The Vikings were shut out at the legislature once again this year, and it this time there were a lot of excuses being thrown out. Many weren't legitimate and most were just another example of unproductive and scared politics. Let us count the excuses.
The Land of 10,000 Lakes has become the Land of 10,000 Takes when it comes to the financing for a Vikings stadium … or can we even call it that?
You see, that was just one of many pieces of advice – that it shouldn't be labeled a "Vikings" stadium – I've heard from people, including those in the media, over the past week when it comes to the best tactics to finding financing for a new stadium that would be used by the Vikings. The idea in that piece of logic is that a new stadium would provide benefits for many people in the state, from concert-goers to high school athletes.
But let's not play games with semantics or try to fool people. You can call it a Vikings stadium because that's what it would be known for. And that's the entity that pays the majority of the tab for it, one way or another. In addition to the team's contribution to the stadium, it could be jersey and ticket sales that get taxed, not to mention the nearly $20 million in income taxes paid by team employees every year.
Call it what it is and quit making excuses. And I'm hearing one excuse after another.
The Vikings are just starting their drive and need to work for it over a couple of years like the Twins. Yeah, and you wonder why government isn't effective. First, the truth is that the Vikings' desire for a new stadium goes way back to the "Gang of 10" owners that had control of the team before Red McCombs and well before Zygi Wilf. The Vikings were interested in working with the Gophers on a new stadium until the university was set on having it on campus, which doesn't have enough space to handle the demands of an NFL stadium and its increased attendance. The reality is that the Vikings have been talking with government leaders about a stadium for more than a decade, so wash that excuse down the river.
Vikings need to make their own proposal instead of lawmakers. Guess what? They tried that and got shot down and have tried for the last couple of years to step into the background and let the legislators decide what's best for the State of Minnesota. So far, leaving the budget up to them has only produced a $3 billion deficit, so where's the confidence they can get much right these days? No wonder a poll released last week showed that 52 percent of Minnesotans disapprove of the way legislators have handled their business. Of course, paying for a Vikings stadium with taxes ranked even lower among respondents, largely because of the next excuse.
We can't have new taxes for financing a stadium. Sounds like Gov. Tim Pawlenty is hoping to ride the "no new taxes" mantra all the way to the White House. In theory, I'm not a big tax-and-spend guy either, but I view this as a "spend money to make money" proposition. The no-new-taxes rhetoric was fine when Minnesotans had an iron-clad lease for the Vikings in the Metrodome through 2011. Those days are gone. The leverage has switched, and it's time to realize that. I'm just one of thousands of Minnesotans that doesn't understand why raising money via user fees isn't the perfect solution. What are fishing and hunting licenses? Yes, it's new taxes, but it's essentially a voluntary tax. If you don't want to buy a ticket to a game, you aren't paying for the stadium. If you don't want a jersey, you aren't paying. If you don't stay in a hotel near the stadium, you aren't helping pay for it. Seems logical to me, but then I'm not trying to get re-elected for anything or advance up a political ladder.
The Vikings should pay for their own stadium. Sure, and I should be able to retire at 40. Neither is going to happen, so quit wasting time on arguments that aren't productive. In order for the Vikings to be competitive – actually in order for them to simply stay afloat in the Land of 10,000 Lakes – they will need a partnership of their own money (about one-third of the cost) and some form of a public partnership. It's either going to happen or they will eventually move. Pretty simple.
The Los Angeles market isn't ready for an NFL team. Personally, I do believe the NFL likes the idea of having the Los Angeles market there as a veiled threat for teams struggling financially. With the Vikings at the bottom of the NFL's stadium revenue scale, they obviously fall into that category. But now the Los Angeles market doesn't have just one stadium plan that is progressing, they have two. Having competition to build a new NFL stadium in the nation's second-biggest media market should only accelerate the process. Whether it's a stadium right next to the Staples Center or out in the City of Industry doesn't really matter when it comes to the Vikings. What matters is that by the time the 2011 Legislative session begins California's two plans might only be waiting for a team to move before they begin digging.
Minnesotans don't approve of public financing as a whole. A new poll shows that might be 64 percent true, but 52 percent also don't approve of the way the Legislature handles its job. Changing the stadium bill from the original plan of user fees to personal seat licenses was a death shot to that bill and those that did it know that. They know that Minnesota doesn't have enough financial titans to shell out the money for PSLs. Even New York is struggling with that, so that move in committee was another case of unproductive politics. How about just coming out and saying it like it is: If Vikings fans want a new stadium, they should pay for it with user fees. Try polling just Vikings fans. I believe if you asked them if it was OK if they spent another couple of bucks on a jersey or a ticket or a stadium-themed lottery scratch-off, they would be more than willing to start buying. What is so hard about that?
Finally, the Vikings should stop threatening. I think: They're just getting started, and they need to. Their need for a new stadium to compete with the rest of the league is a reality and Minnesotans need to know it. Zygi Wilf has financed a championship-caliber team because of his competitive desire, not because the bank roll if flush with too much cash. That won't last forever, or even for another decade. I think he's just about had it with the Minnesota Legislature, and even if he holds to his promise not to move the team he would then feel forced into selling it. But who would want it without a revenue-producing stadium? Wilf is the best owner this franchise has had in a couple decades, maybe ever.
Here are the key words from the Vikings' statement last week after the stadium bill didn't pass: "The Vikings organization is extremely disappointed that the Governor and State Legislature did not move the stadium issue forward this year. While we greatly respect the challenges and priorities faced by the State of Minnesota, resolution of this issue has now been pushed to the final year of the lease. This lack of action will only increase the costs of the project for everyone, plus we missed the opportunity to put thousands of Minnesotans back to work."
"… In 2006, the Vikings were asked by Governor Pawlenty and State leaders to step back and allow the Twins and Gophers stadium issues to be resolved. Those State leaders committed to work with the team to resolve this issue. More than four years later, those commitments have not been honored.
And finally this: "This solution must be finalized in the 2011 Session."
A threat? Maybe. But why not? Nothing else has worked and it's time that Minnesotans realize how serious the issue is getting. It might just be fair warning instead of an empty threat.
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.