The scandal that erupted last fall against the former chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the government agency that oversees the Minnesota Vikings stadium, took another troubling turn over the weekend as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported even more misappropriation of her position as the leader of the MSFA.
Michele Kelm-Helgen became headline news last fall when it was reported that a pair of suites used by the MSFA for the intent of marketing U.S. Bank Stadium for other events and tickets were instead diverted to family, friends and political allies.
The resulting investigation from the Minnesota State Legislature, which created the MSFA, found that Kelm-Helgen had gone well beyond her authority to use the tickets for personal use. The findings led to her ouster as the MSFA chair last month.
Now it’s being learned that her use of her position went far beyond getting friends and family into the MSFA suites for Vikings game. The latest allegation, which Kelm-Helgen acknowledges, was that she was able to use her position to get favored status from friends and family to buy the rights to premium seats – not just for Vikings games, but for all events at the stadium.
When the stadium was being built, like most other organizations, the Vikings started selling personal seat licenses. The intent was to sell those PSLs starting with season-ticket holders, some of which had been season-ticket buyers since the days of Metropolitan Stadium, much less the Metrodome or TCF Bank Stadium.
As it turns out, Kelm-Helgen used her position to get early access to tickets not afforded to even the most vested season ticket holders. A month before seats went on sale to the public, an early sale for stakeholders in the stadium was opened March 5, 2014. On that date, despite being a governmental official and, as such, expected to be subject to the same policies afforded to the general public, Kelm-Helgen, family and friends purchased eight seat licenses in the Medtronic Club – marketed as the elite seating area in the entire stadium. Most fans who wanted to maintain season tickets had to buy a seat license to do so.
Through a sales agent, the MSFA sold seat licenses in 17 sections of the stadium, with the premium seats being marketed toward fans who had similar seats in the Metrodome. Historically, attrition will get season ticket holders closer to midfield. Someone who has season tickets on the 20-yard line may have to wait 20 years to get close to the middle.
Kelm-Helgen and her family and friends purchased eight premium seat licenses for $7,000 each, which had members of the House committee investigating the case crying foul – with one comparing the purchase to insider trading, according to the Star-Tribune.
What made Kelm-Helgen’s case newsworthy was that there wouldn’t have been a problem had she or her family/friends been Vikings season ticket holders during the days of the Metrodome. They never were season ticket holders, which should have pushed them back in line until those previous season ticket holders had the option to buy a PSL and continue their purchasing of season tickets or to opt out and let the next in line have that opportunity. She shouldn’t have been eligible to purchase PSLs and season tickets until April 2015, when seat licenses went on sale to the general public looking to become season ticket holders.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has distanced himself from the fray, saying he had nothing do with Kelm-Helgen’s actions and, through a spokesman, told the Star-Tribune he was “extremely disappointed” in anyone using a public leadership position to gain an advantage or obtain benefits because of their positions.”
The Vikings stated that they only learned after the fact that Kelm-Helgen had purchased the block of tickets. Two other MSFA commissioners purchased seat licenses during the early sign-up period, but both were already season ticket holders and made their purchases months after Kelm-Helgen and not in one of the premium luxury suites.
It was thought the political in-fighting over the stadium was done when the building was completed, but it would appear that the more the House State Government Finance Committee has investigated the MSFA’s role in the stadium, it would seem the discussion still isn’t over.
If any good is going to come of this, it’s that the MSFA will likely be the impetus for the creation of more defined rules of conduct for political officials and agencies moving forward. But, for now, Kelm-Helgen is serving as the example of what not to do.