you are seated with all new people for every single course. People were nervous about this in the beginning but it turned out to be a raging success.”

Always one to buck her ideas up, Fuzesy also decided to introduce conversation icebreakers up on the big screen on the stage because it was total strangers who were interacting with each other. So, it was very unconventional topics – ‘if you hosted a talk show, who would your first talk show guest be?’, ‘if you could have dinner with anyone – dead or alive, who would this person be?’- to add the zing factor to the whole ‘dinner diplomacy’ exercise.

Fuzesy and her team’s concept was that while attending dinner parties, many a times people sit next to strangers with whom it is difficult to pull off a conversation but the “conversation icebreakers just kept the conversation rolling and the night roared with conversation”.
 

Badge of identity

Fuzesy who never runs out of novel ideas further informed that at the end of the dinner bash, each new member was given a custom-made lapel pin. It is a lapel pin that only Norseman Gold members possess – “It is gold and then it is the signature of Vikings – V – and then under the Viking wing is a diamond. So, the idea behind this lapel pin is that it is an identifiable token for those members. Basically, any Vikings event that one goes to, we encourage Norseman Gold members to wear this pin. So, in this manner, if I am wearing a Norseman Gold pin, and if someone else is wearing a Norseman Gold pin, I would add a gameday, a different Vikings dinner or training camp.”

Moreover, by wearing the lapel pins, two individuals know that they are of the same level and in the same group and can “kind of cut through some easy, surface level conversations and it helps build connections. Because our biggest goal with this group is that they do business with one another, they form personal relationships, and they further their investments with the Vikings”

Fuzesy’s avant-garde ideas have led to Norseman Gold private membership program scripting tons of success stories. For example, if a bank is funding a construction project, the medium was that the two individuals met at a Norseman Gold dinner.
 

Breakfast diplomacy

She informed that they are at Year 2 of the Norseman Gold launch and the C-level people’s date diaries are chock-a-block – “We don’t fill their calendars with event after event. We do it since we have eight home games in the U.S. Bank Stadium. We open the stadium one hour early for Norseman Gold members only. For one of our upscale private areas, we call it Norseman Gold breakfast. So, only Norseman Gold members and their families are invited to come in for breakfast an hour early and then we have featured guests at every breakfast.”

This is just another innovative idea for these heavyweights to indulge in endless conversations with each other and also spend time with the Vikings executive team and the owners (the Wilf family – Zygi, Leonard and Mark Wilf). So, the entire executive team and the ownership group get down to having breakfast every pregame.
 

Roaring success

A quarterly executive dinner series is held and the same is kept very small and intimate – only 12 to 14 Norseman Gold members can attend these dinner parties and they have proved to be hugely successful.

Within a very short span of time, this ‘dinner diplomacy’ has worked wonders for the Norseman Gold Program and Fuzesy stated that as soon as she sends out an invite for the next dinner, she gets a filled-up guest list within 10 minutes and then 30 to 40 people are kept in the waiting list – “People just crave for that intimate setting with our executive team, they also love the insider’s scoop and also get to know each other more well in this manner. So, the success story of this program has been overwhelming and it has also been dubbed the ‘Who’s Who of the Upper Midwest’.”
 

Value-add

Fuzesy concluded by stating that the dinner and breakfast sessions were a value-add “For all of our suite owners. So, from a sales perspective, in the sponsorship world if they are pitching a sale and the sale is coming in or a new partnership is coming in right around 200,000, and they can put in a little more, they become a part of the Norseman Gold group. The same goes for the suites. If someone ask the fans to purchase six-figure deal on our suites, the value-add is that they get this membership to the Norseman Gold group and it also is a huge renewal in incentives, because if you don’t renew your suite or your partnership, you don’t renew your Norseman Gold partnership. So, it’s a way to keep people in the family both on the suite side and it’s a best business in personal interest for them in this membership group. So, it’s been huge for our renewals as well.”

Candy Fuzesy has a lot of fire in her belly and knows her onions well. She innovates working ideas and believes in setting trends. Fuzesy’s newfangled ideas are sure to take the Minnesota Vikings places and the “raging success” of the private membership group Norseman Gold bears testimony to it.

She understands that dining experience (read the dinner sessions) requires outstanding leadership and invests heavily in training and leading her team to ensure the service is exceptional. And she is still pioneering how to do it!

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