NFC North: Vikings stadium

MINNEAPOLIS -- The televised celebration in the Minneapolis bid committee's conference room on Tuesday afternoon -- in response to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's announcement that Super Bowl LII was headed to the Twin Cities -- was spontaneously raucous, in the way that only a celebration of the end of a long wait can be. As Minnesota Vikings officials, corporate CEOs and civic leaders exchanged jubilant (and occasionally awkward) high-fives and embraces, the room quieted down only at the mention that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf was about to speak on TV.

It was then I realized: This must have been the first time in a while where it was purely, unequivocally good for the Wilf family to be the owners of the Vikings.

[+] EnlargeZygi Wilf and Mark Wilf
AP Photo/David GoldmanVikings owners Zygi and Mark Wilf were all smiles after Minneapolis was selected as the host for the 2018 Super Bowl.
Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf, who prefer to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible, have presumably spent too much time in it for their liking in the past nine months, and rarely for positive reasons. First, there was the news that a New Jersey judge had ordered the family to pay $100 million in damages to its business partners in a 21-year-old lawsuit, which the Wilfs are still fighting in appellate court. That lawsuit triggered an emergency (if slightly theatrical) review of the Wilfs' finances that threatened to delay groundbreaking on the Vikings' new stadium, and four days after Zygi and Mark Wilf appeared at a news conference to announce the firing of coach Leslie Frazier following a 5-10-1 season, the owners ordered an independent review of the organization in the wake of former punter Chris Kluwe's allegations he was cut because of his support for same-sex marriage.

Even low-level controversies, like the news the Wilfs were receiving tax breaks in exchange for storing stadium dirt on parking lots they owned in downtown Minneapolis, played on the narrative that the Vikings' owners were suspicious out-of-towners, intent on driving hard bargains with a community that counts three Midwesterners as the owners of its other pro teams and tends to be leery of slick East Coast mavens.

But on Tuesday, the Wilfs weren't seen as carpetbaggers. They were the patient, steady hands who bought the Vikings in 2005, never threatened to move the team during a long legislative battle over a new stadium and ultimately helped forge the partnership on a $1 billion complex that will bring the Super Bowl back to Minnesota for the first time in 26 years. They got to talk about the "beginning ... of a long, great relationship and a great venue that everyone in Minnesota can be proud of," and as a kicker, they helped Minnesota exact a small measure of revenge for one of its most bitter NFC Championship Game defeats, beating out New Orleans for the right to host the game four years after the Vikings' overtime loss to the Saints. After a long, tenuous stretch, they seemed as much a part of the community in Minnesota as they had in some time.

However unscrupulous the Wilfs' business dealings might make them seem in the eyes of Minnesotans, it's tough to argue they haven't been good owners since they bought the team from Red McCombs. They've funded one of the NFL's highest payrolls, routinely spending money in free agency and giving general manager Rick Spielman the freedom to acquire seven first-round picks in the past three years. They were patient with state legislators through the fits and starts of the stadium process, even as the Vikings' local revenues in the outdated Metrodome ranked among the league's lowest. And they've now got the distinction of being the owners who helped bring America's biggest sporting event back to a state that might never have been more energized than when it had the game last time, in the middle of a remarkable 10-month run that saw the U.S. Open, Stanley Cup finals, World Series, Super Bowl and Final Four land in the Twin Cities in 1991 and 1992, making Minnesota the center of the nation's sporting conscience.

On top of all that, the Wilfs have a new head coach they like, a new quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater and an iconic player in Adrian Peterson. The narrative around the team right now is very much about what's exciting and new, and very little about the unsightliness of the past nine months. Tuesday was a good day for them to be the owners of the Vikings, and as they landed a Super Bowl that's sure to induce plenty of fretting about Minnesota's frosty climate, it probably wasn't hard for the Wilfs to feel the warmth from their adopted fan base.
MINNEAPOLIS -- They could talk about the plans for a revamped downtown. They could tout the Twin Cities' robust group of Fortune 500 companies that had already helped raise more than $30 million for the game. But the Minneapolis bid committee had one irrefutable $1 billion crown jewel in its case for the 2018 Super Bowl: the NFL's newest stadium.

