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With Vikings stadium issue heating up, NFL Commissioner Goodell steps in, right on schedule

Roger Goodell on a Vikings stadium: "We had a series of meetings today ... they were all productive."
MinnPost photo by Jay Weiner
Roger Goodell on a Vikings stadium: “We had a series of meetings today … they were all productive.”

Before the blizzard came and the roof collapsed, before the Vikings played one “home game” in Detroit and another at the Gophers’ stadium last night, Roger Goodell already had made his plans.

Two weeks ago, word spread that the NFL commissioner, recently labeled the most influential person in sports by the trade publication Sports Business Journal, was set to visit the Twin Cities and lobby for a new Vikings stadium.

Five days later, the Metrodome deflated and the Purple stadium issue, long percolating, moved to a serious simmer. Call Goodell’s timing remarkably fortuitous, but also noteworthy. History shows that when a league commissioner shows up, sports facility debates are in their final chapters.

It seems as if we are moving into that turbulent phase.

Ninety minutes before game time Monday, as the wind chill remained at a balmy 9 degrees and the afternoon snows tapered off to a wimpy shower, Goodell didn’t talk tough, just clearly.

The former public relations intern at the NFL who worked his way up to league CEO had his talking points down pat after meeting with Gov.-elect Mark Dayton, a score of CEOs who belong to the Minnesota Business Partnership, Speaker Kurt Zellars, DFL leaders Tom Bakk and Paul Thissen, and some union leaders.

“We had a series of meetings today … they were all productive,” Goodell said at a news conference. “I think there is a recognition that we need to find a long-term solution for the Vikings here and get a new stadium built. We are all going to work together … We are all going to be working hard to develop those solutions and keep the Vikings here in Minnesota.”

Asked if he warned Dayton that if no deal is struck in 2011, the team could move, Goodell didn’t bite, repeating, “We are all working to try and find solutions.”

But the son of U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell of New York added that he was willing – “more than happy” – to play a role in helping local political and business leaders figure out a plan.

Goodell visited the damaged Dome – the condition of which he called “quite startling” – but didn’t meet with representatives of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns and operates the Dome. As the Vikings landlord, the commission has control of the team’s lease through the end of the 2011 season.

As the calendar turns to January, the expectation is that the Legislature, now controlled by the Republicans, will have to generate a stadium bill, not the new governor. Dayton said as much Monday after meeting with Goodell and Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.

Funny how that works. The pro football stadium dilemma – virtually ignored by Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty over the past eight years – is now fully in the lap of the GOP Legislature.

And it was Dayton, not Goodell, who ratcheted up the potential pace, telling reporters, according to the Star Tribune, “I really believe 2011 is the final opportunity for all of us to put forward a proposal … I think the writing’s on the wall. We need to get it done in this session.”

The governor-elect told reporters a few others things, some curious:

* “User fees” could be in the mix. That would be, among other things, ticket taxes and taxes on sports memorabilia and, maybe, hotel-motel, car rental “voluntary” taxes. These are revenue streams oft-mentioned in past Minnesota stadium plans.

But, when sharp pencil is put to paper, these slices never seem to add up to a full finance plan. Other forms of publicly generated dollars enter the package.

We await a plan that adds up.

* Dayton also said that the team needs to name its preferred site “within weeks,” according to the Pioneer Press, and state its preference between a roofed stadium or open-air facility. This is a marching order the Vikings earlier received from legislative leaders.

Presumably, the public sector will have a say in the site, too; after all, public money is bound to be used, and there is sure to be an argument that this stadium is a public asset.

Related infrastructure costs must also be considered. If it’s all private, the Wilfs can pick their location; if it’s mostly public, you’d think the public sector might get a vote.

Zygi Wilf, who watched the game on the sidelines without a hat, told the Star Tribune’s Sid Hartman that he is opposed to a roofed stadium. “Football should be played outdoors,” Hartman quoted Wilf as saying.

No roofs at all?

Hmmm. Let’s try to put this quickly into perspective.

Most political observers believe a roofed stadium is the only path to getting votes from lawmakers in Greater Minnesota, even if it increases the cost of the facility.

An unroofed Vikings facility would mean three open-air stadiums (Twins, Gophers, Vikes) built in the Twin Cities in a 10-year period at a cost of – let’s say, $1.5 billion or more – with none capable of hosting large indoor events.

