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Pro-stadium politicians bask in Minnesota’s Super Bowl win

Minnesota Vikings
Rep. Morrie Lanning: “It’s not just the Super Bowl. It’s a $400 million project being built around the new stadium. I don’t know how anybody can now feel that this was a bad deal.’’

It was a super day for a handful of Minnesota politicians who a couple of years ago received considerable wrath from colleagues and the public for pushing a $498 million Vikings’ stadium bill through a torturous process.

Gov. Mark Dayton, former Rep. Morrie Lanning and Sen. Julie Rosen hung together through bad and worse until the deal was done in the 2012 session. That’s one Democrat and two Republicans, if you’re counting.

“We were always together on this,’’ recalled Rosen of the push to build the stadium that Tuesday became the 2018 Super Bowl site.

Lanning, who lives in Moorhead, retired after more than a decade of working on stadium bills. Word that Minneapolis will be a Super Bowl site pleased him mightily. But that’s just a one-time thing.

“I’d tell the skeptics to look at what’s happening around this,’’ Lanning said. “It’s not just the Super Bowl. It’s a $400 million project being built around the new stadium. I don’t know how anybody can now feel that this was a bad deal.’’

Lanning has special praise for two Minneapolis politicians who often were very much alone: Former Mayor R.T. Rybak and city council president Barb Johnson. 

“I marvel at what they did,’’ Lanning said. “They did an extraordinary job of holding together a 7-6 majority on the city council to support the project.’’ 

Hodges: a foe turned cheerleader

To this day, the political opposition thrown up by Minneapolis politicians for a Minneapolis project bewilders Lanning.

All but a handful of the members of the Minneapolis legislative delegation opposed the measure. In the House, Susan Allen, Karen Clark, Jim Davnie, Marion Greene, Frank Hornstein, Phyllis Kahn, Diane Loeffler, Joe Mullery, Jean Wagenius all voted “no” on the stadium bill. Paul Thissen and Bobby Joe Champion voted yes.

In the Senate, Scott Dibble, Kari Dziedzic and Jeff Hayden were “no’’ votes; Linda Higgins and Ken Kelash voted in support.

Former Rep. Morrie Lanning
Former Rep. Morrie Lanning

But being a politician means never having to say “I might have been wrong.’’

The classic example of that on Tuesday was the performance of Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges.

“The Super Bowl is coming!’’ she said. “I could not be more excited.’’

That’s fine, but …

Had Hodges, and not Rybak, been mayor in 2012, there would be no new stadium, no $400 million development around the new stadium, no Super Bowl, no renovation of the Target Center, etc., etc. 

As a council member, Hodges was a proud and strong stadium-package foe. No problem there. But now she’s a cheerleader?

“Today is about the Super Bowl,’’ the mayor said in response to questions about her former stadium position. “I’ve worked my tail off (since stadium bill passage) to see that we get the most out of this; to make this work.’’

Both Rybak and Johnson say that once the legislature passed the stadium project, Hodges has been diligent in “making it work.’’

‘The economics of pro sports stinks’

Recall, it’s the state with the big cash stake in the $1 billion project. The state is coming up with $348 million for the stadium.

But it was the city’s portion — $150 million — that was crucial to the project and, given the city’s politics, the most difficult to garner.

“Look,’’ said Rybak, “I understand the opponents. I think the economics of pro sports stinks.’’

What got Rybak and Johnson to push for the deal was using the sales taxes on the convention center, which were scheduled to blink off in 2020, to be shifted to the stadium project and Target Center’s refurbishment without having to raise new tax money.

Sen. Julie Rosen
Sen. Julie Rosen

“Without that,’’ said Rybak, “we were ready to walk away from the deal.’’

Rybak insists that the city’s stadium-deal formula has saved city property taxpayers money. Target Center, he explained, no longer is a giant debt on city taxpayers because of the stadium deal.

Opponents would note the property tax benefits were front-loaded; had the stadium not been built, millions of now-obligated sales-tax dollars annually would’ve been available in the 2020s and beyond for property tax relief or other building projects perhaps more crucial to core city functions.

But when it comes to construction, Rybak is elated at the “catalyst’’ the stadium deal has been. He ticks off the development around the new stadium, and Target Center’s renovation, which he says has led to Block E’s resurrection once the Mayo Clinic moves in. The Super Bowl is just one more plus.

The key vote who lost her job

The city’s key swing player, Johnson insists, was Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy, who switched from being a stadium foe to a proponent, giving the council the needed 7-6 stadium majority.