[+] EnlargeVikings Stadium rendering
AP Photo/HKSMinneapolis will host the 2018 Super Bowl after a vote by owners rewarded the city for getting a new stadium deal.
Let's be clear: Super Bowl LII is coming to Minneapolis, and not New Orleans, because of the Vikings' new stadium. It takes something special to take the big game away from the Big Easy; in fact, no one had ever done it. New Orleans had bid for 10 Super Bowls before Tuesday's decision. It had gotten all of them, and its bid for an 11th Super Bowl, centered around a massive celebration to commemorate the city's tricentennial, seemed like the favorite. But Minneapolis could point to the new facility that will open in 2016, and more often than not in today's NFL climate, the city with the shiniest stadium gets the big stage.

Three of the last four Super Bowls have been played in new stadiums, and the 2016 Super Bowl will be played at Levi's Stadium, the San Francisco 49ers' new facility in Santa Clara, Calif. The NFL hasn't awarded a Super Bowl to Miami since 2009, as the Dolphins push for renovations to Sun Life Stadium. By the time the game comes to Minneapolis, there will have been more 21st-century Super Bowls in Minnesota, Michigan and Indiana than there will have been in California. If the NFL is willing to take its marquee event away from some of its most hospitable destinations -- and put it in cold-weather climates -- there has to be a good reason for doing so. The reason is clear: The league has sent a clear message that communities who build new stadiums -- doing so in most cases with large sums of taxpayer dollars -- will get rewarded. When the Minnesota State Legislature approved the Vikings' new stadium in 2012, it did so with a clear eye toward this day, and now, there's a maturation date for the payoff.

Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl once before, welcoming the nation for the Washington Redskins' 37-24 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVI. The Metrodome hosted two Final Fours, a MLB All-Star Game and two World Series. The Twin Cities has plenty of experience hosting big events, and by 2018, Minneapolis will have a larger public transportation system, major changes to Block E centered around a new Timberwolves practice facility and a Mayo Clinic sports medicine center and a new park just west of the Vikings' new stadium (though there's no such thing as 'green space' in Minnesota in February).

But the reason the Super Bowl hadn't come back to Minnesota since 1992 was simple: The NFL needed a new facility in which to house the game. Minnesota has promised to deliver one, and the league rewarded it in a big way on Tuesday. There's no guarantee the game will make more than one visit to the Vikings' new home, but Tuesday's announcement was a significant enough payoff on a $1 billion investment.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The caravan of Twin Cities business leaders and Minnesota Vikings officials is on its way to Atlanta for the NFL's spring meetings this week, and we'll find out on Tuesday if the Vikings' new stadium will get to host Super Bowl LII in 2018, two years after its scheduled opening.

But if Minneapolis doesn't get the nod on Tuesday? Add another "I" and try again.

As hard as Minneapolis has pushed for the 2018 Super Bowl, touting a revamped downtown and what will be the NFL's newest stadium, the bid could get caught in the current of history. New Orleans -- which turns 300 in 2018 -- wants the game for an 11th time as part of its tricentennial celebration, and the Super Bowl's most frequent host usually gets what it wants. The city is 10-for-10 in Super Bowl bids, and the NFL might decide to award Super Bowl LII to New Orleans on Tuesday, with plans to award Super Bowl LIII to Minneapolis next year.

The league has made a habit of giving Super Bowls to cities that build new stadiums -- three of the last five Super Bowls have been in new buildings, with the 2016 game slated for the San Francisco 49ers' new home in Santa Clara, California -- but it's not unprecedented for the league to ask cities with a new building to wait a year. Indianapolis hosted its first Super Bowl in 2012, and was awarded the game a year after losing out to North Texas for the 2011 game. Minneapolis has the only new building in the field this time, competing against Indianapolis and New Orleans, but the Crescent City has centered its 2018 pitch around the suggestion the NFL could kick off a yearlong celebration by bringing the game back to what might be America's foremost party destination.

Can Minneapolis compete with that? Maybe, but it's easy to see NFL owners approaching the next two Super Bowl bids as a win-win; it awards the 2019 game to the Twin Cities a year from now, and capitalizes on New Orleans' tricentennial for 2018. The Vikings had initially bid on the 2018, 2019 and 2020 Super Bowls, and while the team had focused its initial effort on 2018, it wouldn't be surprising to see NFL owners tell the Vikings to come back for another try next year.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings became the latest team to get into the personal seat license game in February, announcing their plan for PSLs (or "stadium builder's licenses," as the team calls them) as part of their new $975 million stadium that will open in 2016. The team had hoped to raise $100 million of its $477 million contribution toward the stadium through PSLs, and in less than three months, the Vikings are already nearly a third of the way there.

