Sunday slant: The most important numbers

The Vikings are producing all sorts of great statistics on the field, but the off-the-field numbers mean much more to the long-term future when it comes to stadium economics.

NFL fans love the numbers, the rankings, the yardage, the scoring. The Vikings are doing well in most of those statistical categories, and for the season the most impressive numbers are 11 and 2, the team's record so far.

But there are three other numbers that are even more important in the big-picture view of the franchise: 2010 and 870 million and 2011.

The first represents the year the franchise's leaders would love to secure the future in Minnesota for decades to come. The second is the new cost of rebuilding a new stadium on the Metrodome's current site. And the third number represents the final year of the team's lease with the Metrodome.

Stadium politics and pricing can cause the eyes of adrenaline-seeking sports fan to glaze over, but it's time to perk up, pay attention and take note. The future of the franchise depends on it and all the bean-counting is close to working.

The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission unveiled architectural renderings last week for a new retractable-roof stadium that would fit the Vikings' requirements. The fact that the Vikings didn't have a representative in attendance is even more telling. Their patience is wearing thin, whether that's with the politicians that have declined to address the issue for the past decade or with the MSFC, the Metrodome's managing group that blindsided the Vikings with a resolution to increase the team's annual rent by more than 60 percent, from around $6 million to about $10 million if the team didn't sign a two-year extension in the Metrodome.

Plenty of people have made the argument that this is no time for the Vikings to push the issue in this recessionary economic era. So what was the excuse when the economy was riding high five years ago or even back in the days of former Gov. Jesse Ventura sending rebate checks to Minnesotans and the price tag for a new stadium was even lower?

A year ago, a new stadium was projected to cost $954 million. Now, because of the drop in demand for building material and labor, that price has dropped to $870 million. The Vikings are viewing this an ideal time to get the financing in order for a stadium, no matter the mechanism used.

That was their message during a chat between Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and Gov. Tim Pawlenty early last week.

"We made the case that 2010 is the year. We made the case that interest rates are at a 20-year low, that construction costs are down as evidenced by the (MSFC presentation), not because the commission did anything but because the recession has driven down the costs to $870 million for a retractable roof," Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs/stadium development, told Viking Update last week. "So costs are down, interest rates are down, there is a mobilizing of our fans, of legislators, of the business community, of the business trades and organized labor. We've got a great constituency that is mobilizing to move this forward in 2010. So we made the case to the governor that 2010 is an opportunity."

On Friday, Pawlenty essentially echoed his statements from the past years on his radio show: He supports the Vikings but doesn't have a finance plan to support them.

One of the rubs in the whole issue is that the Vikings don't want to overstep their bounds and propose financing. They believe that is up to the state's leaders, but with the next election always on the horizon few of them pushed the issue. Norm Coleman became known as the mayor who brought hockey back to St. Paul. If Tim Pawlenty is going to run for president, how much support would he get from his own state if he were known as the man that let the Vikings sail to California?

Bagley said the Vikings understand the budgetary issues facing the state, but they are promoting the idea that stadium construction would infuse money back into the local economy.

"We understand and we respect the major issues that the state has to address with our budget and our economy. By the same token, this is a significant jobs opportunity, the opportunity to create 8,000 construction jobs, 400 ongoing jobs," Bagley said. "It's the largest economic stimulus package out there. There is an opportunity out there and there is timing. When economy is down, you need to invest in projects that sustain for the long term."

The numbers presented by the commission are this, if the legislators can find a way to finance it: Construction on the stadium would begin next fall and be completed in 2013 for $870 million. It would take 4.6 million work hours, involve about 8,000 tradepeople, and have a peak expected workforce of 2,000 people.

The Vikings presented their economic impact on the local tax rolls to Viking Update. Since the Metrodome opened in 1982, the building has generated $245 million to local government, and it was built for $55 million with $33 million in public money – but nothing from the state. Of the $245 million, $234 million of that went to the state and $11 million went to Hennepin County and Minneapolis.

The Vikings say they are responsible for $126 million of the $245 million generated. That money includes taxes on tickets, concessions, merchandise and income on the players and employees.

The 2008 number was $18 million, with income taxes making up $12 million of that, and that number is likely to continue rising as NFL roster expenditures do. Bagley said the amount of taxes between the stadium and income taxes on employees and visiting players is expected to be $26 million in the first year of a new stadium.

"With those figures going forward, and the new number reported by the Sports Facilities Commission is now $870 million, the range is narrowing. Somewhere between $30 million and $40 million is what we need to resolve this issue," Bagley said. "The team and the facility generate $26 million – with the but-for taxes (tax that wouldn't be paid in Minnesota if the Vikings are no longer here), the team and the stadium virtually pay for itself. We just need to get over the top on that $30 million to $40 million range, and that $30 million to $40 million range depends on what the owner contribution is, whether it has a roof, if there are other infrastructure issues, what interest rates are. Right now, they are at a near-20-year low, so it's time do this."

Nobody is forcing the state to make the investment … but if they don't, nobody should be surprised if Minnesota is missing another $25 million annually in income in a few years. The Vikings aren't threatening that yet, but the financial numbers connect to that conclusion.


  • Panthers linebacker Jon Beason must think highly of the Vikings, and Minnesota's success is motivating the Panthers. "The Vikings could go all the way to the Super Bowl," Beason wrote on his web site, "We're looking to beat them so we can have that to look back on, like, we beat the team that won it all, or we beat the team that went to the Super Bowl. There's still a lot of incentive to go out and play well."

  • The Panthers have forced 21 turnovers in their last seven games. Much of the credit can go to Carolina's pass defense, which is ranked sixth in yardage allowed and fourth in the percentage of interceptions they have generated. As a defense, the Panthers have 18 interceptions.

    "Their scheme for the most part is, I don't want to say simple, but it can lull you to sleep," Brett Favre said of the Panthers. "You have to do everything right. It's not like you are going to get big plays on them. I think that is the key. You always have the hope that you are going to get big plays, but you are going to have to earn everything."

    Starting cornerbacks Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall account for seven interceptions.

    "I know we've played against Gamble for a while. No pun intended, but he does like to gamble," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "He does like to sit on some routes, which has helped him over his career to be able to make big plays, to be able to get his hands on balls."

  • The Panthers have a couple of players that have been strong in December over the last year-plus. Running back DeAngelo Williams has rushed for 127.2 yards per game and nine touchdowns in his past six December contests. Wide receiver Steve Smith has averaged 104 yards receiving in his past six December games.

    Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.

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