It should be noted that vote might have been costly to Colvin Roy. A year ago, she was not endorsed at her DFL convention, and called it quits after a dozen years on the council.

Rybak and Johnson also made a key decision, Johnson said.

“We pushed for the Metrodome site,’’ she said.

Former Mayor R.T. Rybak
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen
Former Mayor R.T. Rybak

And that, she said, simplified everything for doubters. (Remember, some pushed for the stadium to be built near the Basilica; others wanted it closer to Target Field.)

“We had the land, people knew where it was, they know how to use that location,’’ she said.

Every other site that was considered would have involved costly land purchases.

Johnson didn’t face the opposition from her constituents that other council members did. People in her blue-collar ward, she said, are people who value construction jobs and employment as waiters and caterers.

The strongest opposition tended to be in the city’s tonier parts.

“I don’t quite understand why that is,’’ she said.

Of course, there will still be naysayers. There will be irritation over special tax deals the NFL will receive. There will be those who continue to say that taxpayers should not subsidize billionaires. And there will be others who scoff, perhaps rightly, at the “value’’ of hosting a Super Bowl.

Hodges said, however, that being a Super Bowl city would not involve extra public expense. Hosting costs, she said, will be covered by a host committee, which will drum up millions from corporate donors.

But over and over, Lanning said, the Super Bowl is a small part of what he’s always considered “a good deal in the long term.’’

“In my 38 years (in politics), I’ve found that after even a controversial project is up and running, the opposition just seems to fade away.’’

Comments (31)

  1. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/21/2014 - 08:44 am.


    All this is largely because politicians don’t understand how sports work. One of the most significant thing always about the legislative approach to the stadium, was that it’s strongest supporters were always legislators who had the least at stake.

    It made sense to bring a Super Bowl here. We built the building that can only be meaningfully used for NFL games, so it certainly makes sense from a purely economic point of view to use it more rather than less, and opportunities allowing us to do that are relatively rare. But whatever the merits are of the arguments for and against the stadium, the addition of one more game to the building’s schedule years down the road, doesn’t change them much one way or the other.

    What frustrates me and what politicians uniformly seem to miss, is that the point of the NFL isn’t to have a Super Bowl, it’s to be in the Super Bowl, and all this effort has nothing to do with that. You know the irony of all this is that as much as we talk about the wonders of the new Vikings Stadium for the fans, the most beloved stadiums across the country are the oldest and quite frankly the least comfortable.

  2. Submitted by Bob Shepard on 05/21/2014 - 10:04 am.

    Only Goodell made $42 million….not $30 million

    Only about 30 years to go on the “Racketeer Field” at RICO Stadium before it’s in need of replacement, and it’s not even built yet.

  3. Submitted by Dave Eldred on 05/21/2014 - 10:11 am.

    “the most beloved stadiums across the country are the oldest and quite frankly the least comfortable.”

    Perhaps true in terms of Wrigly and Fenway, but frankly, I’m not sure I’d trade regularly going to Target Field for either.

    Plus, many of the now-demolished stadiums simply were dumps. There was absolutely nothing special about Yankee Stadium other than the memories, for example.

  4. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 05/21/2014 - 10:41 am.

    This article drips with unnecessary condescension toward all those who have had serious problems with the way this stadium was funded.

    If Mr. Lanning doesn’t understand the opposition, I really don’t know what the guy is doing in the Legislature.

  5. Submitted by John Clouse on 05/21/2014 - 10:57 am.

    Super Bowl

    How sweet to see the face of Marilyn Carlson Nelson gracing the front page of today’s paper.
    She couldn’t come up with the money or a plan to save the MN Orchestra, even though she is on the Board, but she has time to broker the Super Bowl bid.
    I wonder if she has any vested interest in the Super Bowl coming to town?
    I wonder…

    • Submitted by Ben Munroe on 05/22/2014 - 08:35 am.


      And also Richard Davis. Let’s not forget his role in the MN Orchestra debacle. One does have to wonder how/why people get appointed to these types of things, and what personal interests they have. I expect there’s a lot of politicking behind the scenes, that the average person will never know anything about.

  6. Submitted by John Ferman on 05/21/2014 - 11:44 am.


    Much is claimed that the $400,000,000 investment near the stadium is credited as a benefit of the NFL and Vikings. But I ask, where exactly are the dollars coming from? During the grand 2012 debate, someone quoted an analysis of investments about other sports stadiums by an actual investment organization – their conclusion was new sports team stadiums do not deliver the advertised results. Wise investors consult expert firms who are paid to get things right. I await a fact-based study on the direct benefits of a Super Bowl game. Will there be an uptick of minimum or near minimum wage jobs – yes but for 5-6 days.. Will there be an uptick at restuarants and hotels – yes but temper that with normally expected traffic.

