Minnesota News

Minnesota United FC loon plate likely ready in fall

It was delayed, in part, by a legislative process that’s raised concern

License plate reading HWLNAW
A car with a Timberwolves vanity plate sits parked on April 28. And for Minnesota soccer fans, the time is almost here as the Minnesota United FC loon plate will likely be ready on Oct. 1.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News

For Minnesota soccer fans waiting their turn for a specialty sports plate, the time is almost here.

The Minnesota United FC loon plate will likely be ready for drivers Oct. 1, said Greg Loper, the vehicle services program director of the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services.

What’s it going to look like? Well, “there are going to be letters and there are going to be numbers,” he said.

The design isn’t finalized just yet, but it’s a good bet there will be a common loon on it. The plates will help raise money for the Minnesota Loon Restoration Project from the state’s Department of Natural Resources.

The Major League Soccer team’s plate joins five other sports team plates, which have been available since January: the Vikings, Lynx, Timberwolves, Twins and Wild. And it joins a growing rolodex of specialty plates. Currently, there are 114 specialty plates on the market, according to DVS.

The influx of specialty plate proposals in recent years has been a sore spot for some lawmakers. In Minnesota, it takes legislation for specialty plates to get approved. That’s part of the reason the MNUFC plate was delayed.

A previous law for sports plates said plate-owners must make an annual contribution to the team’s foundation, but MNUFC doesn’t have a foundation. It took revised language in a law for the Loons to have the go-ahead.

State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL Minneapolis, serves as the transportation committee chair and said that particular tweak wasn’t too much of a hassle, but he’s growing increasingly tired of the process tied to each specialty plate. So much so that he authored a bill creating a committee to explore an administrative process away from the Capitol. The special license plate review committee will start up in 2025.

“It grew out of my frustration with being confronted with several dozen requests — and these all come as separate bills that take time in the committee hearing process,” Dibble said. “We have much bigger issues that we have to spend time on without having all of our time seized up by all these minor issues of these specialty license plates … we need as much time as we can possibly get. Our committees usually go late. We usually have to put in extra hearings to get all the work done.”

He’s also concerned with plates becoming “politically supercharged” and divisive, he said. He brought up the example of anti-abortion advocates wanting a plate, which would direct money to anti-abortion organizations. That’s not something he wants to have to settle.

“Other states have handled this whole process more efficiently and much better, so we’re going to just take a look at what’s going on around the country and see if there’s a better idea,” he said.

As transportation chair, he’s been vocal about trying to keep specialty plates out, he said — partially because he’s concerned the increased plate variety makes it harder to identify cars.

“But last cycle, a couple of them got through,” he said. “Including the Vikings.”

Despite Dibble’s qualms, there’s no denying specialty plates have been popular on the roads. Since January, the DVS has offered five Minnesota sports teams plates, costing drivers $15.50, plus an annual donation. The Vikings plate is the bestseller, with 2,623 sold, according to the DVS.

That’s followed by Wild plates, with 1,144 sold, then plates for the Twins (1,026), Timberwolves (605) and Lynx (56). To keep the plate, those with sports plates have to make an annual $30 donation to each team’s corresponding foundation — or, rather, philanthropy account, since that law was adjusted.

“I think you’re going to see [sports team plates] becoming a part of our culture,” said Loper, with DVS. “And I smile every time I think that the Minnesota United plate is going to support the Loon Restoration Project. If there’s one thing that’s more iconic than our standard blue and white license plate in Minnesota, it’s the call of a loon.”

The Minnesota United $30 donation to the Loon Restoration Project will go toward reducing loon mortality and exposure to lead-based fishing tackle, as well as protecting nesting habitat.

Other specialty plates that hit the market earlier this year are the blackout plate and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office plate.

As of May 22, 87,990 blackout plates have been sold, according to Loper. Those are paired with an annual $30 contribution to support DVS operations.

So far, 1,254 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Relatives Office plates have been sold. An annual $25 contribution accompanying those plates benefit the Gaagige-Mikwendaagoziwag Reward Account to bring attention to cases of missing and murdered Indigenous people and educate the public.

Loper said that if the Timberwolves continue to do well in the playoffs — “I’m not going to say anything about winning things that involve rings because I don’t want to jinx it” — DVS will be ready. Plates are printed on demand.

As for his favorite, it will always be the classic blue and white plate, he said. Sliver of green on top.

“It’s just something that screams Minnesota to me,” Loper said. “I’ve had one as long as I can remember.”

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