Team spokesman Jeff Anderson said on Friday morning that fans who held some of the most expensive seats in the Metrodome have already bought up 6,500 seats in the new 65,400-seat stadium, contributing more than $30 million to the team's seat license program. Roughly 75 percent of the ticketholders contacted have purchased seat licenses, Anderson said, and of those who have purchased seats, 80 percent are buying in club areas. The Field and Valhalla clubs -- the two most expensive seating clubs in the stadium, with respective seat licenses of $9,500 and $7,000 -- are essentially sold out, Anderson said.

In addition, the Vikings have sold 2,000 new season tickets for the upcoming season at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, which will give fans an opportunity to get tickets at the new stadium sooner. "What we think we're seeing is people jumping on board at the university, knowing they get priority at the new stadium," Anderson said. He also added the Vikings expect their season-ticket renewal percentage to be in the "low-to-mid 80s," which likely means single-game tickets will be in short supply at the 52,000-seat stadium.

It's certainly worth noting that the Vikings have so far concentrated their season-ticket program on the ticketholders who bought the highest-priced seats at the Metrodome, and presumably have the most money to spend on seats at the new stadium, and it will be interesting to see if high renewal rates hold up when fans in lower-priced areas get a chance to reserve seats in the next few weeks and months. The Vikings divided the Metrodome into 16 seating zones, and Van Wagner Group -- whom the Vikings hired to run their sales process for the new stadium -- has started setting appointments for ticketholders in Zone 3 to reserve seats.

But the early returns on the Vikings' seat license program indicate the team will have no trouble getting its $100 million from the program, which probably shouldn't come as a surprise. There's presumably a ceiling somewhere as to what fans will spend on the NFL, but it doesn't appear we've hit it yet.
MINNEAPOLIS -- In May 2012, the Minnesota State Legislature approved a $975 million bill to make a new Vikings stadium the state's third publicly-financed sports venue in less than a decade and the fourth in less than two. At that point, a state that was once staunchly against spending public money on sports stadiums effectively gave up the ghost on the issue.

The issue was seemingly buried further last spring, when lawmakers reconvened to approve backup financing sources for the Vikings' new stadium amid reports that the specious original plan -- a scheme that involved charitable gambling revenues from electronic pulltab machines -- wasn't bringing in nearly enough money. The state pitched in to help the Vikings once again, with the prospect of putting a Super Bowl in the Vikings' new home as a major incentive behind making sure the stadium got built on time.

How strange it is, then, to see legislators fighting over tax breaks for the NFL just before the state's bid for Super Bowl LII is due on April 1. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton admonished legislators last week for bickering about the idea of giving roughly $10 million in tax breaks for player salaries, tickets and Super Bowl events. "Life will go on if we can’t keep this out of the partisan politics,” Dayton said. “We’ll just have to let the opportunity go by.”

It's an election year, and the fight over the tax breaks might just be the dying breaths of opposition on the issue. Had the state put any of its three recent projects to a referendum -- the Vikings stadium, the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium or the Minnesota Twins' Target Field -- it's likely each would have been defeated by voters. But two of the stadiums are here, and another one is coming, with corporate executives finishing a bid to showcase a revamped downtown against Indianapolis and New Orleans, the other finalists for the 2018 game.

Though Minneapolis' two competitors have been strong Super Bowl hosts -- and New Orleans is pushing for the game as part of its tricentennial celebration -- recent history suggests the NFL would reward the Twin Cities for building the Vikings' new stadium. Three of the last four Super Bowls have been played in new stadiums, with Super Bowl L scheduled for the San Francisco 49ers' new home in 2016. The league has been pushing to spread Super Bowls around, and when its final decision comes down in May, Minneapolis seems like a good bet to be awarded its first Super Bowl in 26 years.

Indianapolis and New Orleans have already approved tax breaks for the NFL as part of their bids, and the bet here is that Minnesota will, too. The state has spent the better part of the past decade funneling public money to sports stadiums, and the prospect of major events like Super Bowls and Final Fours was a large piece of the pitch for the Vikings stadium. There's a valid and compelling argument to be made that governments can fund much more worthwhile enterprises than for-profit entertainment businesses, but it's a bit difficult to make that argument after shelling out more than $500 million of taxpayer money for such businesses in less than a decade -- especially when the state just got done handing tax breaks back to its citizens a year after a tax hike created a $1.2 billion budget surplus. It's also reasonable to question how real and long-lasting the economic impact of a Super Bowl is, but the idea of that same event was one of the plums of the new stadium when it was approved two years ago.