  7. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/21/2014 - 12:48 pm.


    This reminds me about the Bible story about the guy who got a mess of pottage in exchange for his birthright. When we gave the NFL a half a billion dollars, one of the things we received in exchange was nod nod wink wink assurance that we would be considered for a Super Bowl. This was our mess of pottage we sort received on a layaway basis. Yesterday, the vague assurances became a firm reality. The pottage will arrive in just a few years. What that meant was that a number of politicians, were felt compelled to come forward to tell us the pottage was very tasty indeed, and well worth the half billion dollars it cost us, and yes that would very graciously accept our thanks for providing us all with such a nutritious treat, and please, please, don’t ask any awkward questions.

  8. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/21/2014 - 02:49 pm.

    The rich get richer…

    Are the DFL now the champions of the 2% and endorsing “trickle down economics?”

    • Submitted by jason myron on 05/21/2014 - 08:21 pm.

      You tell me, Ron…

      The bill was authored by Republicans and passed by a Republican controlled legislature. I give credit to Dayton for having the cajones to advance the discussion, something that Pawlenty and Ventura never had the courage to do. There’s also no question in my mind that had he not signed the bill you would be here complaining about Dayton running business out of the state.

      • Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 05/21/2014 - 10:04 pm.

        Get your facts correct…

        Please do not further the DFL spin. YOu can believe what you want – but it is not the truth.

        The DFL controled both the senate and the house. Many more DFL members voted for this bill that IR members. Dayton (a member of the 2% club) ethusiasitcaly signed this bill.

        But when it comes to DFL spin – “What differnce does it now make.”

  9. Submitted by Rosalind Kohls on 05/21/2014 - 03:16 pm.


    This is by rich people for rich people. My husband and I won’t be able to afford going to any of the games at the new stadium, much less go to the Super Bowl. I’ll be glad when this story gets off the front pages.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/21/2014 - 03:59 pm.

      Glad when this story gets off the front pages.

      That makes two of us. I’m sorry it ever got there in the first place.

  10. Submitted by Leonard Foonimin on 05/21/2014 - 04:13 pm.

    Regarding the Super Bowl

    If indeed Irony is the guiding force of the Universe, it is only fit and proper that the Green Bay Packers win the 2018 Super Bowl.

  11. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 05/21/2014 - 10:53 pm.

    How does the non wealthy public benefit from the Super Bowl?

    The public paid for the majority of the stadium. Just as an example the stadium might be called the “Original Mattress Factory Stadium” if they put up enough money to name the darn thing. The Republicans holler and scream our taxes are too high. So now, I presume the NFL owners are mostly Republicans, they want a tax break so there will be more money for attendees to buy their meaningless mementos rather than making some money for the state, through tax money, that would help lowers our taxes. It is okay to give away money if it is for the already wealthy. John Q. Public won’t be able to attend the Super Bowl because ticket gouging will be going on to the max. There will be events outside the stadium to try to make you feel part of it but don’t plan on being on the inside without paying a fortune. None of this event makes any sense to me.

  12. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2014 - 05:42 am.


    It’s a good weekend for bars. Downtown will be busy Friday and Saturday night. There will be lots of events to go to, some of them free. Minneapolis’ name will be in the news, although the cold weather reports will remind the nation that they would rather be somewhere else in the wintertime. For the vast majority of Minnesotans, having a Super Bowl herewill be pretty much a non event.

    • Submitted by Pat McGee on 05/22/2014 - 08:52 am.


      I agree that, for the vast majority of Minnesotans, the Super Bowl will be a non-event. And, I go even further, that for the vast majority of the US, it will be a non-event. My completely anecdotal, non-scientific observations are that within a week most people couldn’t tell you who was in a given Super Bowl or where it was.

      Too bad all those corporations who are coughing up money to subsidize the SB didn’t see fit to pay for the stadium. I hope they are paying all the overtime for the police who will have to be on duty.

  13. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/22/2014 - 09:26 am.

    Post sales

    A lot of what’s happening here is politicians trying to retroactively convince people that they made a good deal for the city. One thing about politicians is that most of them aren’t sports fans. They don’t, for example, perceive the difference between having a Super Bowl and being in the Super Bowl. In making the deal, it didn’t really occur to them to try to secure what fans actually do want, a more competitive football team. And they don’t understand here, that part of the value we do get from having an NFL team isn’t advanced by one game held here in the middle of the winter, it would be the result of consistently good football teams over the years, the kind of teams that will be featured on national tv and which go deep in the playoffs, that among other things,bring attention to the Twin Cities at times of the year other than mid winter.

