NFC North: Julie Rosen

Vikings stadium: Fits and starts

April, 25, 2012
Wednesday provided a good illustration of the highs and lows the Minnesota Vikings' stadium bill will continue to encounter on the way to a final up-or-down resolution.

The day began with a longtime stadium critic, state Sen. John Marty, saying the bill's approval is "imminent" and that stadium supporters "have the upper hand and I think they're more likely than not to get their stadium within the week."

It continued with state Rep. Paul Thissen, the House minority leader, calling for a vote as early as Thursday on the floor of the state house. (Remember, approval from both the state House, Senate and Gov. Mark Dayton are necessary before the bill can be enacted.)

At midday, three Vikings players showed up unannounced to provide support and a little levity. I'm guessing that running back Adrian Peterson, linebacker Chad Greenway and center John Sullivan were part of the early conditioning group at the Vikings' practice facility.

The Senate version of the bill hit a roadblock when the Senate Finance committee added an additional funding mechanism -- a long-debated and politically volatile issue known as a "Racino" -- to help pay for the state's portion of the stadium. The Finance committee then passed the bill along to the Senate Tax committee on Thursday. Sen. Julie Rosen, a key stadium supporter, said the Racino language would imperil the bill.

I wouldn't get too worked up about that possibility. Amendments can be added and retracted from bills at committee stops and during floor debate. It's important to take a global approach and follow the general direction of the bill, which after Wednesday's amendment, is one step closer to a vote in both legislative houses. That's still progress.

I know some of you are annoyed to see stadium posts in the midst of our otherwise sacred draft coverage. But this issue is hurtling toward a resolution, one way or the other, and it will impact the fabric of this division no matter what answer legislators provide. It's really important. Thanks for your understanding.
By all accounts, Minnesota's political leaders received a clear message Friday morning in a meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers president/co-owner Art Rooney.

"This is it, folks," Gov. Mark Dayton said during a post-meeting news conference.

"They served us a reality check," state Sen. Julie Rosen said.

"Things will have to be moving a little bit more quickly," House Speaker Kurt Zellers said.

"The writing is on the wall," Dayton added.

Legislators from both houses and parties emerged with clear marching orders: Revive a stadium bill that died in a committee earlier this week or face the departure of the franchise. Goodell said he made "no implied threats or any threats at all," but in reality he didn't need to. As we discussed Thursday, the team and league are giving the state another 10 or so days of exclusivity before opening the door to relocation alternatives.

That in itself wouldn't lead to relocation, but it would put Minnesota in competition with other municipalities for the first time in the 10-plus year battle on this issue.

The legislative leaders offered different recollections of the extent to which the Los Angeles market was discussed, especially after reports that owner Zygi Wilf's plane was spotted in Southern California, where he often visits to maintain real estate investments. But Rosen, one of the bill authors, said Goodell answered a question about the subject by "clearly" labeling it "an open market" and pointing out that the Vikings "do have the right to move or be sold."

Focus now shifts to the Minnesota Senate, where the bill will be heard in a committee Friday afternoon while parallel efforts to revive it in the Minnesota House are under way. But the larger question is not whether state leaders agree on the issue. It's how effective they can be, or how willing they are, in strong-arming enough dissenters into pushing the bill to a vote of full membership.

From what I understand, the Vikings feel confident that enough legislators will vote for the bill if it makes it to that level. That makes the next seven-10 days the most important in the history of the franchise. Stay tuned.
In essence, that headline was the answer the Minnesota Vikings received Friday evening. State leaders have decided against introducing their bill for a new stadium during next week's special session of the state legislature. The Star Tribune has the story.

State Sen. Julie Rosen, one of the co-sponsors of the bill, remains committed to the issue but said she would be "strung up" if she introduced it immediately after months of political haggling over a state budget. Rosen said the bill could be addressed at a second special session in the fall. Gov. Mark Dayton said through a spokesperson that he would consider calling the second session but wouldn't commit to it.

I can understand state leaders being unwilling to dish out some $650 million in public money days after delaying $700 million in funding to K-12 education in order to balance the budget. But none of them should be proud of the way they have handled state business, including the stadium issue. Most of their budget decisions merely pushed difficult choices into the future, and now the same thing has happened with the Vikings.

Earlier Friday, owner Zygi Wilf told Dayton "the time is now" to approve the stadium. The team has made no public comment since that I'm aware of. Given how far the Vikings came on the Arden Hills proposal, I'm guessing they won't totally abandon it as long as a second special session remains on the table. It's also possible they will listen to those who prefer the stadium to be built in downtown Minneapolis. Regardless, what's a few more months at the end of a decade-long fight?

On the other hand, it's worth repeating that the Vikings have only 10 games remaining on their Metrodome lease. They would be well within their rights to listen to alternatives should Minnesota's political dysfunction continue to cloud their future.

I've never felt stronger about my two primary tenets of this fight:
  1. Long ago, a wise person suggested the stadium issue would not be resolved until it fell into a full-blown crisis. In political terms, it's not yet a crisis when a team has six months remaining on its lease. A crisis, politically speaking, is arriving at the late-January start of the 2012 session and finding the mayor of Los Angeles camped outside the Vikings' facility. Until we get to that level of dramatics, no one will be willing to risk political capital on an NFL stadium.
  2. There is no right or wrong answer. It's merely a choice. The state is not obligated to provide a cent of funding for a new stadium. But if that's the decision, the state must recognize that eventually the Vikings will leave. The time for foot-stomping and asking why Wilf won't build a privately-funded stadium is over. It's time for everyone to make an informed choice and then live with the consequences, one way or the other.

Stay tuned.
Thanks to Tom of Minneapolis for noting an underreported obstacle the Minnesota Vikings must hurdle on the way to securing stadium legislation. Two entities have laid claim to revenue from naming rights for the proposed facility in Arden Hills, Minn., a gulf that might be negotiable but still must be addressed before a legislative vote can be taken.

In a financing bill submitted to the state legislature last month, state Sen. Julie Rosen and Rep. Morrie Lanning wrote that naming-rights revenue would go to the state. Specifically, it would be used for stadium debt service and maintenance. According to the Star Tribune, the bill counts that revenue as part of the state's $300 million contribution to the project. I've independently confirmed that important fact as well.

However, in a 12-page memorandum of understanding (MOU) detailing its deal with Ramsey County, the Vikings wrote: "All revenues (net of generally applicable taxes, fees, etc.) derived from the operations of the Stadium and parking facilities including signage, naming rights, etc. shall belong to the Team."

The economic downturn has slowed stadium naming-rights deals around the country, so it's difficult to pinpoint how much money we're talking about here. Over the past decade or so, deals for naming rights on new NFL stadiums have fallen in the range of $5 million to $10 million annually.

The proposed downtown Los Angeles stadium has received a record $20 million annual commitment from Farmers Insurance. But a closer gauge from the perspective of market size is Indianapolis, where three years ago, the Colts signed a 20-year, $122 million deal with Lucas Oil. That averages out to a bit more than $6 million per year.

Two recently-opened stadiums in big markets, the New Meadowlands Stadium and Cowboys Stadium, have yet to finalize deals.

NFL teams have traditionally received naming-rights revenue in public-private partnerships, but every market is different. I have to assume this issue, like many others, is negotiable. The question is whether the sides can find common ground quickly enough to keep the deal moving forward.

Earlier: The Vikings and the state are $131 million apart on road upgrades.