When the decision comes in May, I still believe the Vikings will get the 2018 Super Bowl, and if the state has to approve tax breaks to do it, that's likely what will happen. Right or wrong, there's been too much momentum toward the new stadium, with a Super Bowl driving too much of the energy, for the whole thing to die on such a small hill.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Minnesota Vikings announced on Thursday afternoon that they've finalized a $6.6 million set of upgrades for the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, where the Vikings will play the 2014 and 2015 seasons while their new stadium is being built. The big one -- which everyone knew the Vikings would have to get as soon as they announced they'd be playing at TCF Bank Stadium -- is a heated field.

You'll recall the Vikings played one home game at the Gophers' stadium on Dec. 20, 2010, after the Metrodome roof collapsed and the team effectively went on a barnstorming tour for the last several weeks of the season. The temperature at kickoff for the Monday night game against the Chicago Bears was 23 degrees, and the TCF Bank Stadium field -- which had last been used by the University of Minnesota in November -- was hard after having no heat source. Brett Favre played the last snaps of his career on the field, sustaining a concussion when the Bears Corey Wootton slammed him to the turf. If the Vikings were ever going to take up temporary residence there while a new stadium was built, they'd have to spring for a heat source.

They've done that, as part of a package that will be paid for as part of the overall $975 million new stadium budget. TCF Bank Stadium will also get increased storage space, heating for various areas within the stadium and upgrades to the concession stands in the stadium's concourses. The Vikings will add 2,000 temporary bleachers, bringing the overall stadium capacity to 52,000. The team expects construction to begin in March and be completed by July.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- There is certainly reason to react with some skepticism to the news that the opening of the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium could be delayed a year by a lawsuit that has already halted the sale of bonds to finance its construction. These things tend to be heard quickly in court when there are so many jobs on the line, and Minnesota Sports Facilities Association chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen's statement that the lawsuit could throw off the project's timetable might have been made Sunday to put the onus on the Minnesota Supreme Court to move swiftly.

But the fact the MSFA has already halted the bond sale -- and was asking for a resolution by Jan. 23 -- certainly suggests there is some uncertainty about what the lawsuit could mean for the stadium. It is against this backdrop that the Vikings will begin second-round interviews with their coaching candidates this week, and with the Vikings already moving into a temporary home for two years, their stadium situation is sure to be a topic of conversation between prospective coaches and ownership.

Let's say, for a minute, that the Vikings' new stadium was delayed a year. That would mean a third season at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium, a more significant amount of time during which the Vikings would have to sell free agents on the idea of playing in the cold and, almost certainly, higher costs for the new stadium. It seems like a virtual certainty the Vikings will make less money at TCF Bank Stadium than they did at the Metrodome, and a delay could further test the patience of ownership. And if the Vikings were intent on this coaching search being their last before they move into their new home, they'd have to give the next man at least four seasons; Brad Childress got 4 1/2, and Leslie Frazier got 3 1/2.

We're skeptical the lawsuit, which argues the bond sale is unconstitutional because Minneapolis residents didn't get to vote on whether the city should use sales taxes to repay the debt, will result in a significant delay in construction. Former Minneapolis mayoral candidate Doug Mann, one of the lawsuit's three petitioners, already had a similar challenge dismissed in Hennepin County court in November, and stadium proponents say issues raised in the lawsuit were already addressed before the bond sale was approved.

But the entire issue clouds one of the factors the Vikings believed played in their favor as they searched for a new coach. When general manager Rick Spielman outlined the benefits of the job after the team fired Frazier on Dec. 30, he was quick to mention the new stadium as one of the biggest perks.

"I think this is a very attractive job," he said. "I think when you talk to people on the outside, that the young talent that we do have on this roster, with all the new stadium and potential facilities coming in, I don’t think we’re in a total rebuilding mode."

The stadium could still turn out to be a boon to the Vikings' next coach, but candidates who come in to talk to the Vikings this week would be wise to do their homework on it. And at the moment, at least, that homework involves asking questions about when the building will open.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When the Minnesota Vikings move into the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium this fall, they will take occupancy of a college venue that has 12,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome did. Though the team says it has devised a plan to get all of its season-ticket holders in at the new stadium, don't expect single-game tickets to be in large supply the next two years.

It looks like one of the immediate effects of the Vikings' move, which will carry them through the next two years while their new stadium is built, is that their home games will be filled almost exclusively by season-ticket holders. The Vikings currently have 11,000 season ticket accounts, comprising about 53,000 seats, and those tickets are typically renewed at a 90-92 percent rate, Vikings ticket sales and hospitality director Phil Huebner said on Friday. That rate could fluctuate this year with fans who don't want to sit outside, but let's be conservative and say the Vikings get 88 percent of their season-ticket holders in at TCF Bank Stadium. That would leave less than 5,000 seats available for single-game purchase next season.

