Vikings to L.A.? Let’s cool it, and examine the process

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, right, who wants to keep the Vikings here, shakes hands with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney before Super Bowl XLV.
REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, right, who wants to keep the Vikings here, shakes hands with Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney before Super Bowl XLV.

Now that the Super Bowl is over, NFL talk will turn to the ongoing labor negotiations between the owners and players and, of course, to the health of some franchises, including the Vikings.

The collective bargaining agreement is set to expire in a month. The Vikings’ lease at the damaged Metrodome will expire after the 2011 season. Soon.

While there’s likely no truly “troubled” NFL franchise — don’t cry too much for anyone whose team’s value rises regularly and whose industry is a monopoly — the Vikings, San Diego Chargers, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars are regularly mentioned as potentially mobile properties.

Each franchise and its city have stadium issues.

Commissioner on record for keeping team here
It’s all about the possibility that a team could move to Los Angeles. Or at least use L.A. as a threat. Surely, L.A. movers and shakers are cranking up the heat, even as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell insists he wants teams to stay where they are.

He said so much when he visited the Twin Cities in December after the Dome collapse.

The man in charge doesn’t want the Vikings to move. Goodell hasn’t even hinted that’s on his agenda.

Still, we saw that the Star Tribune’s venerable Sid Hartman was banging the drums Sunday.

And other boosters will start banging soon, too, as various Vikings stadium proposals make their way to the Legislature.

We are not naïve. If Vikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf and the NFL moguls don’t see a serious stadium deal forming in a reasonable period of time here — a couple of years — there is a possibility the team could be put on wheels. Without a new stadium, it’s bound to happen someday.

Zygi Wilf
REUTERS/Eric Miller
Zygi Wilf

As with all of these situations, it’s up to the rest of us to figure out what — or if — it’s worth to keep them here, or to realize there isn’t a public interest — or rationale public funding plan — to keep the team here.

But, no matter what the sky-is-falling-types might say, an NFL team up-and-moving isn’t as easy as you getting in your car and driving to Des Moines. There are rules and procedures, and we thought now might be a good time to review them, what with threatening drumbeats sure to intensify.

Detailed NFL policy
We’ve attached here two important documents: the NFL’s “Policy and Procedures for Proposed Franchise Relocations” (PDF) and the agreement that laid the foundation for the policy; that’s a 1996 “Statement of Principles” (PDF) between the U.S. Conference of Mayors and the NFL.

You can read both for yourself, but there are some firm declarations and important hoops any NFL owner must jump through before moving a team. And the league has an important role here, too, which is good for any community. The league does seek stability, even if individual owners might not.

“League traditions disfavor relocations if a club has been well-supported and financially successful and is expected to remain so,” NFL policy reads. “Relocation … may be available, however, if a club’s viability in its home territory is threatened by circumstances that cannot be remedied by diligent efforts of the club working, as appropriate, in conjunction with the League Office, or if compelling League interests warrant a franchise relocation.”

OK, so a team could move.

But, it goes on: “Because League policy favors stable team-community relations, clubs are obligated to work diligently and in good faith to obtain and to maintain suitable stadium facilities in their home territories, and to operate in a manner that maximizes fan support in their current home community. A club may not, however, grant exclusive negotiating rights to a community or potential stadium landlord other than one in its current home territory.”

So, the Wilfs can’t guarantee Los Angeles officials that the Vikings will definitely head there.

Here’s where the fancy footwork comes in:

“If, having diligently engaged in good faith efforts, a club concludes that it cannot obtain a satisfactory resolution of its stadium needs, it may inform the League Office and the stadium landlord or other relevant public authorities that it has reached a stalemate in those negotiations,” the rules read.

We aren’t there yet.

Detailed requirements
But here’s what is required next:

The team must give written notice to the commissioner that it wants to move, and publish the notice in local newspapers.

“The notice must be filed no later than February 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur,” it reads, so, theoretically, we have an entire year to deal with this Vikings stadium problem.

They are not going to move this year … unless their Metrodome lease is somehow voided by the downed roof. (We will know the status of roof repairing this week. Just how quickly the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission can fix the roof could cause another major kerfuffle with the Wilfs and the league.)

Back to the relocation rules … After notice is given, “Interested parties will have an opportunity to provide oral and/or written comments regarding the proposed transfer, including at a public hearing conducted by the League in the community from which the team seeks to relocate.
Key factors: “The adequacy of the stadium in which the club played its home games in the previous season; the willingness of the stadium authority or the community to remedy any deficiencies in or to replace such facility, including whether there are legislative or referenda proposals pending to address these issues; and the characteristics of the stadium in the proposed new community” — that is, in the current case, Los Angeles, where there is no stadium under construction yet.

One other hurdle for the Wilfs: Any owner who attempts to move his franchise from a middle-sized market like the Twin Cities to Los Angeles will be required to pay a substantial — many hundreds of millions of dollars — transfer fee to the other NFL owners for taking that lucrative Southern California market.

