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There was a disturbing exchange of rhetoric in Friday's Star Tribune, at least if you have a rooting interest in the future of the Vikings in Minnesota.
Margaret Anderson Kelliher, the speaker of the Minnesota state House of Representatives, told the newspaper "there is no chance" the Vikings will receive any public funding for their new stadium proposal during the 2009 legislative session.
Lester Bagley, the Vikings' stadium point man, responded that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is growing "frustrated" with the situation and suggested Wilf might "throw in the towel" at some point in the near future. Bagley was careful not to suggest Wilf would move the team; indeed, Wilf has pledged not to relocate. But the clear implication is that he would sell to someone who could do just that.
"It's reality-check time," Bagley said. "If we want an NFL franchise in this state, we have to resolve the stadium issue. Time is running out. If nothing gets done, then maybe the Wilfs throw in the towel."
The Vikings are going to ask for more than $600 million in public funds, and Bagley suggested at least a portion of that could come from Minnesota's share of an economic stimulus package expected to be approved by President-elect Barack Obama. (The argument: Using the money to build infrastructure and create construction jobs).
You could view this exchange as typical in the NFL stadium give-and-take -- were it not for the state of the national and local economy. The Vikings are pitching the stadium as a New Deal-style public works project, but it's going to be hard to find so much money even if state politicians change their attitude toward the project. There has never been less political interest in dealing with this issue in Minnesota.
The Vikings' once-dominant share of the local sports market is already under question as team officials struggle to sell tickets to Sunday's wild card game against Philadelphia. Ultimately, the team's future will come down to two factors:
Will Wilf really sell if he can't get a new stadium?
Is there any locality in the country in better position to spend $600 million-$1 billion on a football stadium in the current economic climate?
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires in 2011. We're not in crisis yet, but it's getting closer.