"Right now, it's full," Huebner said. "If everyone renews, we will have very few to minimal seats available on a game-by-game basis. But every sports team has some turnover."

The good news, if you're a season-ticket holder? The Vikings have home games next year against big-name opponents like the Patriots, Jets, Panthers and Redskins, in addition to their regular division schedule. So if you're looking to unload your tickets for a couple games on the secondary market, you might find a nice market for your seats.

A couple other points from the media briefing the Vikings held on Friday to discuss ticket policies at the new stadium over the next two years:
  • Fans who keep their accounts active, but choose not to buy tickets at TCF Bank Stadium, will still have priority over new ticket buyers when the Vikings' new stadium opens in 2016. The team will require season ticket holders to by personal seat licenses at the new stadium, and the Vikings will launch that program later this year, so purchasing a seat license would guarantee tickets in the new stadium anyway. Fans who pass up on tickets the next two years, though, would slide behind those who bought tickets at TCF Bank Stadium on the priority list.
  • Unlike in normal years, where fans are able to pick their seats, the Vikings assigned seats for current season-ticket holders at TCF Bank Stadium. In some cases, that meant bumping fans with lower-level seats in the Metrodome up to the top deck at TCF Bank Stadium, which has 7,000 fewer lower-level seats than the Metrodome. "The upper level at TCF Bank Stadium is cantilevered over (the lower level)," Vikings VP of sales and marketing Steve LaCroix said. "It's some of the best seats in the stadium. The Gophers have educated us on that, that their fan base really enjoys a lot of those upper-level sideline sections."
  • The Vikings will have fewer suites available at TCF Bank Stadium than they did at the Metrodome, too -- the Gophers' stadium only has 39, and the current owners of those suites would have right of first refusal to keep them for Vikings games. By Feb. 1, the Vikings will know how many suites they have available, and can offer other premium seating options like loge and club seats that aren't available at the Metrodome.
  • Between a smaller stadium, fewer available suites, the rent the team must pay to the university, and the upgrades it will fund at TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings will likely make less money from their home games than they have in recent years. That is why it wouldn't be surprising to see the team push for a return trip to London in 2015, since the NFL would reimburse the Vikings for the average revenue of a normal home game. If the NFL were to pay the Vikings what they would make from a Metrodome home game, instead of what they would make at TCF Bank Stadium, the trip could be even more worthwhile.
Leslie Frazier Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsLeslie Frazier may have coached his last game with the Minnesota Vikings.
MINNEAPOLIS -- It's not in Leslie Frazier's nature to point fingers in public or play politics, so anyone expecting him to stump for keeping his job in what might have been his final news conference as the Minnesota Vikings coach was probably misguided. But if Frazier had anything to say about why he shouldn't be fired after a 5-10-1 season, Sunday was his chance.

Asked after a 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday how quickly he thought he would find out about his job status, Frazier said this:

"Not sure about that. I have a contract -- our staff has a contract -- through 2014, and I hope that the Wilf family will honor that and give us a chance to come back next season and try and get our quarterback situation fixed, try to get the depth of our roster along with some other errors that need to be fixed. I hope they'll give this staff the chance to finish what we've gotten started. We're only a season removed from the playoffs. I think our guys are still playing hard and we're under contract. We'll see."

Frazier parsed his comments carefully, but I thought the remarks he made about the quarterback situation and the depth issues on the Vikings' roster were his attempts to point out that he didn't create two of the biggest issues on the Vikings' roster. General manager Rick Spielman did, drafting Christian Ponder, cutting Antoine Winfield and, instead of bringing Winfield back after the Vikings had discussed a return with the cornerback in September, spending $2 million on Josh Freeman on what amounted to one disastrous game as the starter and the rest of the season on the bench.

The Vikings were bad at the two things you can't be bad in the NFL -- throwing the ball and stopping the pass -- and there was only so much the Vikings' coaching staff was going to be able to do with the roster as it existed coming out of training camp. Frazier also said two weeks ago that the Vikings had to "go through the process" of evaluating Ponder before going to Matt Cassel, hinting he was being asked to fight a war on two fronts (trying to win while doing due diligence on Ponder). He made that point in even clearer terms on Sunday.

"When we made those decisions early in the season regarding our quarterback, you're making decisions based on, in my mind, the short-term and the long-term," he said. "When we decided to stay with Christian, there was a reason why we did that at the time. Now in retrospect, you can look back and say, 'Well, maybe you should have done this,' but we've talked about why we did what we did, and if it worked out, there would be no second-guessing. It didn't, but we knew why we did what we did."