  14. Submitted by mark wallek on 05/22/2014 - 11:34 am.

    Relocating the homeless

    As part of Superbowl festivities, relocation of the homeless to protect the uber rich party people has become tradition. I hope Minneapolis gets a jump on this and provides a detailed plan as to how the party set will be protected from the great need they pretend does not exist. Don’t mess up like Phoenix did.

  15. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/23/2014 - 05:45 am.

    A question

    Here is a question. Why does Minneapolis seek Super Bowls while other cities do not? As far as I know, Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Boston, Washington and numerous other cities have not had Super Bowls and haven’t seemed to want Super Bowls. Why is Minneapolis different?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 05/23/2014 - 07:46 am.

      The list you provided gives you the answer

      all cold weather and with the exception of St. Louis, all outdoor venues.

  16. Submitted by Joseph Stans on 05/25/2014 - 08:08 am.

    Sports foolishness

    We have the SB because the w have the stadium and we have have the stadium because we have the sales tax from the convention center which was supposed to click off in 2020. Does anyone remember why it was going to click off?

    In the future remember, never offer a source of revenue to a politician unless you want to make the source of revenue permanent.

    We have people who live in abandoned buildings, under bridges and in camps. they need health care both medical and mental heath care. trhe roads suck and public transportation is less reliable than Munich.

    But by god, we have bribed a multimillionaire with a brand new play ground. Perhaps one day someone with some guts will publish the date this white elephant is actually paid for if ever.

  17. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/27/2014 - 06:13 am.

    Why we have a stadium

    We have stadiums because a lot of politically powerful people benefit from a stadium, and because people want to watch football played by a local team. Pretty much everything else you hear about why we have stadiums are pretty much either self serving rationalizations, or smoke screens of various kinds intended to obscure what’s really going on.

    One of the notable things about the drive to build a stadium are things that magically didn’t prevent it’s building. The people of Minneapolis didn’t want a stadium and they certainly didn’t want to pay for it. They have a stadium, and they are paying for it. Ordinances were passed that were intended to make the financing of a stadium impossible. Out of nowhere, magical legal opinions appeared that held that these ordinances did not say what they clearly said. Magical thinking by somehow just the right number of council people to the effect that just because a lawyer said something could be done, meant it should be done suddenly and without a hint of rationality, became persuasive. Minneapolis legislators, full in the knowledge that their constituents didn’t want a stadium, and didn’t want to pay for it, and given the largely undisputed fact, would personally benefit from a stadium, turned up missing en masse, allowing stadium policy to be driven by outstate legislators who made sure their constituents would not have to pay for the building they were inflicting on the citizens of Minneapolis. Outrage did not appear in the news media. Investigative journalists who could have looked into the shady dealings of various individuals involved in stadium negotiations were assigned to other tasks, returning to the stadium beat only after the deal was done. The stadium deal itself was done at times and places intentionally chosen to make it impossible for journalists to cover, choices that their corporate bosses implicitly approved since they were among those who benefited personally from the building of a stadium.

    So that, not so briefly, are some of the reasons why both the stadium was built, and why no one was able to stop the building.

  18. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/27/2014 - 11:46 am.

    I’m surprised…

    No one has pointed out the fact that economically these big sports events contribute very little to the local economies, nor do they put otherwise invisible places “on the map” etc.

    It’s funny, it’s like people don’t realize that people come to these event, and then go home.

    Seriously, you know we had a super bowl here in 1992, was that a miracle for MPLS? Why would you expect this super bowl to be any different?

    The revenue generated by these big sports events is funneled into a very small number of hands at great public expense. Note that the actually cost of this “bid” is being kept secret. I suppose one way of looking at this is that we spent a billion dollars on our super bowl bid since that’s the public stake in the stadium.

    All sports events create temporary buz at best, the location of any given super bowl is little more than trivia in the long run. The idea that MPLS is going to convert one event into some kind of long term economic bonanza is silly on the face of it. Historically MPLS itself has always gotten the short end of the stick with this stadium deals and I’m predicting that’s where they’ll be in ten years. MPLS used be stuck with a $2 million hole in there budget with just the Timber Wolves arena, not they’re committed to 6-8 times more for all these sports palaces.

  19. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/27/2014 - 01:50 pm.

