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The Minnesota Ballpark Authority’s suite deal at Target Field

MBA commissioners don’t get paid much, but they do get free use of the authority’s “premier suite” at Target Field for nine Twins games each year. 

The view of Target Field from the Minnesota Ballpark Authority suite.
Minnesota Ballpark Authority

As part-time jobs go, the pay isn’t much — but the perks are excellent.

Each of the five commissioners of the Minnesota Ballpark Authority — the public body that’s charged with “protecting the public’s investment” in Target Field — receives $64 for each of the four meetings they attend every year.

That’s not enough to buy more than a couple of footlongs and a Grain Belt or two, but commissioners do get a pretty nice “thank you” for their time: Each also gets free use of the authority’s “premier suite” at Target Field for nine Twins games each year. The suite includes 16 tickets to the selected game plus four passes for already ticketed fans to enter the suite level during the game.

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Food and drink is not included when commissioners use the suite, which is perched along Target Field’s right field line and is attached to the ballpark authority’s staff offices. Parking for up to five cars is included. In addition, commissioners are invited to attend certain games together, with each allowed to invite two guests. Those games are next Monday’s home opener plus the three-game series against the Boston Red Sox in May, and the three-game series against the New York Yankees in July.

And use of suite is not limited to Twins games. Commissioners are also allowed to use their stadium entry badges to watch other events, such as last summer’s Paul McCartney concert and this summer’s Kenny Chesney concert, though they are required to buy additional tickets to bring friends and family into the suite for concerts. Two staff members and two commissioners attended the McCartney concert.

MBA 101

The Minnesota Ballpark Authority (MBA) was created by the state Legislature in 2006 to oversee the design, construction, operation and maintenance of Target Field. But while the stadium is still officially owned by the MBA, all operations and 100 percent of the annual operating expenses related to Target Field are handled by the Twins as part of the team’s 30-year lease of the facility. 

Today, the MBA’s mission is to “to ensure that the Ballpark is a world-class facility that adheres to high standards of sustainability, creates economic opportunity, and serves as an anchor for the development of a vibrant new district.” To do that, the board meets quarterly to hear reports on operations and finances. Meetings usually last less than an hour.

The five-person MBA commission is chaired by former state House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. The other members are former state Rep. Barb Sykora, former U.S. Rep. Martin Olav Sabo, former Minneapolis City Council Member Joan Campbell and former St. Paul Deputy Mayor Paul Williams. As per state law, Kelliher and Sykora are appointed by Hennepin County commissioners; Sabo and Williams by the governor; Campbell by the Minneapolis City Council.

The stadium lease with the Twins required that the team provide offices and a suite at no cost to the authority and furnished “to the same level as provided to other suite-holders.”

This is how the Twins describes those suites: “You’ll not only enjoy the great view of the game from private, outdoor ballpark seating, but you’ll also enjoy a spacious, climate-controlled interior lounge perfect for relaxing, eating, conversing and celebrating. Plusher, more comfortable seating and high-definition televisions are just some of the features of these unsurpassed entertainment venues.”

The value of the suite is a bit hard to measure. The Twins charge between $1,860 and $3,360 to rent a similar suite depending on the attractiveness of the date and the quality of the opponent. Opening Day against the Kansas City Royals, for example, costs $3,360, but the same suite two days later — a Wednesday game vs. the same Royals — can be rented for $1,860. That price includes food and drinks from a pre-set menu. When the ballpark authority suite is donated to charities, the tax value is set at $2,400 per game.

Dan Kenney, the executive director of the MBA, said the Target Field suite was an extension of a policy established with the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. Kenney, who was also a member of the seven-member commission governing the Metrodome, said commissioners had access to two suites there. Each commissioner was allowed to use a suite for one Vikings game, one University of Minnesota Gophers game and multiple Twins games.

Jennifer Hathaway, communications director for the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, the public body overseeing the Vikings stadium construction, said two suites will be set aside for MSFA members and staff use in that facility when it opens in 2016.

Monitoring the fan experience?

What is the public policy rationale for the suite and the commission’s frequent use of it?

Sabo said commissioners should have use of a suite because “we own the ballpark.” “It would be strange to say you have a public facility with staff offices and a suite and then say they can’t use it.”

Sabo says he usually invites family, friends and acquaintances and uses his time at games to watch not just the game but the fan experience and the stadium staff’s interaction with ticket buyers. “You generally see happy people,” he said.

Ballpark Authority Board of Commissioners
Minnesota Ballpark Authority
Ballpark Authority Board of Commissioners, left to right: Martin Sabo, Barb Sykora, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Joan Campbell, Paul D. Williams.

Campbell, a commissioner since the stadium project began, said she donates her suite days or some of the tickets to charities for silent auctions. One is Southeast Seniors Living at Home. She also said she and Sabo sometimes divide the suite with each taking eight tickets. “We see more games that way,” she said. 

Campbell said it is important for commissioners to be at games and she said she often talks to fans about the stadium and the public ownership. “In that way, there is a good reason for the commission and there are good reasons for us to be there in the ballpark.”

What the suite doesn’t appear to be used for is hosting or lobbying. Kenney said that unlike the Twins, the MBA doesn’t have direct relationships with sponsors, advertisers or ticket buyers. He said he is asked at times if visiting groups can use the suite. Last year, for example, out-of-town attendees to the Rail-Volution conference in Minneapolis were hosted.

Often offered to charities 

Nine game dates are set aside for MBA staff use and at least five are available for charities. For the 2015 season, nine charities will have use of the suite, usually as an auction item for fundraisers.

“The Twins Suite is one of our most popular items and consistently raises the top bid, no matter how the Twins are performing,” wrote an organizer for the DeLaSalle Gala.

The Minneapolis Community and Technical College Foundation wrote to the MBA to thank it for donating the suite for a fundraising event. “Your gift helped create buzz at our celebration ensuring we were able to raise important funds in an engaging way,” wrote the foundation’s advancement officer, Andrea Nelson.

The MBA also takes part in a Twins Community Fund-sponsored event that encourages all suite-holders to donate the suite on the same day for use by Minnesota Gold Star Family members.

Each commissioner is permitted to donate their suite days to charity as well, but no formal records are kept of that. Ballpark authority staff asks for notice so they know who might be using the suite, but that doesn’t always happen based on review of e-mails between commissioners and staff. No records are kept of who is hosted in the suite when commissioners use it.

Other public stadium authorities differ on suite use

Not all big league stadiums and arenas with public governing boards have suites set aside for commissioner use. The baseball stadium in Seattle, Safeco Field, does not, but both the Texas Rangers’ Ballpark in Arlington, Texas, and the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards, do. The legislation creating a new stadium for the Seattle Seahawks set aside a 20-person suite for regular ticketholders. Each game, five winners chosen by lot get four seats in the “12th Man” suite for a subsequent game complete with the food and drink available to other suite-owners.

Such arrangements can sometimes become contentious, however. Public ownership of stadium suites became an issue last year in Cincinnati when a majority of the Hamilton County Commission, which owns both the baseball and football stadiums there, decided to stop using the two suites in each, even for charities. “As a public official, I don’t think it’s right for us to control two suites at sports stadiums that the public has paid so much for,” Hamilton County Commissioner Greg Hartmann told the Cincinnati Enquirer in September.

There is one big difference between the facilities in Cincinnati and Target Field: The former have been a drain on county resources, as tax collections have fallen short of debt payments. That is not the case for Target Field. Taxes set aside to repay stadium bonds have been doing better than projected, and the bonds are expected to be retired between five and 10 years sooner than planned.