Later, he said this: "In this position, when you're talking about the quarterback position, you don't make these decisions alone. The quarterback position, this is a franchise position. It's a collective decision. At the end of the day, I'm the head coach, but when it comes to the quarterback, it's not like inserting an offensive guard or a wide receiver or a tight end. That's a completely different matter, so believe me, there was discussion in each one of those situations. ... I've been in the league too long and been around football too long. You don't want to make decisions regarding the quarterback without ownership and the general manager being involved in some degree. You can make decisions, but they need to sign off on it. This is the franchise. It's not the center position, it's not the guard, it's the quarterback. So, yeah, we discussed each one of those moves."

Frazier may well have a case if he was handed Ponder with the instructions the Vikings needed to give him more time. Spielman has often talked about a three-year rule on evaluating quarterbacks, and Ponder went into the season as the unquestioned starter, even after the Vikings signed Cassel, who started or played significantly in every game they won. It would be a cold way to go out if Frazier were asked to develop a quarterback, and pay for the losses with his job, though it wouldn't be the first time it's happened.

[+] EnlargeFreeman
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsInconsistent quarterback play may be one of the two reasons Frazier loses his job.
Still, the Wilfs seem tied to Spielman, who hasn't yet had the chance to pick his own coach, and if Frazier was trying to make the case that he couldn't have won with this team, he'll have to address two key factors.

First, Frazier said as recently as last week that Ponder was the quarterback the Vikings targeted in the run-up to the 2011 draft. He still had some say in personnel matters at that point. And to use his own logic, if the quarterback position is an organizational decision, Frazier must bear some responsibility for drafting Ponder, or for staying with him as long as the Vikings did.

Second -- and probably more importantly -- Frazier was the one who picked offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave and defensive coordinator Alan Williams, hiring the former in 2011 and tapping the latter to replace Fred Pagac before 2012. Both have looked overmatched in Minnesota; Musgrave was slow to incorporate Cordarrelle Patterson, who looks like a transformational talent on offense, and several veteran players have criticized Williams' play calling throughout the season. If Frazier had any chance to stay, he'd likely have to replace his coordinators, and his comments on Sunday seemed to tie him to his staff. That could always change behind closed doors, but even if it did, Frazier essentially would be asking the Vikings to bank on his ability to hire coordinators more than Spielman's ability to hire a head coach.

He'd also be asking them to trust his staff could develop another quarterback, in the final years of their contracts, with a team two years from moving into a new stadium and a fan base itching for some sense of momentum. Frazier has shown he can win when he gets competent quarterback play. Cassel provided that for the better part of the second half of the season, when the Vikings went 4-3-1. Players campaigned for him again on Sunday, and Adrian Peterson said he plans to talk to the Wilfs on Monday.

In the end, though, making the case that this year wasn't his fault probably won't save Frazier's job. He would have to convince the Wilfs the Vikings will be better with him than without him, and if he's unable to do that, the two factors we mentioned likely could be the reasons why.
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

When the Vikings drafted UCLA punter Jeff Locke in the fifth round of last April's draft, ostensibly to replace Chris Kluwe, they made the move largely because of how they thought Locke could help them pin opponents deep in their own territory. Locke had a strong leg, but was also a skilled directional kicker and had learned the Aussie-style kicks favored by many punters for shorter kicks.

But Locke struggled early this season, and special teams coordinator Mike Priefer told the punter, as only he could, that Locke was "the dumbest smart guy I've ever met in my life.

"Because all he did was think," Priefer said, according to Derek Wetmore of "He was overthinking, overanalyzing everything and he just wasn't going out there and doing what he does. He's got a beautiful leg swing when the drop is closer to being perfect or perfect, we get what we want. And when it's not perfect, that's OK, that's football. He's just got to understand that he's going to be a more consistent punter when he approaches it that way."

Locke graduated from UCLA with a degree in economics, a 3.885 GPA and a banking internship. He helped publish a study on whether college athletes should be paid. There's no question the rookie punter is an intellectual, but that can sometimes backfire on athletes. Locke has put five punts inside the 20 in the last two games, and seems on his way to evening out his first season in the NFL. He was Priefer's handpicked punter before the draft, and the Vikings believe he can become one of the better specialists in the league, in time.