Add it up and, on an annual basis, all three roofless stadiums — combined — might be able to play host to not many more than 100 to 120 events every year. But a new Vikings’ covered stadium would be more expensive to build and maintain. This is going to be a key component of the final debate.

Watching this all unfold during the opening weeks of the legislative session as the lawmakers wrestle with a $6 billion deficit should be … well, fascinating.

So, it seems, a stadium finance stew needs to be concocted with a collection of ingredients and some left by the wayside. Apparently, there will be no new statewide taxes. Despite expected conversations about increased state-backed gaming, there’s a split within the GOP on that. While some Republican lawmakers have their eyes on a Minneapolis Convention Center tax, city mothers and fathers are, so far, publicly opposed to having that in the mix. Then, there are various user “fees” for stadium customers, fans and tourists that could be thrown in.

If the game at TCF Bank Stadium was some sort of test run for next year – with the ‘U’ stadium an extended-stay hotel for the Vikings while they await a new stadium — Goodell didn’t want to go there. Not yet.

“Well, obviously, [the Dome] is still not repaired,” he said. “That will become our focus obviously once we get past this game.” Monday’s game against the Bears was the Vikings final home game of the season, and that Dome lease is in place for next season, so let’s see how this plays out.

Later, Goodell added that if a new Vikings stadium were built on the Dome site and TCF Bank Stadium needs to be an interim home, “those discussions are ones we will have to have.”

The Vikings relocating to another city? Nary a threat.

“I certainly hope not,” he said. “Our focus is entirely on making sure they are successful here in this market.”

Other stuff

Two football-related issues were raised during Goodell’s news conference that could affect the upcoming legislative debate.

One is the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players union, which is set to expire after this season. “We are not where we need to be,” he said. “We are not as close as I would like to be.”

A 2011 season in doubt – a stadium debate tainted by an owners’ lockout — will not help stadium supporters at the Legislature.

A component of the negotiations between the NFL Players Association and league management is extending the regular season to 18 games. That raises the possibility of the regular season and playoffs going a bit later into the winter.

Might that make a retractable roof even more of an issue in the stadium debate, despite Wilf’s protestations? Possibly.

As romantic as outdoor football during Christmas week may seem – and it was idiosyncratically Minnesota fun to the hilt — it wasn’t exactly cozy last night in the ‘U’ stadium. More nostalgic.

Former Vikings coach Bud Grant was at midfield for the game’s opening coin toss, as if to signal that, indeed, this Vikings game was a throwback. And then at halftime – when the 50 greatest Vikings were honored in this, the Vikings’ 50th season – Grant walked slowly back onto the field without a jacket and only in short sleeves, as if he were about to mow the lawn. Ten degrees colder, and Coach Grant might have been in his underwear.

At that moment, the fading snow seemed to pick up to honor “The Old Trapper,” an icon for outdoor football, a symbol of a sports franchise – even a state — that still needs to decide what it wants and how to get it built.

MinnPost’s Jay Weiner has covered sports facilities issues in the Twin Cities since 1993 and the demise of Met Center and public buyout of Target Center. He is the author of “Stadium Games: Fifty Years of Big League Greed and Bush League Boondoggles,” University of Minnesota Press, 2000.


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Comments (12)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/21/2010 - 11:19 am.

    The stadium is in the same lap it has always been, the legislature’s. And the key to getting a stadium is the same as it has always been; the crafting of a political strategy that both gets the stadium built, while allowing the politicians to avoid visible responsibility for making the uncomfortable deals that get a stadium deal done.

    I thought Jay’s statement that outstate legislators would oppose a stadium without a roof was interesting. My own, and admittedly not as well informed opinion as Jay’s, is that their main condition for supporting a stadium deal is that their constituents won’t have to pay for it. The fact that the new Twins Stadium was to be roofless didn’t seem to be an insuperable barrier to gaining outstate legislative support, and football games, unlike baseball games, are not canceled because of bad weather.

    The key to any stadium deal this session is the de-linking of the deal from the issue of the budget deficit. The obvious question is, how can we afford a new Vikings Stadium when we are faced with a 6.2 billion dollar deficit with no additional revenue? If stadium proponents are to be successful, they will have find a way not to answer that question, but to get around it, or otherwise negate it.

  2. Submitted by Bill Schletzer on 12/21/2010 - 12:23 pm.

    Like the phony way the Twins stadium got built without the referendum, this will get jammed through against the will of the majority.

