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Vikings stadium makes MarketWatch list of ‘Worst Deals from Sports Teams’

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The new Vikings stadium under construction in Downtown East.

Minneapolis and its new $1 billion-plus publicly-subsidized Vikings stadium made the top of a new list from MarketWatch today: “5 Cities Getting the Worst Deal from Sports Teams.”

The opinion piece by Jason Notte says:

Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League have all played chicken with taxpayers and threatened to take their ball (or puck) to another city willing to foot the bill for new facilities.

Of the deal in Minnesota, he says:

How do you get taxpayers to chip in $500 million on a more than $1 billion stadium when only one city, Indianapolis ($620 million), has ever paid that much? Tell them you’ll move their 54-year-old NFL franchise to Los Angeles.

Vikings owner Zygi Wilf did just that and got the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis to go along for the ride. With the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome’s roof collapse moving games in 2010 and competing L.A. stadium plans just waiting for a team, Minnesota panicked and came up with a plan for a new stadium on the Metrodome site that the state would pay for through “charitable gambling.” Though the plan was approved in 2012, the funding portion never worked out and led to a tax on cigarette inventory instead.

Minneapolis, meanwhile, will end up paying $678 million over its 30-year payment plan once interest, operations and construction costs are factored in. The city earned a Super Bowl hosting gig in 2018, but also got a 150-page list of Super Bowl demands from the NFL that will only cost the host city and state more money.

The other four on the list are:

  • Atlanta area, where “Cobb County will be borrowing $397 million via bonds, including nearly $300 million that will be paid from property taxes, to finance the new SunTrust Park after Braves ownership decided to leave its current digs at Turner Field for the suburbs.”
  • Glendale, Arizona, “with a $455 million football stadium for the Arizona Cardinals, a 15-year, $225 million arena management contract with the Arizona Coyotes and millions more for a spring-training facility for baseball’s White Sox and Dodgers.”
  • Milwaukee, where the new owners of the Bucks “made the city an offer: Pay us $250 million plus interest for a new arena or lose the team… Surprisingly, in a town that will be paying off the Milwaukee Brewers Miller Park (built in 1996) until 2020, this is not going over well. Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s problem just became Wisconsin’s as the state senate approved a deal for public funding that Gov. Scott Walker is expected to approve. Milwaukee and its surrounding county are now on the hook for what will add up to $400 million over 20 years.”
  • Washington D.C., with Major League Soccer: “D.C. United’s new stadium, and the fact that a portion of the city’s $150 million is coming out of a school-modernization program, is a bit much to swallow. However, D.C. United knows that there are enough towns in the Northern Virginia suburbs looking for a team to make them “big time” that it could have its pick if D.C. didn’t pay. It’s getting a half-price deal on the costliest soccer-only stadium in the country because D.C. doesn’t want the team to flee for the suburbs.”

Comments (30)

  1. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/17/2015 - 11:03 am.

    Phrased politely

    …the entire scenario, whether played out here, in Atlanta, L. A., or anywhere else, is a disgrace.

    The widely-perpetrated notion that, without a professional sports stadium, or even multiple stadiums, a city will somehow sink into the cultural swamps and disappear is one of the biggest loads of horse-pocky ever presented to a gullible public. Paris, France, Florence, Italy, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Tokyo, Japan, and a host of other great cities all over the planet have prospered for centuries, in some cases, without building sports stadiums at taxpayer expense. Tourists continue to flock to those cities by the thousands, spending money as they go, without even a hint of that locker-room aroma that so many, here and elsewhere, seem to find appealing.

    • Submitted by Steve Titterud on 07/17/2015 - 12:54 pm.

      Comparing with Rome may be more apt.

      It seems to me the Roman Coliseum, a place for mass celebration of conflict and violence, is directly parallel to our sports stadiums, most especially football.

      Our sports crowds cheer “USA, USA” as the jets are flown low over the stadium – to start a game, or at halftime – often accompanied by the on-field rollout of a gigantic stars and stripes – to display the threat of our power, if anyone should stand in the way of our empire. This is what passes for patriotism these days.

      I don’t think the people are inclined to act this way in Paris, Florence, Buenos Aires, or Tokyo.

      I see your point, that it appears the public has swallowed a load of B.S. as rationalization for these stadiums. However, I don’t think this is what gets these handouts passed through state legislatures, city councils, and local taxing authorities. I think what gets them passed is the powerful interests who will benefit from the subsidy. These interests work behind the scenes to influence the decision-makers. Mostly, this takes place out of public view.

      Here in MN, some seriously influential proponents worked their magic in the Vikings handout:

      – The tribes weighed in heavily against any stadium plan which might impinge on their economic territory.

      – The unions gladly lobbied in favor of the dues-paying construction jobs – no matter their number – and in disregard of whether those jobs were a good or terrible bargain for the public’s contibution.

