NFL Nation: 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.
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.
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.
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
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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
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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.

Vikings' stadium progress no surprise

September, 4, 2013
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The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority officially gave the all-clear to the Minnesota Vikings on Wednesday afternoon, saying a review of the Wilf family's finances showed the team's owners won't have any trouble paying for their $477 million share of the team's new stadium, even after a New Jersey judge orders the family to pay damages in a 21-year-old lawsuit.

The Vikings, who had broken off talks on lease and developments while the review was going on, responded with a cheery statement, saying the stadium will open in 2016 as scheduled and professing their eagerness to continue working "collaboratively" with the stadium authority. The rhetoric had changed from where it was a couple weeks ago, but in reality, the facts surrounding the situation never changed.

The MSFA's review of the Wilfs' finances always seemed more like a political play than an actual stab at financial oversight; the state and the stadium authority should have had access to the owners' books -- and knowledge of the lawsuit -- before it approved the stadium last spring. The NFL knew about the lawsuit when it awarded the team to the Wilfs in 2005. And perhaps most importantly, the majority of the Vikings' funding for the stadium was never going to come from the Wilfs' pockets anyway.

The Vikings will get a $200 million loan from the NFL, which they can pay back through club seat revenue that usually goes to visiting teams. They can use revenues from personal seat licenses or sponsorship rights -- money they're not currently getting -- toward their contribution. The team's revenues should skyrocket in the new stadium, and so too will the value of the Wilfs' investment.

Judge Deanna Wilson will award damages in the lawsuit later this month, and the plaintiffs -- business partners whom Wilson ruled the Wilfs defrauded -- had requested $51 million, in addition to attorney's fees of approximately $16 million. The Vikings' payroll will run almost double that total this season, and based on the figures the Green Bay Packers reported earlier this year, NFL teams aren't struggling to make a profit.

Essentially, for the financial review to have carried any weight, the MSFA would have needed to discover that a) the stadium money will come from sources other than the Wilfs' net worth or b) that the Wilfs will still be rich after they pay whatever damages they're ordered to pay. Those facts should have been plainly established long ago. It's fair to be alarmed by what Wilson found in the lawsuit, or to get a bad taste from the nature of public-private partnerships in stadium deals, but to think the MSFA needed to sign off on the Wilfs' solvency, at this point in the game, is a bit Pollyannish.

There will still be a photo op this fall with men in suits putting shovels in the ground, though that might happen in November, not October now. The Metrodome will likely, and blessedly, still be razed after this season, and the stadium will still be on track to open in three years. That was the plan before Wilson's ruling, and it's the plan now, except the people in charge of the MSFA might be able to sleep a little better at night. It was unlikely anything more substantive than that was going to come out of the review, anyway.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- We talked a little while ago about the Vikings' decision to suspend negotiations on their lease at their new stadium as the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority investigates the finances of the team's owners.

Well, the Vikings have weighed in with their own statement on the process, saying that progress on the stadium continues to move forward and adding that a pending decision against the Wilf family in a 21-year-old lawsuit will bear absolutely no impact on the Wilfs’ ability to guarantee and deliver $477 million in private financing toward the stadium project.

A 2011 Sports Illustrated study estimated Zygi Wilf's net worth at $310 million, which put him 27th among the NFL's 32 owners. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit have requested damages around $51 million, though little of the Vikings' contribution to the new stadium will come from their owners' pockets. They are in line for a $200 million NFL loan for the project, and can use revenue from stadium naming rights and personal seat licenses, among other sources, to pay for their share of the costs.

The Vikings' full statement, from corporate communications director Jeff Anderson, is here.

Vikings' stadium drama marches on

August, 23, 2013
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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- When it comes to the latest fervor about the Minnesota Vikings' new stadium -- an issue that had seemingly been put to bed when the Minnesota Legislature approved funding for a new facility in May 2012 -- perhaps it's best for Vikings fans to follow the lead of their head coach.