    Anyone notice how much baseball tickets increased this year? They now cost as much as the vikings cheap seats. Who but a corporation or a wealthy person will be able to afford Vikings tickets except for the boneheads who paint themselves purple, get drunk and pose for the cameras.

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 12/21/2010 - 02:15 pm.

    The exact reason why Wilf says he doesn’t want a roof is that when the stadium is built with a roof he then won’t have to pay for any of the roof structure, wall structure and footings associated with supporting the roof.

    That is truly a significant portion of the costs of a stadium. As such, eliminating all of the cost of the roof from his share of the costs will save him perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars.

    If he insist on building at the Metrodome site, this means that the public entity sponsoring the stadium will have to insist on a roofed venue to even hope to ever recover the costs of the stadium by attracting other events. And Wilf gets a roofed stadium at a significant discount in his costs.

    That’s how the game is played.

    That’s why there was an absolute insistence on playing the game at TCF. It shows the viability of the alternative stadium during demolition of the Metrodome and construction of the new stadium and lends force to Wilf’s bogus assertion that he doesn’t want a roof.

  4. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 12/21/2010 - 02:46 pm.

    It seems doubtful to me that a roofed stadium could recover anything like the cost of the roof by sponsoring other events.

  5. Submitted by Francis Ferrell on 12/21/2010 - 03:13 pm.

    Why can’t we stop the bellyaching and build a “multi-use” Vikings stadium with a retractable roof? –A Vikings Stadium under the control and auspices of a reformed & revamped Metropolitan Sports Facilities commission!

    The site for such could be a sports complex and business development area on the grounds of the former US DoD Ammunition Facilities in Arden Hills. The state could declare the land abandoned and obtain the land for $1.00 under ’eminent domain’ statutes before the land goes on the auction block. Arden Hills and the state would be beneficiaries of such a deal.

    Once the land is acquired then bid warrants could be issued for developers to develop the site and build the multiple use, retractable roof stadium. The stadium would be financed by developer subsidies, a 1/2% state sales tax, user fees, and leasing incomes.

    The state will own the stadium with conditions:
    IE-a 40-year Viking lease with no-move, no-sell ‘skip town’ clauses;
    If the team is ever sold the new owners are responsible for lease and stadium contracts for the time duration en total; the stadium venue will be multiple usage for a variety of events etc. under the monetary control of the Sports Facilities Commission unless the Vikings book the event; and,
    The whole state [1/2%] sale tax will be solely delegated to paying off the stadium debt &/or operations etc. subject to “NOT” being put in the state’s general operating revenue funds; and, local or municipal real estate tax revenues will be going to Arden Hills.

    The object of this great ‘public works’ endeavor is to house the Minnesota Vikings; provide Minnesota with a state-of-the-art 21st Century multiple use event venue facility; and, be a source of revenues for local businesses, the state, and local governments. That’s not counting the hundreds of related employment[jobs] opportunities that could be realized.

    Again, the future of the Vikings and the future of part of the state’s business economy is in the hands of the Legislature and state Government. Are we going to whine and complain there is no money or want for such an enterprising economic boon?

    “Build it and they will come!”–an old axiom states.
    The Interstate Highway System will as a dream at first and now look at it. Millions of folks use it daily.
    The transcontinental railroads were a dream at first but they helped a nation grow.
    The Wright Brothers were told that birds could only sustain total flight, now millions fly daily.
    They said it was a useless rock [taconite] at the start of the 20th Century. A UofM professor, had a dream that this lowly rock could be utilized. Today, around the globe, where iron ore is mined taconite is processed into high-grade ore pellets for immediate steel processing. All because a UofM Math professor saw realities in a dream.
    The Mall of America was a dream that was laughed and scoffed at but when was the last time you were there for shopping?
    Last, but not least, the Twins Target field was a dream and it too was scoffed at or maligned. Thousands of fans now call it the best hometown ballpark venue in the nation.

    When Minnesotans stop complaining or fighting among themselves when things need to be change for the sake of progress and the future great things can be accomplished. That is the American Way!

  6. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 12/21/2010 - 07:23 pm.

    Whatever. As a tay paying voter in Minneapolis my opinion will have no bearing on what happens, but what the heck, here’s my two cents.

    Is the NFL going to pony up here? After all, without Minnesota they got nothing between Chicago and Seatle. Between the Canadian border and Kansas City or Denver. That’s a large number of ticket buying, NFL merchandise purchasing mid western Americans. Not to mention their children, the next generation of pockets for them to pick.

