Vikings Stadium Update Nov 6, 2011

The Vikings Stadium situation has taken a few more twists and turns this past week. Governor Dayton is a strong Stadium proponent (as am I) and he wanted to convene a special session of the legislature around Thanksgiving to address the Stadium situation. However, House Speaker Kurt Zellers stated on Wednesday that he opposes a special session and feels that the issue should be part of the regular session that convenes January 24th. Zeller’s office received some nasty phone calls about his stance. On this point I agree with Dayton: the Vikings Stadium is a controversial issue and a special session is the best way to deal with it. This way it doesn’t get in the way of regular legislative business.

On Thursday, the Stadium issue started to “regain steam” according to a Pioneer Press report: Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, and his counterpart in the Senate, Republican Julie Rosen of Fairmont, held a news conference with Gov. Mark Dayton and other lawmakers who had met that morning to continue working on a stadium bill that could win bipartisan support. Lanning and Rosen want to get a bill drafted, hold public hearings then convene a special session in late December or early January.

Why is the Vikings Stadium debate so controversial? I think a little background is in order. First, the Vikings are extremely popular in Minnesota. TV Ratings for Vikings games are always strong and when they play the Packers the ratings are through the roof. The Vikings-Packers game 10/23 drew 24.3 million viewers nationwide and was the most watched TV program that week. 71% of the TVs in Minneapolis and Milwaukee were tuned in to the game. In this day and age of dwindling ratings NFL programming remains gravity defying. Secondly, the NFL is an extremely profitable business. Why should the public have to subsidize a juggernaut like the NFL?

In some of the larger markets like New York and Boston the NFL receives little or no public subsidy to build stadiums. In smaller markets like Minneapolis, Green Bay and Kansas City the teams require subsidies to keep up with the big boys. You can only sell personal seat licenses (PSLs) for so much money in a smaller market. New York also has two teams playing in the same stadium. NFL franchises are a rare commodity and in order to acquire and keep a team your city needs to have a modern, revenue producing facility. If your facility is substandard then the NFL will demand a new facility or they will relocate your team to a city that will build a new facility (blackmail).

OK so if you want to play you have to pay. Clearly an overwhelming majority of Minnesotans want to keep the team here. Then the question becomes how to pay for it? Nobody thinks it’s a good idea to use general fund money to dedicate to a stadium project. Earlier this week Governor Dayton and legislative leaders decided to drop the local sales tax proposal to fund $350 million of the project. I also approve of that idea. The Vikings are a statewide asset and one city or county shouldn’t be stuck with 1/3 of the cost. Besides sales taxes are regressive and a poor way to raise money for a stadium.

What is a good funding mechanism then? Gambling is the preferred mechanism according to a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll “Minnesotans much prefer using new forms of gambling revenue to pay for a new Vikings stadium instead of higher taxes.” The poll found “Percent who support each initiative to fund a Vikings stadium: Lottery 81%, Racino 72%, Pulltabs 70% and Minneapolis casino 60%. It’s encouraging to see growing public support for keeping the Vikings in Minnesota, and the support for the funding options is encouraging,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in response to the poll findings.”

 I don’t gamble except for buying a few Powerball tickets a year but I support the Expansion of Gambling to fund a stadium. Minnesotans love to gamble. This is also a voluntary tax: if you oppose your money going to subsidize the NFL then don’t gamble at the Racino or Casino etc. I personally favor the Racino option but I think that with the powerful Indian Gaming Lobby it will be tough to get a Racino or a Minneapolis Casino bill through the legislature. Look for a bill that has a lottery and pulltabs to win approval.

If a bill gets approved then where should the Stadium go? Currently there are three Minneapolis sites and the Vikings preferred site in Arden Hills. The three Minneapolis options are: the current Metrodome site, the Farmer’s Market site and the Basilica site. The Farmer’s market site is right behind Target Field and some architectural renderings emerged this week that show what a proposed Stadium would look like. It’s modeled after Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Nothing wrong with that in my book but I think that the Arden Hills site is the way to go.

If they build a new Stadium on the Metrodome site then the Vikings will have to play at TCF Bank Stadium for 3 years. I think that’s a non-starter. I don’t want to sit outside in January and the team would lose about $10 million a year. The Farmer’s Market site isn’t bad but not much room for tailgating. The Basilica site is a little roomier but I don’t think it has the support from the business community that the Farmer’s Market site has. The Arden Hills site is a home run with 21,000 surface parking spaces and room for a World Class Game Day Experience. Arden Hills is the way to go.

The Vikings are part of our culture in Minnesota and worth preserving. While the price tag for a World Class Stadium is a little steep we can still afford it. The Metrodome was built on the cheap and is an embarrassment at this point. There is no room in the concourses and the restrooms are a total joke. The time has come to do things right for a change in Minnesota. Build the Stadium in Arden Hills and pay for it by expanding gambling.