If you don’t follow Minnesota politics or the NFL very closely, you’re probably not aware of the ongoing battle between the Minnesota Vikings and the state legislature for a new stadium. The Vikings play in the 30-year-old Metrodome, which they and the league claim just isn’t sufficient in the modern NFL. Minnesota politicians going as far back as former governor Jesse Ventura have opposed the idea of public funding for a building that benefits a private enterprise.
Yesterday, things got more tense. After the Minnesota House rejected a $975 million stadium bill, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told Governor Mark Dayton not getting a new stadium would have “serious consequences.” Goodell neglected to define what those consequences would be, but it’s a fair bet he was suggesting the league ownership would approve the Vikings relocating.
The NFL would love that. The league has been lusting to get a team back to Los Angeles — the nation’s second largest television market — since the Rams and Raiders left in the mid-90’s. LA is already working on a stadium to land an NFL franchise, even though the city has yet to be promised one. The unspoken threat behind Goodell’s words is plain: “Los Angeles would be happy to have your team if you don’t want to play ball.”
It’s a disturbing concept — private enterprise dictating how public funds will be spent. Blackmailing the government into taxing people to build something for a private company. State Senator Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, summed it up nicely when he wrote in an email, “It’s disappointing to think the NFL or the Vikings are driving policy for Minnesota government.”
This isn’t exactly new policy. Brewers owner Bud Selig told Milwaukee he would move the team if he didn’t get a new stadium. They built him one, despite the fact that Selig, as baseball’s commissioner, refuses to institute any sort of salary cap or profit sharing in baseball so that he could put a consistently competitive product on the field in one of the league’s smallest markets.
The late Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore when he got upset that Cleveland built the Indians a new stadium, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and several other civic improvements before getting around to building the Browns a new stadium.
No, sports teams and leagues have held local governments hostage before. Minnesota is just the latest victim.
And, as always, there’s another side to the story. The government benefits from having the team there. Millions of tax dollars are generated on ticket sales, food and beverage sales at the games, and merchandise sales around the state. Visiting teams put their players up in hotels that generate local revenue as well as hotel tax dollars. Those same teams need to eat and do at local restaurants as do fans who come to the games. A major sports franchise generates a lot of revenue.
Moreover, having state-of-the-art facilities helps draw better players in free agency, which theoretically leads to more competitive play. The better the team plays, the more tickets and hot dogs and beers and t-shirts get sold. Income tax is collected from the players and coaches and support personnel who draw their salaries from the team.
So it’s not like the state isn’t benefitting from having the Vikings around. They’ve been contributing to Minnesota’s bottom line for 52 years.
But if the situation in Minnesota demonstrates anything it is where we are in these modern political times. The only thing anyone wants to look at is the pricetag. Legislators see $975 million, and they start talking about government waste and debt burdens on our children. Businessmen look at a cash-strapped government and are only interested in securing their piece of the shrinking pie instead of figuring out how to grow it.
No one thinks about partnership — about how it is possible for people of disparate views to get together, hammer out a compromise, and acknowledge (even if it’s only behind the scenes when no one is looking) how much we need each other, how much we can help each other.
I don’t know what the right solution in Minnesota is, but I know that the legislature has spent more than a decade refusing to play ball with the Vikings, and the league’s patience for that is wearing thin. Legislators and the league need to sit down and hammer out a solution that benefits the Vikings and the people of Minnesota.
Because the Vikings are going to benefit. It’s just a question of whether they’ll do it in Minneapolis or Los Angeles.