So, it’s not gonna be easy to quietly drag the Vikings to L.A. It’s doable, but filled with various checkpoints along the way. Even sports team owners have to follow the rules of the game.

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 (8)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/07/2011 - 09:50 am.

    Those are the NFL’s rules, but it’s also important to understand that there is no NFL rule that requires the NFL to follow them. The NFL decision making process is increasingly dominated by high income, highly leveraged owners like Jerry Jones of Dallas. The view low revenue teams like the Vikings as freeloaders, benefiting from the investments they are making in their terms while being exempt from the risks they have taken on. That situation will not last forever.

    If a consensus is reached in the NFL, that it’s in the best interest of the league for a franchise to move, and the owner of the franchise decides he wants to move, the franchise will move. There might be some effort to nominally comply with the rules, but I wouldn’t count on even that.

  2. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 02/07/2011 - 11:54 am.

    Jay, Zygi has never threatened to move the Vikings, but he, through his minions, has said he might sell the team to someone who could move the franchise.

    The February 15 deadline poses some interesting possibilities. We know Zygi has to play the last year of his Metrodome lease in the Metrodome, and I suspect he’ll demand a new Metrodome roof to play there, and if he’s forced to play the last year of his lease in TCF Bank stadium, he’ll demand a subsidy for lost revenues.

    If he’s going to move or sell the franchise to someone who will move the franchise… they could announce their 2012 move by February 15, 2012… and if they don’t do anything stupid like selling tickets to a 2012 season in MN, they should be free to go.

    Have the Vikings acted in “good faith?” Now that just might be the real question…

  3. Submitted by Wayne Swickley on 02/07/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    Just remember, folks, Sid Hartman did his best to get us all to believe that the Vikings were on their way to San Antonio, too. What he writes should be taken with a grain of salt WELL before breaking out the smelling salts. The sky was still up there this morning, Sid.

  4. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 02/07/2011 - 01:49 pm.

    Politically, pro-football owners don’t want to seem like vultures. at bars, the “midnight run” of the Browns has taken on the timeless legendary quality of a wardrobe malfunction in a super bowl halftime show. I recall in 2005 Al Gore decreed that we had reached the “tipping point” and the Superdome became the “sewerdome”.

    By contrast, the Twin Cities is not generally considered a distressed area. It has lower than average unemployment and both Minneapolis and Hennepin County governments have unusually high credit scores. This is not exactly the mix for national public sympathy for our town.

    Also, a new Vikings stadium has been discussed to death for at least a decade. You do not need Wikeleaks to know that the Vikings lease ends in 2011.

    The point is that few tears will be shed nationally if the Vikings leave Minnesota.

    Something really scarey to ponder after yesterday’s Superbowl. If the Vikings leave we will have no alternative but to become Packers fans!!!

  5. Submitted by Nick Wood on 02/07/2011 - 02:06 pm.

    Over the years, the metrodome has been used for all manner of activities besides a venue for the Vikings (and Twins).

    Building a new stadium is always couched in terms of billionaire owners demanding public subsidies so they can further line their pockets at the expense of taxpayers.

    I think it would be very interesting to see a simple run down on the financials for the metrodome over its life — cost, maintenance, income (from All activities).

    My guess is that the metrodome has proved to be a very profitable venture from the public’s point of view. And I’d like to know if I’m right…………

  6. Submitted by Gregory Lang on 02/07/2011 - 04:58 pm.

    The Metrodome debt is long paid off and the Metro Sports Commission has a substantial “nest egg” from the Bloomington land sale, the Metrodome drink tax and operating revenues. I heard a figure of $20 million mentioned a few years back but don’t hold me to that.

    That said, I heard that it costs two million per year when the Silverdome was kept in “inflated mothball” state.

    That said, back when the Twins were still there the Metrodome was supposed to be the only major stadium in the US where the operating revenue covered all operating expenses. When Seattle demolished their concrete dome stadium a few years back it still had a debt of $120 million left to pay.

    Basically, like public transit, a large stadium does not lead itself to a profitable private business model. Paradoxically, if passenger demand on the Hiawatha Light rail line doubled the subsidy per passenger would decrease but the needed total operating subsidy would increase. It would be virtually impossible to devise a business model where a privately owned large stadium would be profitable. This is especially so in a smaller market like the Twin Cities.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 02/07/2011 - 05:10 pm.

    I think it’s possible that Zygi might regard the collapse of the Metrodome ceiling as a violation of his lease there, relieving him of a further obligation to perform. Whether or not he does that, it also seems to me possible that the Vikings have played their last game at the Metrodome, and that they will play next years games at the new Gophers Stadium, or leave altogether. The implications of that are something to think about.

  8. Submitted by Tony Spadafora on 02/07/2011 - 05:22 pm.

    Jan, you are wrong. The stadium commission has been losing money since 2002 when it gave concession to the Vikings, Twins, and Gophers when the Twins 20-year lease was up.

    I recall commission “cash reserves” in the low to mid-$20 millions… they are now down in the $11 million range.

    Of course some of lower cash reserves is related to capital improvements to the dome.

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