With the situation in Minnesota going from simmer to full boil over the past few days, and with Commissioner Roger Goodell and Steelers owner Art Rooney II, chair of the league’s stadium committee, planning to meet with legislative leaders on Friday, now is as good a time as any to get up to speed regarding a controversy that could result in a relocation of the Vikings, only a year after the 50th anniversary of their arrival to the NFL.
So here are 10 things to know, in a question-and-answer format. (Why do it that way? Because we want to.)
What’s wrong with the Metrodome?
It has been regarded as a given for years that the Metrodome is outdated, and that it can’t be modernized in a manner that unlocks the high-end revenue streams that will keep the Vikings competitive with other franchises. Even though the Vikings have used the 30-year-old stadium roughly 300 times, the team believes that renovation isn’t an option. No effort to contradict that claim has ever gained any serious traction in Minnesota.
Didn’t I read last month about a deal to build a new stadium?
You did. But the agreement for a “People’s Stadium” represented only an understanding between the team, Governor Mark Dayton, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, and legislative leaders. The deal calls for a $975 million facility, which would be built with $398 million from the state, $150 million from Minneapolis, and $427 million from the Vikings. It still needs to be approved by the Legislature, and by the Minneapolis City Council. For now, the proposed stadium bill died in a House committee on Monday night, and it has seen no progress at all in the Minnesota Senate.
The Vikings’ reaction to the current failure of the bill to even get a full legislative vote — the team says “there is no next year” — and the NFL’s direct involvement in negotiations represent a last-ditch effort to revive the deal that previously was reached.
What are the Vikings’ options?
If the stadium bill fails, the Vikings have to decide whether to try again, perhaps with a greater private contribution and/or a cheaper stadium. If, as it appears, they aren’t inclined to try, owner Zygi Wilf can then try to move the team to a new city, sell the team to someone who would later apply for permission to move the team, or sell the team to someone who would keep the team in Minnesota.
Relocation could occur, with league approval, because the Vikings currently have no lease at the Metrodome. In fact, if a decision to relocate after 2012 comes soon, the impact on the relationship between Minnesota and the Vikings could make it difficult for the Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to work out a one-year lease. And no one at this point knows what would happen next.
Since there’s no lease, can the Vikings just pick up and move?
No. Art Modell tried that in 1995, creating a huge mess that resulted in the Browns names and colors and records being left in Cleveland and a commitment to an expansion franchise. The Vikings already are following the steps outlined in the league’s relocation policy, which requires a team to “diligently [engage] in good faith efforts” to “obtain a satisfactory resolution of its stadium needs” before informing the league of the existence of a “stalemate.”
The fact that the league directly is involved in the negotiations suggests that the Vikings have indeed informed the league that a “stalemate” exists. If the situation can’t be resolved, the Vikings can then provide formal notice of an intention to relocate, sparking a process that could eventually culminate in a vote by the full ownership. If 24 of the 32 owners agree, the move will be approved.
Along the way, the other owners would impose a transfer fee on the Vikings, which would be recommended by the Commissioner based on factors like the income streams in the new location, the income streams in the old location, the expenses in the new and old location, the differences between the new and old stadium, the demographics of the new and old markets. It’s believed that a relocation to Los Angeles would result in a nine-figure transfer fee.
Would the Vikings leave behind the team name, logos, colors, and records?
Probably not. As mentioned above, the deal to keep the Browns in Cleveland resulted from Art Modell’s unconventional, unilateral effort to move. Also, the NFL planned to expand from 30 to 32 teams at the time the Browns moves to Baltimore. The NFL currently doesn’t plan to expand, especially not in North America.
Most important, Minnesota wouldn’t get an expansion team without a new stadium. And the reluctance to build a new stadium is what could cause the Vikings to leave. So if they’re not going to build a new stadium now, there’s no reason to think they’ll do it later.
In other words, no matter how poorly the nickname may fit with the team’s next location, the Vikings will most likely remain the Vikings.
Why have the Vikings suddenly become so aggressive about possibly moving?