"Very little," Leslie Frazier said on Friday morning when asked how much he's followed news about the possibility of construction on the stadium being delayed. "The shelf life in our business is very little."

It's possible Frazier won't be the Vikings' head coach by 2016, when the team is scheduled to move into the new facility, so there isn't much reason for him to follow the day-by-day developments of a state investigation into the Wilf family's finances after a New Jersey judge ruled against the Vikings' owners in a 21-year-old lawsuit. But a wake-me-up-when-it's-over approach might be sensible for the rest of us, too.

The Vikings responded to the state's investigation by postponing negotiations on agreements that would keep the project on track for its October groundbreaking, Minnesota Sports Facilities Association chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said in a public meeting on Friday. If the team hasn't agreed on a stadium lease and a development contract with the MSFA by Sept. 15, a groundbreaking now scheduled for November likely wouldn't happen this year, and the Vikings could wind up spending more time at TCF Bank Stadium on the University of Minnesota campus.

But as long as it took the team and state to agree on funding for a new stadium -- the Wilfs were acquiring land around the Metrodome and making proposals to the state as early as 2007 -- it seems highly unlikely the project would be scuttled. Too many people, on both sides of the issue, have staked their reputations on getting the deal done, and the state was aware of the lawsuit against the Wilfs when it made the initial deal to work with the Vikings. It might be prudent, for practical and political reasons, for the state to investigate the Wilfs' finances in light of the decision. And it might be prudent, for the same reasons, for the Vikings to respond by putting negotiations on hold, taking the timeline to the brink of a delay even though the deal holds the team responsible for cost overruns that could be caused by postponing construction.

Most of the recent developments, though, seem to be more about sword-rattling than anything else. The state has twice stuck its figurative neck out for the Vikings, adjusting its funding scheme for the stadium this spring after revenue from its initial mechanism -- statewide charitable gambling -- fell far behind initial projections. Now, if the state's investigation were to turn up new revelations about the owners' business dealings, or if the Wilfs were suddenly unable to pay for the stadium in the wake of the lawsuit, we'd be talking about something much more serious than a construction delay.

But while news about a possible eight-figure ruling against the Wilfs, and the state's ensuing outrage, might make for good drama, it seems unlikely to be anything more than a brief hindrance to a stadium project that many powerful people wanted to get done. In light of that, Frazier's approach might make sense.
design for the new Minnesota Vikings stadiumCourtesy of Minnesota Vikings/HKSThe Vikings new stadium will include the largest transparent roof in the world.

The Minnesota Vikings revealed the proposed design of their new stadium Monday night and, as promised, it included a fixed roof with "operable" doors and transparent technology designed to give a very Minnesota outdoor "feel" within a climate-controlled environment.

There's a photo embedded at the top of this post, but you can also look through a photo gallery on vikings.com or over at 1500ESPN.com.

The features include what the team said is the largest transparent roof in the world via the first clear ethylene tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE) usage in a U.S. stadium. It will also have the "largest glass pivoting doors in the world," the team said. The doors will open to the west plaza and, presumably, the Minneapolis skyline. Skyways will connect the stadium to downtown parking and other buildings.

Many of you are looking for an immediate reaction to the design. I know less about engineering, architecture and design than I do football. I'm not big into aesthetics. I barely know how to wear matching clothes. Honestly, the first thing I thought of was the Fortess of Solitude, but that's more a comment on my limited reference points than the design itself.

But from a functional standpoint, the Vikings appear to have accomplished their goal of providing an outdoor element and feel without splurging on a retractable roof that likely would have been closed for more than half of the team's games. And as many of you have noted, the sloped roof is good for snow removal. (Come on, have some fun!)

Competitively, I'll be interested to know how crowd noise reverberates off an ETFE roof, and how loud the stadium will be when the doors are closed versus open. It's impossible to predict how new technology will perform.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for October 2013.
At least two or three of you are asking what will happen if the primary source of public funding for the Minnesota Vikings stadium falls short of projections, as has been reported to be the case by several media outlets.

