Whether or not it was said for political benefit or as a potential portent of things to come, Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Zellers provided the sound byte of the day – the one used by all the local TV stations and jumped on by media of all sorts.
Zellers said that, in his opinion (political or otherwise), keeping the Vikings isn't a big issue. He believed he shared the majority opinion in that regard.
"For most Minnesotans, it's not a priority," Zellers said. "They don't necessarily care if we fund a stadium for professional athletes."
The statement, although short, was rife with ignorance. It's always difficult when one makes a blanket statement about the sentiments of Minnesotans, especially for Zellers, who has spent more of his life in North Dakota than he has in Minnesota. Recent polls have shown that keeping the Vikings in Minnesota is viewed by many Minnesotans (natives or transplants) as a priority. The only way to assure that is to build a new stadium – one that the Vikings are willing to contribute upwards of $400 million to accomplish.
The remainder of Zellers' brief TV sound byte was just as heinous. Saying that Minnesotans "don't necessarily care if we fund a stadium for professional athletes" only highlighted Zellers' misinformed, myopic attitude toward the stadium issue. It lends itself markedly more to prepared political rhetoric than actual critical thinking. As someone who came to prominence working for a public relations firm, Zellers should know better than most how to phrase something and, in this case, he pointed a finger (pick one) at the players – who are bystanders in the current stadium saga.
The state funding that Zellers claims is not a priority wouldn't even cover one-third of the proposed stadium costs. Moreover, it would be done in such a way that there would be funding mechanisms in place that would repay the money pledged to the project. When you add in the wages paid to Minnesota workers to build the stadium, retaining state income taxes on player salaries and other benefits to the business climate in the area where the stadium is finally located (if it happens at all), the state's investment would be more than paid off – multiple times through the lifetime of the proposed stadium.
Considering the state has reaped the harvest for three decades with the above-ground landfill better known as the Metrodome, when it comes to the history of state funding for stadium projects, the Minnesota Legislature has been the equivalent of a deadbeat dad.
Being a North Dakotan, Zellers may not be fully aware of the stadium funding history in Minnesota because, as long as he has viewed himself a Minnesotan, all he knows is the Metrodome as a home for the Vikings, Twins, Gophers, etc.
Perhaps Zellers' ignorance was highlighted most in the final portion of his ridiculous "short-and-sour" statement, claiming that the stadium is being built for professional athletes. What alternative does Zellers' propose? That the Vikings' players pay for the stadium? The players themselves reap no benefit from the building they play in. Considering that the dump they currently play their games in doesn't have hot water coming out of half the showerheads in the locker room, it would seem that Vikings players are currently residents of a H.U.D. building, not a showcase to highlight the State of Minnesota. The roof on their home caved in! All Thursday's pre-session presser proved was the extent of political gridlock that has gripped Minnesota in recent years.
The Vikings would be the tenant of a new stadium for anywhere from 10 to 12 dates a year. Does that mean the building would be vacant for 350-some days a year? Hardly. Even the horribly sub-standard Metrodome has been enough of a draw to get the NCAA Final Four of men's college basketball to come to town (and bring thousands of people with disposable income willing to dispose of some of it). It has outlived is usefulness in that regard as well. With the new proposed stadium, not only could the state bring the Final Four to town, but it would likely bring a Super Bowl, a Wrestlemania (don't underestimate that money potential), professional soccer (I'm not necessarily a fan, but others are), concerts with the biggest acts on the planet and serve similar functions that the Metrodome does – from high school football games to monster truck shows (Sunday! Sunday! SUNDAY!) to in-line skating for health-conscious residents. It could also potentially house a national political convention, as well as conventions that could make Minnesota a destination target for many of the top promotional convention/conference events in the country.
Perhaps that's more than Minnesota wants. Maybe our politicians aspire to be more like Nebraska. Given Zellers' comments Thursday, I may be more inclined to be like Nebraska. Chances are a unicameral legislature would get rid of guys like him.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.