      – The construction industries lobbied in favor of new big-ticket revenue.

      – The downtown business beneficiaries (bars, restaurants, parking lots, etc) are in favor to the same degree they are in favor of anything else that delivers a captive audience to downtown – such as conventions, music, and of course, any professional sport.

      – The ticket buyers, which mostly excludes most Minnesotans, as the prices are prohibitive, also don’t want to pay full price for their entertainment when they can get a subsidy which everyone pays.

      Now it’s true we saw this collection of strangely garbed and manic fans gather at the Capitol at the time the votes were taken, but this was a sideshow and distraction – it’s not what drove those votes. What drove those votes was the influence of the parties above, working quietly and out of public view.

      So the public debate – including the part about what a fountainhead of economic benefits the stadium was going to provide – was really a charade.

      • Submitted by Bill O'Reilly on 07/17/2015 - 02:31 pm.


        The sideshow of face painters was just a distraction to keep us from looking at the machinery working in the background. I’d be willing to bet they were bought and paid for by Wilf and his minions.
        As for downtown businesses; who would set up a business to cater to 1/36 of a year and try to make a profit? They wouldn’t be in business too long.

    • Submitted by S.T. Malleck on 07/18/2015 - 12:37 am.

      Libertarians had proposed a zero tax stadium plan

      Yes it IS a disgrace. Cities are being held for ransom across the country and it was no different here. Zygi Wilf made veiled threats to the public and almost certainly behind closed doors to the politicians as well. Other than grumbling, the Mpls city council, governor, and legislature all just went along with it.

      The sad part is, it’s possible to have a new stadium without taxpayer subsidies. It’s been done before and could be done again. This issue really exemplifies why we need candidates from alternative parties in office and the new ideas they can bring, because we’re sure not getting them from the GOP or DFL. Check this out, from the Libertarian Party of Minnesota back in 2011.

      Libertarian candidate introduces zero-tax stadium proposal

  2. Submitted by Patrick Stiehm on 07/17/2015 - 11:18 am.

    Question: Who is to blame for this?

    Answer: Everyone who voted for the politicians that made this deal.

    • Submitted by Bill O'Reilly on 07/17/2015 - 03:12 pm.

      say one thing, do another

      Sadly, one of the politicians to blame (Rybak) ran as a ‘non-public funding’ candidate, the same year the residents of Minneapolis voted in a Charter amendment, by a 70-30% margin to not allow these ripoffs. What can you do about a major flip flop like that? I always admired RT up until this fiasco.

      • Submitted by Peter Berman on 07/26/2015 - 11:45 am.

        Rybak lost me with the Vikes deal too. That said…

        …I think his reasoning needs to be looked at, if we are to fully understand how this fiasco happened. A link is definitely not an endorsement in this case, but here it is:

        Before I continue: I’m far from an expert, and frankly I feel like I’m missing something. If I’m wrong about something in fact or in essence, I would love to be corrected.

        I take Rybak at his word that he thought the stadium deal was worth it for Minneapolis to get the tax package extension. It’s certainly plausible that the city had been lobbying for that extension for years. At the same time, I’d say the way Rybak secured it is a spectacular failure of ends to justify means.

        Evidently the relationship between Mpls and MN governments is incredibly dysfunctional (an underreported fact, if true). Rybak treated that dysfunction as an immutable fact. Surely the Vikings deal only exacerbates the dysfunction. To Rybak (and, I’m sure, to some tax-hawkish outstate legislators), it’s like a battle that Minneapolis quote-unquote won.

        This also seems like a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks our state government can easily be convinced to approve tax law changes for a city.

  3. Submitted by Richard O'Neil on 07/17/2015 - 11:46 am.

    To be fair, a lot of us here on MinnPost whined and complained about the stadium – to no avail.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/17/2015 - 02:30 pm.

      And . . .

      There was a lot of complaining and whining through much of the state, especially in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, a substantial number of those complainers and whiners will punish the Vikings by continuing to go to games, watch them on TV, purchase their merchandise, etc.

      • Submitted by Chris St.Germain on 07/17/2015 - 06:16 pm.

        Not this guy!

        My fiscal/emotional budget for Vikings/pro sports support has been exhausted several times over.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 07/17/2015 - 12:00 pm.


    Part of this can be attributed to the costs of posturing. We don’t have a coherent sports facilities policy in the the Twin Cities and there is a price to be paid for that, and sometimes it’s pretty high.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/18/2015 - 12:11 am.


      We have a policy… of building new stadiums and arenas for billionaires. There’s no way to make that policy coherent.

  5. Submitted by Charles Thompson on 07/17/2015 - 12:14 pm.

    good citizens

    and some of our pros, and their owners are such good citizens. double bonus!

  6. Submitted by Todd Adler on 07/17/2015 - 12:17 pm.

    Vikings Stadium

    There’s a meme making its way around the internet that says “probe to Pluto: cost less than the Vikings stadium. And has as many Super Bowl winners.”