For our purposes, the most relevant question is whether the shortfall would delay construction, which is set to begin in October and be completed in time for the 2016 season. The short answer: Probably not.

The state's $498 million share of the $975 million project is to be paid for through sales of electronic pull-tabs. But the final two pages of the stadium bill provide for two "blink-on" funding provisions as backups. The first is an NFL-themed lottery and the second, if necessary, is a 10 percent tax on luxury suites.

And what of the doomsday scenario, where all three provisions fall short of the money required for the state's annual payments? At that point, from what I can tell, the state would have to produce money from its general fund -- something Gov. Mark Dayton promised not to do when campaigning for the facility.

While important, those machinations are sort of inside politics for the NFC North blog. The bottom line is there is a backup plan in place if not enough of you utilize those electronic pull-tabs. It would go against the spirit of the agreement, but when has a stadium construction ever proceeded without a hiccup or change of plans?
And you thought we were done with this silliness.

Out of respect to those of you with stadium fatigue, I've stayed out of the anticlimactic (and little-known) final stage of the Minnesota Vikings' stadium approval process. But for the record, we should remind everyone that the final bill must be approved by the Minneapolis City Council, and further, that two-day process began Thursday.

I'll let Minnesota Public Radio explain the details if you're interested. In essence, the council approved the bill in a preliminary vote, an outcome that has been considered inevitable since a majority of council members pledged support in March.

The final vote will take place Friday and is expected to mirror Thursday's 7-6 decision. Design and construction planning will begin immediately afterward.

Related: Grantland.com's Steve Marsh explains the stadium story through the eyes of a Minnesotan.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Because none of you have gotten your fill yet on the Minnesota Vikings' stadium story, I made a rare daytime appearance outside of NFC North blog headquarters for a visit with team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.

I reported to the ESPN.com news desk that Mark Wilf hopes to begin the Super Bowl bidding for Super Bowl LI, which will be played about six months after the new facility opens for the 2016 season. The Wilfs made clear the team will play at least two more seasons, 2012 and 2013, in the Metrodome but that their 2014 plans could take a year to develop. (They will play the 2015 season at TCF Bank Stadium.)

But to me the most intriguing takeaway was what seems like a preference to outfit the stadium with a retractable roof.

The final stadium bill allows for that possibility if the Vikings pay for the upgrade, which could cost an additional $25 million to $100 million. It would enhance the Wilfs' hopes to draw a Major League Soccer team to the facility, but it would also mesh with Zygi Wilf's long-stated desire to capitalize on what he thinks would be the competitive advantage of outdoor games during the Minnesota fall and winter.

(I have no opinion on it as long as the press box is enclosed.)

Neither Wilf would commit to a retractable roof but here's what Mark Wilf said about it: "We're going to try to get the maximum number of features within the budgets that we can make this a facility that is going to be exciting to the fans. We know it's a competitive landscape to attract our fans to the facility and we're going to want to make it something special. To the extent that retractability can get there, we're going to try to do it."

It's worth noting that the Vikings' original plan for the suburban Arden Hills site included a retractable roof, one that would allow for the outdoor experience the Vikings once had at Metropolitan Stadium but also provide the flexibility to host games and events that require a roof, whether it is the Super Bowl or a Final Four or Grave Digger's next performance.

After noting the possibility on Twitter earlier Friday, many of you asked about the rule at Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Field that requires the roof to be closed when outside temperatures are lower than 40 degrees. All I can tell you is that the NFL's official rules on operating retractable roofs has no such requirements, at least not the set forwarded me Friday by the league office. The rules do, however, give the gameday referee the option to close the roof pregame because of precipitation or weather that is otherwise deemed hazardous.

You could have an interesting debate about the better home-field advantage: Really cold weather with the roof open or presumably louder crowd noise with it shut. I don't know where the Vikings will land on that, and I'm not entirely convinced the Wilfs are prepared to kick in additional money for retractability after increasing their initial contribution to $477 million in the final negotiations this week. Just know it's very much on the table moving forward.

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