As silly Sid Hartman items go, today’s was a doozy.
And, privately, University of Minnesota officials and Vikings executives are shaking their heads and mumbling about the origins of Hartman’s notion today that the NFL team can — maybe even will — move permanently into an expanded TCF Bank Stadium on campus rather than a new made-for-the-Vikes facility in downtown Minneapolis.
Hartman, the veteran Star Tribune and WCCO Radio personality, hasn’t been taken seriously by most local sports executives for a while now, but today’s column was particularly stunning and misleading.
Hartman, quoting U President Robert Bruininks, writes that a clear option for Vikings’ owner Zygi Wilf in his quest for a new stadium is to share the Gophers’ new edifice.
Now, three years ago, before the U stadium funding plan was passed by the Legislature, that would have been a great idea; I long argued for a shared Vikings-Gophers stadium. Indeed, under former Vikes owner Red McCombs, there were discussions about such a dual-team facility. If Gov. Tim Pawlenty had intervened and banged heads, perhaps the state could have saved hundreds of millions of dollars by forcing a shotgun wedding between the two football enterprises to share one stadium.
Instead, assuming the Vikings get a new stadium in the next three to five years, we’ll have a sparkling new $288.5 million Gophers stadium — which, by the way, is rising spectacularly along University Avenue right now — about a mile away from a redone Metrodome for the Vikings at a cost of $900 million or more.
That’s $1.3 billion in football stadiums. We could have planned a bit better, folks.
But in the absence of political leadership, the moment to share passed.
Substantial reasons against a joint stadium
Reasons that a Vikings-Gophers marriage never happened were substantial. First, the Vikings want at least 65,000 seats. The Gophers wanted a more intimate 50,000-seat stadium. The Vikings need revenues comparable to other NFL teams, mostly generated by high-priced premium seating.
The Vikes in any new palace would seek about 150 luxury suites and 9,000 fancy-dan club seats.
The Gophers’ new stamping ground has 37 suites and about 1,700 club seats.
A new Vikings’ stadium is all about massive revenue-generation. TCF Bank Stadium doesn’t come close. Indeed, one key revenue generator is naming rights on these sports halls; the Gophers already pocket TCF’s dough.
In Hartman’s item, he and Bruininks talk about the expandability of TCF Bank Stadium, from 50,000 to 80,000 seats as if it’s like adding a few more bridge chairs around your table for Thanksgiving.
If 30,000 seats were ever to be added — the Vikings don’t need that many — the costs would be substantial and are, right now, completely unknown. It would not be an easy architectural or construction task because an additional tier would have to be built atop the new Gophers’ structure.
Lester Bagley, Vikings stadium development and public affairs vice president, praised Bruininks for being “a team player” and trying to help the Vikings. However, Bagley told MinnPost today, “It’s not just about the number of seats … This [expansion at TCF stadium] doesn’t work from a business perspective.”
Plus, the major concerns expressed when the Gophers and Vikings were in their mating dance remain: limited parking for Vikings’ fans, community concerns about added events, and Monday night games during the school year, to name a few.
Of course, there’s been talk that — if a new Vikings stadium is ever funded — the NFL team would use the Gophers’ stadium on an interim basis. Maybe some jury-rigged seating section could be added to aid in Vikings revenue generation. But 30,000?
University spokesman Dan Wolter told MinnPost today that there have been no “substantive talks” with the Vikings about any sort of expansion, temporary, permanent or otherwise. He noted that the university is mindful of community concerns about 10 additional football games and 65,000 people invading the campus neighborhood.
But silly talk like Hartman’s item only muddles what’s sure to be a very difficult debate at the Legislature over the next two or three years.
One other thing: Hartman writes that if the Vikings and Gophers shared the on-campus, open-air stadium for football, then “the Metrodome could be kept for events that need a roof, including the NCAA basketball tournaments.”
May we ask who’s going to pay to keep the lights on and roof afloat at the Dome? The Gophers, Vikings and Twins won’t be tenants anymore.
Silly, silly, silly.