  7. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 07/17/2015 - 12:27 pm.

    “Minnesota” didn’t panic.

    Elected officials of Minnesota, Hennepin County and Minneapolis acted entirely without mandate and with a clear preference that the question of mandate not be dwelled upon. I would venture that most Minnesotans, and certainly most Minneapolis residents, saw the process as what it was: a March to the Sea, with Mr. Wilf starring as William Tecumseh Sherman and Minneapolis standing in for Savannah.

  8. Submitted by Dan Berg on 07/17/2015 - 01:23 pm.

    Perfect example

    This is such a perfect example of how so many political decisions come to be. It is the story of concentrating benefits and diffusing the costs. This is what happens when we don’t attempt to attach costs of something directly to those who benefit. It also shows the danger of believing politicians when they talk about “investment” but can’t actually provide metrics which the public can understand and evaluate. The big shiny “benefit” which is easy to see and understand will always outweigh the idea of paying for it over a long period of time no matter if it is a stadium, transit project, or other public “investment”.

    This isn’t to say that nothing is worth doing, just that our current system has no ability to distinguish between good and bad investment.

  9. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 07/17/2015 - 01:47 pm.

    The enormity of what the Wilfs took us for–way above what any other team could even dream of getting from the public–makes me feel ashamed for us.

  10. Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 07/17/2015 - 02:53 pm.

    Scott Walker….

    …. approves of $250,000,000 for the Bucks Arena just days after slashing the University system of $250,000,000. How does the party of austerity justify this?

  11. Submitted by jim hughes on 07/17/2015 - 05:17 pm.


    If I could afford it, I’d put this up on billboards all around town.

  12. Submitted by Jeffrey Brenner on 07/17/2015 - 07:41 pm.


    I guess we can count pro sports teams and their owners part of the 47% that Mitt Romney said will never take responsibility for their lives and are only interested in what handouts government can give them. Somehow I get the feeling he didn’t mean them when he was making that speech.

  13. Submitted by Paul Rider on 07/20/2015 - 04:00 pm.

    My vote…

    …has gone to those who did not support this Wilf subsidy.
    So, who will grant me a subsidy on my property taxes, which are going through the roof in order to pay for this joke? Every time I look at the new stadium I just burn with rage. And I live quite nearby, so I have to see it each day…

  14. Submitted by William Duncan on 07/21/2015 - 08:31 am.


    A monument to crony capitalism, to runaway largesse, to supine government bowing before the alter of greed.

    I say turn the thing into a house of worship for ALL religions. Make Zigi clean the bathrooms.


  15. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/21/2015 - 10:06 am.

    Corruption pure and simple

    These stadium and arena deals are product of political corruption. We have a democracy that clearly establishes who any elected officials constituency is, yet our politicians routinely ignore their actual constituents in order to serve the wealthy. The bizarre thing about these stadium deals, especially this Vikings deal, was that there was no constituency for it. We had a Governor, a Mayor, and both parties in the legislator ignore their actual constituents in order to create a welfare program for an out of state billionaire.

    You can say: “well not one got unelected” but I think they did. I think the rural MN revolt was more about stadiums than gay marriage. We dumped two billion dollars into stadiums for billionaires in MPLS, as well as a new stadium on the U of M campus, (while tuition continued to creep out of reach for rural students) and another baseball stadium in St. Paul. My state senator keeps referring to the Vikings stadium as “public” infrastructure… who does he think he’s kidding? The Vikings aren’t even going to pay rent.

    • Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 07/22/2015 - 09:27 am.

      Paul, don’t lie about stadium being rent-free

      You can’t just make stuff up.

      The Vikings will pay 8.5 million in rent in 2016 with 3% increases until reaching 20 million in year 30. They are also required to put in capital improvements each year.

      • Submitted by jason myron on 07/22/2015 - 02:52 pm.

        and you think Zygi is goiug to write a check for that?

        No…he’s going to tack on a surcharge or a fee off of whatever he can ( he has a long list options) and siphon it off the very same face-painted rubes that took vacation time to fill the state capitol to lobby for the state to increase the value of his private investment for him. While there’s a certain schadenfreude in that, Zygi isn’t going to pony up for anything out of his own pocket.

      • Submitted by Dan Berg on 07/22/2015 - 04:51 pm.


        And it is a big but. That $8.5m for rent and $1.5m for capital improvments is only about 60% of the total needed to run and maintain the building. So it isn’t as though they are even starting to repay the public for the initial investment. They are in fact requiring ongoing subsidies every year they are there.

  16. Submitted by Hugh Gitlin on 07/22/2015 - 09:17 am.

    Tokyo & Paris

    Tokyo is building, using public financing, a whole slew of new athletic facilities for the 2020 Olympics, while Paris has bid for 2024.

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