The Minnesota Legislature has made stadiums a political football, but with the Gophers stadium done and the Twins all but locked up shortly after midnight Saturday, the Vikings remain the only open question.
In the end, the Legislature took the pragmatic point of view. The Twins' deal was done without legislative consent – thanks in part to a decade-long stalemate at the state level that forced the hand of Hennepin County, which feared it could eventually lose the Twins to St. Paul. The same had been true with hockey in the state – the Wild has helped revitalize what had been an economically dead portion of St. Paul when the X-cel Energy Center was built. Hennepin County was willing to shoulder the heavy lifting that would be required to build a Twins ballpark and, as the vote was nearing, suddenly everyone began to wax poetic about baseball being the national pastime.
In reality, the Twins never threatened to leave Minnesota. They were willing to simply go away. At last check, when there was a vote to contract two franchises, the Twins were on point for self-elimination – with a financial pay day for taking the gas pipe.
Instead of being offended by the suicidal nature of the Twins economic philosophy, support gained around the team and its plight playing baseball in a stadium where all seats face the 50-yard line of a football configuration. The Twins became a Minnesota historical monument that got support from unlikely sources.
As for the Gophers, the state really had no choice in funding a stadium, because a college football team – much less one in the Big Ten – can't contract or be relocated. As a result, the hands of the Legislature were tied. It had to get it done and it did.
All that leaves now is the fate of the Vikings. Unlike either of the other teams that got approval for a stadium, the Vikings have more than a couple of suitors. Exiting Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has said that Los Angeles will get an NFL team at some point and, if the Vikings fail in their bid to get their own stadium deal, they checker-jump to the front of the line.
The same legislators that have harped about finances as a reason to vote up or down on a stadium need to realize one thing. The NFL is the Big Daddy of professional sports and every team in it – even those with awful stadium deals like the Vikings – make money. Cities are ready for a chance to pay $1 billion or more for an established franchise – much less one that is in sound financial shape like the Vikings. The money that will be made from state taxes on player salaries alone (forgetting the more than $1 billion that would be spent on surrounding property) would more than pay any state share of a stadium deal.
As it stands now, the Vikings are on the outside looking in at the same "three-stadium" mantra they chanted when the current state legislative session began. Will three be a charm? Check back a year from now.
Two Down, One to Go
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