NFC North: Morrie Lanning

As we noted earlier this week, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton introduced the possibility of a voter referendum on the Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal. In a classic example of modern leadership, Dayton said he is officially neutral on the issue. But his words have opened the floodgates for some pretty scary political posturing if you’re a stadium proponent.

Minnesota’s two highest-ranking state legislators have told reporters they want Ramsey County voters to vote on the 0.5-cent sales tax hike that would provide a key funding piece of the Vikings' $1.057 billion project. The Star Tribune has details from Senate Majority leader Amy Koch and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, the powerful political pair who backed Dayton off every tax hike he proposed in a recent budget showdown.

Conventional wisdom suggests that a referendum would scuttle the project entirely. Would a majority of Ramsey citizens, or any other tax base, vote to raise their own taxes? Probably not.

State Rep. Morrie Lanning, one of the stadium bill’s authors, said a referendum would put “the kibosh on the stadium project." As a result, Lanning somewhat hyperbolically suggested, "the Vikings will be sold, and they will move."

The bill that approved baseball's Target Field overrode calls for a referendum on a Hennepin County tax hike, and the Vikings have said they expect similar language. A referendum might not be held until November 2012, delaying the project past the Vikings’ February 2012 lease expiration at the Metrodome.

I've avoided the whole democracy-republic argument in previous posts and won’t bore you too much with my feelings on that. Generally speaking, I think citizens should get an opportunity to voice approval or concerns through public hearings. But elected officials are on a slippery slope when they start delegating specific policy decisions to a cross-section of voters.

Koch and Zellers know how difficult it will be to approve stadium financing via referendum. Perhaps it's their back-door way of rejecting the Vikings’ proposal without taking full responsibility. Or maybe, and more likely, they've grabbed it as a political chip to cash in when bill negotiations heat up.

As I always say, stadium projects always get bogged down in rhetoric and threats. We’re approaching that phase in Minnesota. No more and no less.
We're Black and Blue All Over:

The Minnesota state legislature has adjourned without addressing the Minnesota Vikings' stadium issue with so much as a single public hearing. So the question now: Will the issue be placed on the agenda for a presumed special session this summer?

Here's what Rep. Morrie Lanning, one of the stadium bill authors, told Mike Kaszuba of the Star Tribune: "It is of course possible if, there is a special session, for this issue to be before us."

The special session will be dominated by a contentious battle to balance the state budget, however. And Lanning noted that several obstacles still must be overcome, including roads and naming rights. He told Dave Orrick of the St. Paul Pioneer Press that public hearings later this summer are possible as well.

One way or the other, it looks like it will take at least another month to find out whether this bill will be passed or if the Vikings will go into the 2011 season as pending franchise free agents.

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Green Bay Packers running back Brandon Jackson, a pending free agent, feels like it is "wasting my life" to pay attention to the details of the lockout. Kareem Copeland of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
  • Kevin Oklobzija of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle wonders what would have happened if the Buffalo Bills had drafted linebacker Clay Matthews instead of defensive end Aaron Maybin in the 2009 draft. Matthews is the featured speaker at the Rochester Press-Radio Club's 62nd annual day of champions dinner.
  • The Detroit Lions confirmed they have "made some adjustments to our business operation" because of the lockout but would not confirm reports that they have instituted mandatory two-week furloughs for employees, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions offensive lineman Jason Fox is healthy for the first time in two years, writes Tim Twentyman of the Detroit News.
  • Chicago Bears running back Garrett Wolfe, a pending free agent, was arrested over the weekend because of a fight that started over an unpaid nightclub bill of $1,572, according to Neil Hayes of the Chicago Sun-Times.
  • Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune looks at how the Bears have been impacted by the lockout.
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.