The Minnesota Vikings & The Latest Stadium Debate

by Isaac Huss

Another day, another stadium debate, or so it seems.  Here in Minnesota, the Vikings’ plea for a public financed stadium to replace the ol’ Mall of America field at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome seemingly dates back to the days of Leif Erikson.

And now the Timberwolves, playing in perhaps the worst arena in the NBA, are wanting a renovation of their own.  It won’t be long until the Twins are asking for a new stadium so they can afford to pay all of their overpriced injured players.

Suffice it to say, the people of Minnesota have tired of all the stadium rhetoric.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Minnesota sports teams have been so brutal lately.  But that’s a story for another day.

The question I’m interested in is how much sense it makes for taxpayers to foot (at least part of) the bill for a pro sports team’s stadium.  In the interest of this discussion, I’ll take for granted that a team needs a state of the art stadium in order to stay competitive and financially viable, although perhaps that’s debatable as well.

But who exactly is responsible (or at least should be) for financing a stadium?   In years past, before stadiums became billion-dollar propositions, it wasn’t that big of a deal.  Every decent-sized city needs a convention center of some sort, and many of these stadiums served dual purposes.

For instance, the old Minneapolis Lakers played in the Minneapolis Armory, which has served most every purpose imaginable, from housing troops and weaponry to ices skating to parked cars.

But now, an NFL football stadium can cost tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure alone just to accommodate the huge crowds which come in and out of a downtown location within a matter of hours.

The cost of a new Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis is an estimated $975 million, with a little under half that pledged by the Vikings themselves, and the rest expected, at least initially, to come from public financing.

So Minnesota legislators are having to decide whether to sign off on public funds being directed towards a professional football stadium.  This after St. Paul built a brand spankin’ new hockey arena to lure an expansion franchise (which was only necessary after the North Stars split town over a stadium dispute), Minneapolis (with the help of Ramsey County and the state) built Target Field for the Twins and the University of Minnesota built a new football stadium with public funds.

Will the Vikings get a stadium built in Minnesota?  Probably.  But don’t count out the fact that Minnesotans might just be the cheapest SOBs in the country, not to mention a state that traditionally leans left (and is currently all about stickin’ it to the 1%), and a state legislature now controlled by the anti-tax conservatives and there’s a legitimate chance they just won’t have it.  Not with billionaire owner Zygi Wilf set to profit off their money.

And that’s what this stadium debate is really about, when everybody’s honest.  Does a billionaire owner with a $500 million pet football team deserve for the working class people of Minnesota to build him a new playground for him and his friends to play in and make more money?

Sure, it will bring new revenue streams to Minnesota and in particular downtown Minneapolis.  Sure, it will immediately create hundreds of jobs and save hundreds more from losing them if the team were to move.  Sure, it will keep Minnesota and its metro area relevant in a country increasingly more dominated by all things NFL.

But do we really want to help rich men get richer?

And not just rich men, but spoiled athletes who benefit more from their freak of nature size and athleticism than any hard work or determination could net them?

And lets not forget the coaches, executives, and ownership group who seem to be exploiting these athletes into convincing them to brutalize each other on the field with no regard to the permanent ill-effects on their body.

Do we, the citizens of Minnesota, want to cooperate in such moral abominations?  Hell, no!  But we sure as hell will root for the Purple on those two magical Sundays they end up playing against the Meat Packers from Green Bay.

No, we sure don’t like the idea of padding the pockets of billionaires, but we’re not prepared for life without the Vikings.  And I don’t care how much of a hardass we make ourselves out to be when we say things like, “Enjoy the losing, L.A.”

That’s why a stadium plan is essentially inevitable, even if the political obstacles which still stand in the way aren’t negligible.  Minnesotans are addicted to the NFL, and that’s not going to change just because they’ll have to absorb another .05% sales tax increase on their pre-game PBR.

What would be more helpful at this point is to stop making this an us-versus-them proposition.  Of course the rich are going to get richer.  That comes with the territory.  If we really didn’t like the idea of a rich man making money off of our political decisions, we should never elect another man to office.

The question instead should be how to use rich men’s assets to benefit the rest of us.  And one of the assets that we all share—and should take more personal pride and ownership in—is our professional sports teams, specifically the Minnesota Vikings.

As hard as it has been for Vikings fans to root for a championship-less team, it has been one of the winningest franchises in NFL history, and carries with it a great deal of history, both on the field, and pride in the hearts of Minnesotans over generations.  The NFL is not about to let some greedy owner blow that up over petty stadium disputes.

The same reason the team isn’t going anywhere is the same reason Minnesotans should take some responsibility in making sure the team is financially viable and thus fiscally relevant compared to the rest of the league.  Like it or not, the Vikings franchise has deep roots in this state, and since we all benefit, we all should pitch in.

But not without demanding that some bones be thrown our way.  In order to sign off on a new stadium plan, the governor should demand a “lifetime lease agreement” with the state of Minnesota.   That in order for the Minnesota legislature to okay a public financing package for the new stadium, the Vikings agree to relinquish their right to move the franchise for as long as the franchise exists or remains relevant.

One of the reasons why the U of M found little or no resistance in their pursuit of public financing for a stadium is thanks to a successful marketing ploy: “We’re not going anywhere.”  Without the threat of moving to a different city, Minnesotans felt better about pledging their money, as if we weren’t being strong-armed into ponying up.

Forget the fact that the University’s coaches, administrators, and executives stood to benefit greatly from such an endeavor; the University is a state institution, and must be preserved and made to flourish.

And that’s the way this new Vikings stadium should be seen.  Forget the threats to move the franchise.  Forget the myth that an NFL franchise is a disposable barnacle to an otherwise thriving metropolis.  The state of Minnesota needs the Vikings as much as the Vikings need them.  And it’s time to get a deal done.