The Vikings had practiced patience for years. Some think that the “Minnesota Nice” approach was selected under the theory that it would work better than a more blunt, matter-of-fact, anti-Field of Dreams “if you don’t build it, we will leave” strategy. Others believe the Vikings simply wanted the media to do the team’s dirty work, reading the tea leaves and supplying the “or else” without the team having to do it.
The truth is that the language of the relocation policy, which expressly requires good-faith efforts to resolve the situation, forced the Vikings to try to get a new stadium deal without making threats or being unreasonable. But to the extent that folks in Minnesota government believe that the Vikings haven’t taken a strong stand because they’ll eventually kick more and more (and more) money onto the table until the two circles of the Venn diagram kiss, a league source with knowledge of the dynamics explained to PFT on Thursday that Zygi Wilf, a successful real estate developer, can’t afford to cave when dealing with a public body; if he does, the public bodies with whom he routinely deals in other contexts will pounce on that high-profile show of weakness.
Why does the NFL build new stadiums with public money?
Because it can.
Some call it leverage. Others call it extortion. As NFL executive V.P. Eric Grubman told PFT Live on Thursday, the league regards it as competition.
Regardless, if one place won’t kick in significant public money to keep the NFL, someone else will kick in significant public money to get the NFL, either directly through cash contributions or indirectly through tax credits and other incentives. Or through that Private Seat Licenses and/or higher ticket prices that a larger metropolitan area has the population density (i.e., enough really rich people) to support.
Notwithstanding the label applied, it’s a basic business reality of dealing with the most popular sports league in America. With 32 teams and little or no chances at expansion, places that don’t have an NFL team but that want an NFL team will have to target an NFL team that already has a home.
Should public money be used to build NFL stadiums?
That’s for the people of a given city/state and their elected representatives to decide. Public money gets spent on all sorts of things. Sometimes, it’s a good investment. Sometimes, it isn’t.
The presence of the NFL carries with it prestige and national legitimacy, along with an influx in local hotel, parking, and restaurant revenue on game days. If that’s important to a given area and public money is necessary to make that happen, then the use of public money can be justified — especially if the facility will attract non-football events like concerts and conventions and a Final Four and other major activities.
Would a new Vikings stadium host a Super Bowl?
Probably, but the NFL can’t commit to that in advance. Only the owners can award Super Bowls; that said, a habit has emerged over the past 35 years. A new domed stadium (or an open-air venue in a warm-weather location . . . or New Jersey) results in a Super Bowl, if the city otherwise has the infrastructure to host the event (or, in the case of Jacksonville, even if it doesn’t). The Metrodome hosted Super Bowl XXVI, the Silverdome and Ford Field in Detroit each got a Super Bowl. Most recently, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis hosted Super Bowl XLVI.
The money and the prestige coming from the hosting of a Super Bowl would help justify a large chunk of the public money devoted to the project, if the people in Minnesota choose to do that.
Where is this heading?
At this point, it’s unclear. But the NFL and the Vikings will push for an answer now, before the current legislative sessions ends. And the league and the team are prepared to interpret no answer as a “no” answer.
The biggest problem with the current deal arises from the effort to avoid the Minneapolis City Charter, which requires a public vote for any contribution in excess of $10 million to a sports facility. The House committee that recently killed the deal was troubled by the apparent circumvention of the charter provision. Even if the stadium bill becomes law and the Minneapolis City Council officially signs off on the plan, any taxpayer in Minneapolis could challenge in court the funding mechanism as a failure to comply with the charter.
And so, just as the Governor and the Mayor of Minneapolis and the legislative leaders underestimated the willingness of the Legislature to reject their deal now, the folks who came up with this plan possibly have given too little consideration to the possibility that a judge could kill it later.
The simple reality seems to be that the people in Minnesota either don’t want to kick in enough money to get it done, or they don’t realize that the NFL is serious about leaving. If it’s the former, that’s their prerogative. If it’s the latter, they need to wake up, now.