    I am hoping that our politicians understand that they do have some power here. Not to mention that no one else has any money to build these yahoos a stadium if they decided to leave. LA? California is broke, if the could they’d be filing for bankruptcy and their going build a stadium for these jokers? Right.

  7. Submitted by Henk Tobias on 12/21/2010 - 07:32 pm.

    Francis, if these things are so great why do I have to keep paying for them? Shouldn’t the guys making the money off them pay? Twin stadium? Ha, the bloom will be off that rose soon enough. Once the novelty wears off, it’ll be a struggle to keep that thing paying for its own upkeep, but don’t worry, as a tax paying resident of Minneapolis I am sure I’ll be paying for that too. Right now I pay more for everything I buy so you can have your stadiums, I’ve never in my life bought a ticket to any sporting event and yet I pay more for these millionaire playgrounds then the fans do, why is that? What economic value am I getting from it. Sure someone’s making a bundle but that defrays none of the costs that are shifted onto me. I pay and I don’t even get a thank you.

  8. Submitted by scott cantor on 12/21/2010 - 09:06 pm.

    I propose a $100 per ticket tax against the state’s $800 million share of the construction cost. That’s enough to pay off the stadium in only 20 years, just in time to demolish it for the next one. Of course, to cover operating expenses we might have to bump that up to $110 or $120 per ticket, but we can work out those details in committee.

  9. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 12/21/2010 - 10:45 pm.

    Here’s why they call him Zygi.

    August 2005… Zygi said he wanted an open-air stadium with 8500 indoor Club seats, Anoka County wanted a fixed-roof stadium and the compromise was the retractable-roof “Northern Lights” proposal.

    Summer 2006… Zygi walks away from the Anoka Co. proposal and a retractable-roof stadium on the Metrodome site is discussed.

    April 2007… Plans for a retractable-roof stadium on the Metrodome site are presented.

    August 2007… 35W BRIDGE COLLAPSES.

    December 2009… Plans for a scaled back retractable-roof stadium on the Metrodome site are presented.

    Spring 2010… Zygi says he’d settle for a fixed-roof stadium to reduce costs.

    December 2010… Zygi is back to wanting an open-air stadium.

    He’s zigging and he’s zagging, and that’s why they call him Zygi.

  10. Submitted by Brian Simon on 12/22/2010 - 12:39 pm.

    Francis Ferrell writes
    “The stadium would be financed by developer subsidies, a 1/2% state sales tax, user fees, and leasing incomes.”

    No way does the GOP-controlled Legislature pass a 1/2% statewide sales tax. They’ll try for gambling revenue, user fees, and perhaps another stick-it-to-the-liberals-in-Hennepin-county sales tax.

    Left unanswered is why taxpayers foot the bill for the opportunity to be marketed to. Don’t forget, voters of Minnesota, the professional sports business model is Ad driven. The bulk of their revenue comes from selling broadcast rights, and as we know, even paid-for TV on cable and satellite comes with a litany of advertisements. The multi-billionaire owners are making their money by getting us to pay for their sports facilites, that serve primarily as TV studios so they can broadcast to the zombified masses ceaseless streams of advertisements.

    Fund education? Waste of money!

    Fund healthcare? You don’t get sick sitting on the couch all day!

    Fund public defenders? Only criminals need the justice system!

    But whatever you do, don’t mess with the corporate welfare. We’d be a 2nd class metro without it. All the rest is frivolous waste.

  11. Submitted by Nehemiah Nesheim on 12/23/2010 - 01:01 am.

    I really hope they don’t build the stadium in Arden Hills. I don’t think we need a suburban stadium. I think the Metrodome is at the perfect location with access to many high ways, streets, the light rail and other transit. Not only that, but the area around the Metrodome is filled with many businesses, bars, and restaurants that rely on the Metrodome. If a stadium is built in the suburbs according to what I read, the construction of 1,600 single family homes will go along with it. I think we should really focus on building in rather than spreading out. If we build in Arden hills not only will it hurt Downtown Minneapolis, it will also encourage suburban sprawl.

  12. Submitted by Josh Swenson on 04/14/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    I think that there needs to be a lot more regulation and control with what is going down with the NFL at the moment. I mean with the speculation that they might not even have a season this year is just crazy. I would really like to see that everyone who is working and is involved in this. Just make it fair for everyone and that can make us all happy.

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