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
Welcome to Around the Horns, our daily look at what's happening on the Vikings beat:

While the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority was investigating the finances of the Wilf family this fall, the Vikings were adamant in saying the review of the team's owners had to get done in time to break ground on the team's new stadium in November. Otherwise, construction would have to wait until next spring, potentially delaying the opening of the $975 million facility.

Well, apparently the November deadline could be fudged by a few days.

The Vikings will break ground on the new stadium Dec. 3, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, after the team and stadium authority agreed on how to reach a $737.7 million "guaranteed maximum price" for construction costs.

Stadium groundbreakings are largely ceremonial, more about photo opportunities and soundbites than actual construction progress. But the most significant element of the news is that MSFA chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said the stadium will still be on track for a 2016 opening. The Vikings' path to this point has contained numerous fits and starts, but at this point, it seems like things are finally ready to move forward.

Here are today's other Vikings stories of note:
MINNEAPOLIS -- Among the more interesting points in the Vikings' new stadium lease is a clause that forces the Wilf family to give the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis a share of the profits from any sale of the team before May 2022. According to an Associated Press story on the lease, which was approved last Thursday, Zygi and Mark Wilf would have to give over a quarter of the profits from the sale with the public.

The Wilfs reportedly paid $600 million to buy the Vikings from Red McCombs in 2005, and Forbes estimated the team's value at $1.007 billion in August. That would mean roughly $100 million for the public if the Vikings were to change hands now, and with the value of the team expected to skyrocket as the 2016 opening of the stadium approaches, it wouldn't be shocking to see the state and city in line for $100 million more if a sale were to occur several years down the road.

It would be interesting to know how much of the language in the "windfall clause," as the AP calls it, was finalized before interest spiked in the Wilfs' New Jersey lawsuit. The lease was finalized, of course, after New Jersey judge Deanna Wilson ordered an $84.5 million judgment against the Wilfs, and while the ruling certainly wasn't large enough to put a major dent in the Wilfs' finances, the lawsuit itself did put the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority in a more cautious state. The Wilfs stand to make much more money from a sale down the road, and will reap new revenues from the stadium's operations, but if the owners did have any thoughts of a quick sale, the MSFA wanted to ensure it would get something for the trouble of meeting its new bedfellows.

It's worth noting that two of the other three Minnesota professional sports franchises (the Timberwolves and Twins) are owned by local businessmen, and the third (the Wild) is owned by Wisconsin native Craig Leipold, who bought the team from its original, Minnesota-based ownership group. Minnesotans in general tend to be a tad leery of owners from outside the state, or at least the Midwest, and those sentiments weren't hard to detect in the local response to the Wilfs' lawsuit. Still, the lease ties the team -- and probably the Wilfs -- to the state for a long time, and the "windfall clause" is a provision for the scenario where Minnesotans exchange the owners they know for ones they might not.
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Vikings announced on Thursday evening that they will require personal seat licenses on about 75 percent of the seats in their new stadium, making official a move that had been expected for about as long as Minnesota governor Mark Dayton had been disparaging it.

Dayton had called for the Vikings' new facility to be a "people's stadium," ostensibly meaning that hefty user fees didn't mesh with his populist vision. But on Thursday, even Dayton sounded like he was backed into a corner.

"We had to make a deal," Dayton said in an Associated Press story. "We had to get the owners of the team to agree to a deal."

According to the story, the Vikings pointed to recent stadium agreements in Dallas, New York and San Francisco that netted teams $400 million each. The Vikings' program won't be quite that big, but when history suggests fans will pay a premium for seats in a new stadium, it would have been a shock to see the team not try it. All three of the aforementioned markets might be more affluent than the Twin Cities, but as the Vikings have prepared for their new home, how many times have we heard them talk about creating a year-round entertainment destination, along the lines of what the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots did? Those plans are made with profit in mind, and it takes capital to make them happen.

The Vikings can use $125 million of PSL money toward their $477 million share of the new stadium, with another $200 million coming from the NFL. That would leave the team on the hook for $152 million, which it will likely borrow. It's all about what the market will bear, and an informal poll of fans on Twitter on Thursday night suggested many of you are either willing to pay the average price of $2,500 or at least consider your options. Most of you aren't dismissing the idea of getting seats in the new stadium outright, and as the AP story notes, licenses can be lucrative for fans if tickets are hard to come by in a new stadium; PSLs at the Pittsburgh Steelers' Heinz Field are going for nine times their original value.

