Thursday, February 19, 2009

Language on Stadium Continues to Irk Me

From The Star Tribune:

"After a Vikings official publicly criticized Gov. Tim Pawlenty for not showing enough leadership on a new stadium, Pawlenty met with owner Zygi Wilf late last week and a team official said the Vikings were 'pleased' with the outcome."

Please tell me why it is Minnesota's elected governor's job to show "leadership" on getting a new stadium built for Mr. Wilf's privately owned business. Vikings--show your own damn leadership. You can build a stadium--who is stopping you?

The Vikings may as well criticize me for not showing leadership on NASA's latest space mission. Or I could criticize my new dog for failing to show leadership on getting the laundry done.

But the article ends with some sanity:

"Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor told Wilf that the team is 'an important part of the fabric of Minnesota, but that the focus at the Capitol is on dealing with the state budget deficit and the difficult economic situation.'"

In my mind, I keep paralleling a new Viking stadium with the Mall of America. The Mall of America has received public funding, at the very least for "public infrastructure" (though this money may be paid back, if I'm reading it correctly). But it's hard to doubt that a building which is open daily and year round and which exists almost exclusively for spending money, has brought in a consistent stream of tourists to the region, and has created a lot of jobs (in fact, the MOA claims it contributes $1.8 billion annually to the state's economy, and also claims that it annually "generates approximately $55 million in state and local taxes, and has generated more than $800 million in total taxes since opening 15 years ago"). In this case, any public financing appears justifiable.

I'm not opposed to occasional public financing for private industry, if the benefit to the public can be concretely expressed (or sometimes not even concretely--I don't oppose public financing of arts because of the cultural and educational benefit). Can the Vikings claim that public financing of a stadium would bring such a return to the public?


  1. Anonymous12:35 PM

    Leadership of a State involves helping the State. The Vikings are a private business. They have a stadium issue. Is it in the interest of the State to keep them? Does the State make money off the Vikings?
    Look around. The bailouts of car companies and banks are examples. Were they necessary?
    I agree that the govt has its own issues, but the Vikings may well be one of the issues.
    How many owners have built their own stadiums? (Not sure if any did)
    Did not the governments of those States prosper from the franchise being or staying in that State?

    It is a mess but it seems to be a fact of professional sports and state government.

  2. I had added some material about the MOA that somewhat addresses this issue further.

    Basically, I think if public financing is involved, there must be a compelling argument that the public is benefiting in a way that justifies the investment.

    The return on public spending in general may be concrete (revenue generated, infrastructure created), or it may be less concrete (funding for the arts, building parks for public use, etc.).

    Would a stadium used for a sporting event ten times a year justify hundreds of millions of dollars of state commitment? Maybe--but I'd want to see the compelling argument.

  3. The Vikings are a private business, yes, but they pay and play in a public owned building. The Metrodome is not privately owned, but publicly so as I suspect most pro football stadiums are. The Vikings help pay for and build that public stadium then pay rental via the lease agreement. Same with the Twins (another private business).

    A quick Google search reveals that as of 1999 (I know the data is old) only 3 team not specified (New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins I believe are two of them) and 1 private group (Carolina Panthers stadium) owned their stadiums, all others are publicly controlled/owned by local governments or special stadium/sports authorities. The old Met and the Metrodome fall into this majority category.

    Could Zygi build a private stadium? I'm sure, if he wanted. Then he could take the sale of the Metrodome as stipulated in the lease, and use that money wherever he decides to build, but then Minnesota would be out of a public building that is used for all sorts of things public and private (rental). Or the state could be the one to buy the Metrodome, then subsidize it for the near and far future for what ever it needs and costs. It could happen, but in these times of budget problems, do you think they would find that even more appealing? So there goes the state championship football games indoors, indoor baseball for the Gophers and other teams in the early spring, any of the daily skating and running hours, the weekly dog days, conventions and shows, etc, etc. Sure some may find other locations, but others won't, and gone will be the 70,000 fans 10 or more weeks a year helping to subsidize it.

    Zygi has already agreed to pay over a quarter of the cost for a building the Vikings won't use for more than about a dozen days a year and still have to pay rent on. But that same public building will receive the majority of its revenue from that same dozen or more days.

    I tend to ramble and if this didn't help, let me know, but if 85% of your peers get public help in the way of the stadium you play in, and you have had it all of your existence, why wouldn't you keep expecting it? It's a public building and just as much as part of the infra structure as a bridge that allows private owned vehicles to roll over it, some even moving goods that they will make a profit from. Why don't they build their own bridge?

  4. Luft, the Metrodome is an all-purpose building used for all sorts of events with all sorts of public uses. And that's a good thing--the sort of thing a state can justify paying for. And if a new Viking stadium would be another building used for many events and with many public uses, then that's the sort of thing the state can justify paying for. It is my understanding that the Vikings want a new stadium that is mostly for the Vikings' exclusive use. Is that actually justifiable? And is "that's what the other owner's get" a reasonable argument for state legislators to use our state money to build a stadium for this owner?

    If the Twins hadn't already gotten a stadium with public money, this would all be easier for me. I would praise stadium opponents for drawing a firm, principled line. If the Vikes moved, I would cry, and I would feel deeply, deeply horrible for a long, long time, but I would at least feel that the state/community didn't sell its soul for a private sports team. But the Twins did get that there really isn't a firm, principled line...and the state/community has already sold its soul for a private sports team. So there goes feeling good about any of it, and now the whole stadium discussion just makes me sick.

  5. I want to admit I'm far from an expert on public funding, on the specifics of the MN legislature, on the specifics of the Metrodome lease or the Twins' stadium deal, on infrastructure, on public benefits of funding, on economics (I was looking through notebooks from an old history course, and in my notes I quoted my favorite history professor saying economics is little more than voodoo--I think I've carried that attitude with me ever since), or basically anything else related to this topic. I generally try to write on things I feel quite familiar with--so when I write about the stadium, I focus on the language used. When my commentary strays to the heart of the issue, I'm just another schlub with a semi-educated opinion.

  6. What I find interesting is that you still have old history notebooks hanging around. Assuming you didn't just graduate from the U of Whatever, how in the hell would you have room in your domicile for that?

  7. The Vikings latest plugs are touting it as a multi-use building just like the Metrodome (using the only structure of the dome, etc.) that should alleviate some of your pain over that issue.

    My issue is the actual finances it brings to the state. We are talking about spending 600+ Million Dollars (granted that should create some jobs...however how many will be construction workers who live here just during construction, etc.) so there better be return on investment.

    Now that is where things get complicated. The facility itself in 2005 only made about 1.5 million dollars (revenue vs. expenses) and that was with the Gophers, Twins, and we are only talking Vikings and the odds and ends that are not huge revenue they better have an aggressive market to make the facility a profit.....the other thing to consider is the money it creates in surrounding business (hotels, bars, shops, etc.)....that isn't as easy to nail down just as it would not be easy to nail down how much loss would be created if it didn't exist....however the Dome still could be used for those non-Vikings events if the Vikings left so that might be a factor that can be largely ignored....

    Essentially do the Vikings and their revenue warrant keeping in the state? Without them the Dome would probably run at a loss rather than profit (so say 5 million a year loss because expenses are higher than revenue)....Do the Vikings generate enough revenue to the state (think over 20 years) to warrant keeping them via this large investment?

    100 millions to keep the Dome running without Vikes in it....leaves about 500 million over 20 years to be generated by the they alone generate 25 million a year for the state?

    If so then yes they probably could make a strong case for keeping them and building a new stadium, but if not then I will miss you Vikings but that money could be better spent.