    “No one has pointed out the fact that economically these big sports events contribute very little to the local economies, nor do they put otherwise invisible places “on the map” etc.

    My own issue with that is that we get very little sense of scale. Large numbers are thrown at us but we have nothing to compare them to. How, for example in terms of it’s economic impact, does the Super Bowl compare to the opening of a downtown Target store? There is no question in my mind that if just a small portion of the amount boosters were contributing to the Super Bowl were spent instead on bringing better football players to the Vikings, the economic impact would be at least comparable to the Super Bowl.

    I do think it’s important to separate the issue of building the Vikings Stadium from the issue of how it will be used. Once we sink a zillion dollars in this thing, it does make sense to use it nine or ten times a year rather than just 8. The upfront money has been spent and not having events in the building doesn’t unspend it.

    In terms of Buzz, the NFL isn’t temporary, it’s continuous, and I think this is something the boosters overlook. NFL football for Minnesota isn’t one game a half a decade from now. It’s 16 games a year, 8 of them played here for decades to come not counting playoff games. If we get economic benefit from the NFL, a disputable issue but one for the moment, I will assume, the benefit will come from the long term, and from measures that take the long term interests of the team, the fans, and the community into account. The stadium has certain promotional impact for the community; it puts Minneapolis on national TV. For that to have positive impact, they must be on TV more which means the team has to be better such that they are scheduled for national telecasts, and so that they make playoff appearances. A better team generates more ancillary revenue, and does it on a more continuous basis than one and done events like the Super Bowl. It would make sense to work on that, but because of the way the business of football is organized, there just isn’t a way of doing that.

  20. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 05/28/2014 - 08:19 am.


    One of the problems I have with in the negotiations with local business people is that we don’t have a clear idea of what the interests of the other side might be. We don’t know what they want, and so we don’t know what they are willing to pay for it, so we end up giving it to them for free. We claim to own the Vikings Stadium but it doesn’t seem to occur to us to assert whatever rights ownership might give us.

    Here is the situation. The vast majority of Minnesotans will receive no benefit from the Super Bowl being played here. We will watch the game on TV and will have much the same experience had it been played in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro. In terms of negotiation, or lack of personal interest in having a Super Bowl here puts us in the power position. Odther players in the Super Bowl discussion have very strong interests in bringing a Super Bowl. For them, the game means millions of dollars in profits. So why didn’t we go into this discussion with an awareness of this? Why didn’t we say to the hospitality industry who we are told will profit immensely from the game, if you want to use our stadium, the one that was very conspicuously built with our dollars and not yours, you are going to have to share some of those profits with us? Why didn’t we make that deal within our community before going to the NFL with the united community front that would always be a necessary precondition of bringing a Super Bowl here?

  21. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/28/2014 - 10:12 am.


    Sure, as long as we’re building the thing it makes sense to have a super bowl there, but let’s not pretend it’s more than it is.

    I see what Hiram is saying but it’s almost impossible to separate the stadium construction projects from the super bowl bids since the bids are typically one of the arguments for building the stadiums. Granted it’s a circular argument of absurdity but that’s what we got. We can’t have the SB without a new stadium because we need a new stadium to attract the SB.

    I think having a better team may increase revenue for the small segment that benefits from the NFL, star players certainly command higher salaries, but this contributes little more to the local economy. And the weird thing is, having a good team apparently has nothing to do with getting the super bowl.

    I don’t buy the prestige angle, Portland has plenty of prestige and no NFL franchise. Detroit has an NFL franchise… need I finish that sentence? Would a super bowl save Detroit?

    It’s funny Hiram mentions a comparison between an NFL team and Target. I actually did such a comparison during the stadium debate and found that a Target, or a Costco delivers far more local economic benefit than an NFL franchise. Hell, a single McDonalds franchise actually creates more permanent jobs than an NFL franchise.

    The bid for the super bowl itself is actually kind of shady when you think about. There was this big public relations campaign in the Sunday Strib about Richard Davis (granted the piece masqueraded as a legitimate article). Davis you’ll recall was a big player in the Orchestra lock-out and is now being hailed as a mover and shaker who answered the Governor’s call to help bring the super bowl to MN. Well, apparently the super bowl was part of the stadium deal in the first place as far as the NFL was concerned, so why did we even have to make a bid? Did we have to make a bid? And if the bid was just a formality, why are we giving Davis soooo much credit for bringing us the super bowl? Is this just another example of piling misplaced adulation upon a mediocre executive? Is this the kind of new “coverage” we can expect from Glenn Taylor’s news paper?

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