According to a chart the Vikings released, their license program will be about the same size, when adjusted for inflation, as the one the Green Bay Packers used to finance the renovation of Lambeau Field in 2003. The chart also mentions that 17 of NFL's 32 teams used some form of licensing in their current stadiums. It's obvious the team is wary of some backlash with the announcement, and the Vikings are the first Minnesota franchise to try PSLs on a large scale (though the Minnesota Twins used them for club seats at Target Field). But whatever resentment the team will have to take probably won't outweigh the financial benefit of sticking fans with a one-time cost. That should have been clear long before Thursday, based on history, and in the end, even Dayton couldn't deny it.

Wilfs owe $84.5M, but not for awhile

September, 23, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- Judge Deanne Wilson came down hard on the Wilf family on Monday afternoon, ordering the Vikings owners to pay $84.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages to their business partners in a 21-year-old lawsuit.

But if the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority's review of the Wilfs' finances hadn't already underscored the obvious point that an eight-figure judgment won't derail a family rich enough to own a NFL team, something the Wilfs' lawyers said in a Monday afternoon conference call drove home a reminder of why the lawsuit never put the Vikings' new stadium in jeopardy.

The Wilfs can -- and will -- appeal the ruling, attorneys Shep Guryan and Peter Harvey said on Monday afternoon, and that could tie this case up in court for another two to three years. In other words, it will be a long time before the Wilfs would have to write a check for the damages, and by that point, the owners' pockets could already be lined with revenues from the $975 million stadium scheduled to open in 2016.

"There will be an opening kickoff before this is finalized," Guryan said.

Wilson stayed the order to make the Wilfs' net worth public, and the owners' attorneys said they would fight to keep that figure private. The other key development from the ruling is that the case will be referred to a New Jersey criminal court, thanks to a state law that requires the attorney general to investigate any lawsuits that involve punitive damages.

But there's now a ceiling on what kind of a financial dent the case will make. No matter how squeamish you feel about the Wilfs' business dealings -- and you certainly have a right to feel that way -- the big machine will keep rolling, and the Vikings will continue on their way to a new home by 2016.

Team vice president Lester Bagley said on the conference call that the Vikings are making progress on lease and development agreements with the MSFA, and anticipated they could be done soon. From a financial perspective, at least, the Wilfs' lawsuit shouldn't delay that process much more, if at all, especially considering how long it could still be before they have to part with any money.

Vikings: Brand-building in London

September, 13, 2013
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings gathered people from across the organization, including team vice president Lester Bagley and general manager Rick Spielman, on Friday to talk about all the preparations for their trip to London this month.

There were plenty of interesting factoids about plans for the trip (the Gjallarhorn is coming, as are some American TV channels for players' hotel rooms and training table staples like Southern spices and Bisquick for breakfast biscuits; the inflatable Viking ship is staying home). But I wanted to focus briefly on a question that some of you have been asking today, and one I had a chance to talk with Bagley about after the presentation: Why are the Vikings giving up a home game in the first place if their share of game revenues won't exceed what they'd make at the Metrodome?

Bagley dispelled the notion on Friday that the trip will be a financial windfall for the team, pointing out that the game is technically a NFL event, and the league will reimburse the team for its average revenue for one game this season. But the appeal of a trip like this, from a business perspective, stems more from the marketing opportunities than the direct cash the team will make from the game.

According to Bagley, the Vikings have sold more tickets than any team in the seven-year history of the NFL's International Series, and as the home team, they've produced a 10-episode series on Sky Sports (the British network that will air the game) introducing British fans to the team. It's tough for the Vikings to get much more popular in Minnesota, but if they have a chance to woo some fans in a new (and affluent) market, it could give them a boost -- especially heading into two years where they might see a dip in their revenues playing at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

"It's an opportunity to expand our brand, and to provide a great experience for our fans," Bagley said, "and to be a team player for the NFL (by hosting a game in the series)."

The teams that have played home games in London in recent years -- St. Louis, Jacksonville, San Diego, etc. -- have largely been ones whose home-game revenues likely aren't as high as other teams in the league; in other words, they're teams with less to lose by moving a game overseas. Bagley didn't necessarily support that theory when I floated it by him today, but he did reiterate that the Vikings were in talks with the NFL about a deal to play games in London for three straight years, and wound up revising it to a one-year deal when the Jaguars agreed to move a home game to Wembley Stadium for each of the next four seasons.

The Vikings will have the opportunity to go back to London the next two seasons while they're at TCF Bank Stadium, though they'll have to make the decision whether the trip is worth it from a financial, logistical and competitive perspective. But if you're looking for a business incentive behind this trip, focus more on the marketing potential than the direct boost to the Vikings' bottom line from the game.