Sport$ Biz: Dome days; a big score for Lottery’s Vike tickets; the Twins and Tom Emmer; Gophers budget

A few dribs and drabs from the sports business world have bounced across my screen recently. So, I thought I’d weigh in …

The Dome, its cost, its future …
I read with interest in the New York Times last week about how some old stadiums are left with tons of debt even after they are abandoned by their tenant teams.

First major point: The Metrodome is not in that category. The Dome’s debt was long paid off, and, in fact, there are reserves of about $14 million.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission is holding regular meetings to discuss how to keep the Dome’s finances afloat, now that the Twins and University of Minnesota football team have moved on to their own new stadiums.

Fairly or unfairly, the Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Dome, has taken its lumps over the years, but no one can argue with the agency’s attention to the stadium’s budget. The commission has been trying its best to keep the 30-year-old stadium functioning well. Fact is, a Dome without the Vikings is simply not viable. Projections show that even if the Vikings stay in the Dome through 2016, necessary repairs and maintenance would cause that reserves to dwindle to $200,000.

That’s not sustainable, of course, and a story and discussion for another day.

But, more importantly, I was shocked, just shocked, that the great New York Times was so inaccurate in detailing the Dome’s original finances.

The Times claims in a nearly impossible-to-read chart that the Metrodome cost $189 million to build and that 25 percent of that cost came from private dollars.

Wrong, oh Great Gray Lady. The actual cost in 1982 dollars was about $124 million, with about $23 million coming from private sources, or about 18 percent. Those figures (PDF) were submitted to the Legislature way back in 1995 during one of the various stadium task forces.

In today’s dollars, the Dome would have cost about $272 million … or about $600 million less than what we’re looking at for a new Vikings stadium, which, like it or not, will be on the legislative agenda in January … along with the related future of the Dome.

Vikings Lottery tickets score big
Talk of using gambling money to fund a Vikings stadium will surely be revived next Legislative session. Dedicating a general fund revenue stream is always dicey, but a Vikings-focused Lottery game that launched eight weeks ago has been a resounding success, Lottery marketing director John Mellein told MinnPost Tuesday.

So far, $5.7 million worth of $10 Vikings Lottery tickets have been sold. At this rate, Mellein said, Vikings’ ticket sales could top $12 million by the end of football season; the Minnesota Lottery’s goal was $9 million, so the team’s logo on the ticket must mean something to Lottery players.

Could it be a small piece of a finance plan?

Tom Emmer and the Twins
When GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer’s first campaign commercial was released Aug. 22, it was warm and fuzzy and family-centric. But there was something jarring about it. Emmer’s son Tripp was wearing a Twins cap.

Pro sports teams and leagues protect their logos and trademarks, so it got me to wondering: With Twins President Dave St. Peter a one-time Rob Hahn backer (St. Peter’s biggest loss of the season) and with team board leader Jim Pohlad a very consistent Democratic Party contributor, what did the Twins think of the TC hat smack dab in the middle of the GOP ad?

Well, actually, it wasn’t a big deal to them, until MinnPost pointed it out. And then it still wasn’t a big deal. Team spokesman Kevin Smith wanted to make it clear this wasn’t “product placement” for the Twins. The team isn’t endorsing Emmer, Smith added. As far as he knew, the Emmer campaign didn’t seek permission, but that’s OK.

“Just a teenage kid who’s a Twins fan,” Smith said.

Case closed … until former college hockey player Emmer starts campaigning in a Wild jersey.

Gophers’ budget
Last month, a report from a Penn State branch campus — Penn State York — was released, and it was good news for the University of Minnesota’s athletic department.

This was the less-than-robust study: It measured how many points athletic programs scored in the broad-based Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup competition in relation to their budget. The Directors’ Cup standings are based on success in all teams, from women’s field hockey to football, from men’s cross-country to women’s basketball.

Because the Gophers’ overall athletics budget is about $70 million and because, across the board, ‘U’ teams perform fairly well, Charles Kennedy, a political science instructor at Penn State York, said Minnesota finished first in the Big Ten’s “Cost Effectiveness” standings. That is, for the amount the ‘U’ spends for sports, it gets a good return on victories, he said. Of course, in light of Saturday’s football loss to South Dakota, it might not seem that way.

But, in reaction to that loss, I see that the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman allows Gophers coach Tim Brewster to complain about Minnesota’s allegedly paltry football budget of nearly $10 million.

Ohio State spends more than three times that much for its gridiron product, Hartman reports. Something that’s deeply troubling: Ohio State has four strength coaches and the Gophers only two.

The rising costs of college football continue to keep athletics’ budgets out of whack. Nationally, in times of state cutbacks and rising tuition, athletics budgets are growing at faster rates than academic budgets. As noted in a recent Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics Report, university presidents across the nation are seeking reforms . . . again. And probably to no avail.

(Full disclosure: I’ve done some writing and consulting for the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.)

So, even in the wake of the loss to South Dakota, maybe we should applaud Gophers’ athletics director Joel Maturi for keeping down costs … and not point at excessive spending as the model we want to attain. But I fear this assertion will be drowned out by the boos of the boosters.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 09/15/2010 - 11:29 am.

    Jay, I don’t agree with simply using the monikers of “public” and “private” stadium funding. It’s too easy to manipulate false impressions when using only the “public” and “private” terms.

    It’s the source of the funding that’s most important.

    In my book, there are three kinds of stadium funding.

    #1 public funding from public sources… i.e. a tax not related to the stadium like the 0.15% Hennepin Co. sales tax that’s paying for the Twins stadium.

    #2 public funding from private sources… i.e. income tax exempt sur-taxes (user fees) on tickets, concession, parking, etc… seat license fees, or any other stadium related revenue stream that goes to the stadium commission and into stadium funding or MO expenses.

    #3 private funding from private sources… funding from team owners or other private sources… naming-rights if the sponsor’s fee is paid to the team, surcharges that go to the team owner and into stadium funding, NFL funding, developments rights, etc. etc.

    Wasn’t a big chunk of the Metrodome’s funding public funding from private sources?

    Stadium funding from #1 should be minimized. Stadium funding from #2 and #3 should be maximized.

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