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Friday, October 2, 2009
Lonely and not in love: The Vikings and the Dome

By Kevin Seifert
ESPN.com

Judy Griesedieck//Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
What’s next for the Vikings and the Metrodome?

Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


Over on the baseball page of ESPN.com, Jim Caple commemorates the historic run of baseball’s Twins in the Metrodome. The Twins will play their final regular-season series in the building this weekend, and they’ll move to Target Field for the 2010 season.

The University of Minnesota already has moved out, having opened TCF Stadium last month. The Twins’ departure leaves the Vikings as the building’s last tenant, raising this fair question: What happens next?

In the short-term, the Vikings are taking steps to make the building more Vikings-oriented. They’ve sold exclusive sponsorships to a pair of gates, and Thursday they sold naming rights to their playing field to the Mall of America.

The Vikings, however, insist they have no long-term future in the building. Their lease expires after the 2011 season, and although their requests for public assistance for a new stadium have been denied thus far, they have started the countdown to their own departure from the Dome. It’s 27 games, including the preseason. It’ll be 26 after Monday night’s matchup against Green Bay.

“The focus and intensity of this issue has increased,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development.

Indeed, the next few years promises to be tense. Thursday, Bagley joined members of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission in discussing the team’s economic impact on the state during a hearing before the House commerce committee. But there is a significant level of frustration that more than 10 years after first raising the issue -- and three years after both the Twins and Gophers received public financing for their new homes -- the Vikings are still stuck in the first stages of stadium politics.

Bagley said the Vikings will decline an option to extend their Metrodome lease this spring, putting the franchise on a collision course with legislators who don’t seem to have an appetite for distributing more public dollars during an economic recession. The Vikings’ current plan calls for a $954 million retractable-roof stadium on the site of the Metrodome, for which they are seeking about $700 million in public financing.

Owner Zygi Wilf has said he won’t move the team if he can’t reach a stadium agreement, but Bagley suggested Wilf might sell -- perhaps to a buyer who might move it -- if it comes to that.

“If the state of Minnesota continues to say no, why would you own a team in this market?” Bagley said.