NFL: Seeking new stadium, Vikings face uncertain future
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) – The Vikings are approaching the end of perhaps the most disappointing of their 50 seasons in Minnesota, the playoffs a near impossibility in a year with Super Bowl aspirations.
Next year will be filled with uncertainty about whether the Vikings will actually stay in Minnesota.
The Vikings are about to enter the final year of their lease at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, without any guarantee where they’ll play their home games beyond the 2011 season, if there is one with the labor situation unclear. And two separate groups in Los Angeles are trying to lure a team back to the nation’s second-largest market that’s been missing one since the Raiders and Rams both left in 1995.
How realistic is the possibility the Vikings would move west?
One analyst who closely follows the business of sports, economics professor Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Massachusetts, says he doesn’t see it happening.
“Minnesota is just too strong a market,” Zimbalist said Thursday. “I’m sure it’ll be discussed, because they want to apply pressure. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”
In Zimbalist’s view, the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars are on top of the list of teams most likely to relocate to Los Angeles.
The Chargers can declare their intent to leave between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year through 2020 if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997. They announced this week they’re staying in San Diego for 2011, but beyond that their whereabouts are unknown.
Commissioner Roger Goodell said last February he’s concerned about the Jaguars and that attendance needs to pick up for the city to keep the franchise. There’s also speculation about the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders, the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.
The spokesman for one of the hopeful Los Angeles-area developers, Majestic Realty Co. vice president John Semcken, acknowledged the lack of certainty of landing a franchise.
“In my opinion, every team would prefer to be in the market that they’re in, which is unfortunate for us,” said Semcken, whose group already has state approval to build a privately financed project in a Los Angeles suburb.
Semcken said his group has been told the NFL is not focusing on stadiums or franchise relocation until completion of a new collective bargaining agreement, a labor dispute that could dominate 2011.
But Semcken added: “We’re very confident that we’ll get something eventually.”
Anschutz Entertainment Group, led by president and CEO Tim Leiweke, is proposing a downtown stadium and convention center revamp as part of a large entertainment complex already run by AEG. An AEG spokesman didn’t immediately return a message left Thursday.
Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president, has acknowledged contact from both the Majestic and AEG groups about their interest in the franchise. The team’s response, according to Bagley, was that the focus remains on getting a new facility built in Minnesota.
“I think our issue is being watched nationally. People know that we’re down to the last year on our lease. We’ve been in a long, drawn-out discussion on the matter, but we feel pretty good about where we stand in Minnesota,” Bagley said.
This in a metropolitan area that flocked this year to the Twins’ new baseball park, Target Field, which has a $545 million price tag. The Twins will pay roughly one-third of the overall cost, but the majority of the money is coming from a special Hennepin County sales tax.
The Vikings are touting job creation – up to 13,000 workers – as a strong reason to commit public money to building a new stadium while acknowledging the state’s priorities for more critical needs like schools or health care.
The Vikings have previously pledged roughly one-third of the cost for a new stadium, which would cost at least $700 million, according to past estimates. They’re currently studying four locations in the Twin Cities area, including the Metrodome site, with a goal of picking one and presenting state lawmakers with a proposal in February.
Any stadium legislation would have to navigate a complicated path, however, with state government is short $6.2 billion over the next two-year budget cycle. Republicans who will run the Legislature next year and Democratic Gov.-elect Mark Dayton are focused on the deficit and the economy, though they haven’t ruled out action on a stadium bill.
“We have these other things that are going to have to be fixed first,” said Senate Majority Leader-designate Amy Koch.
Dayton has said he would support a stadium proposal if the public benefits outweigh the public’s cost, but he hasn’t gotten into specifics. Incoming House Speaker Kurt Zellers said he would like to see Vikings fans cover the public’s share of a stadium, instead of spreading the cost to taxpayers more broadly.
“Forcing the average Minnesotan to pay for it because the state wrote out a check, I don’t think that’s something that we’re going to be able to do right now,” Zellers said.
Owner Zygi Wilf and the team have avoided direct threats to leave, but in a statement last spring after the 2010 legislative session the Vikings said a stadium solution “must be finalized” in 2011.
Last spring, a plan unveiled by lawmakers featuring user-based taxes on hotel stays, car rentals and replica jerseys plus revenue from a sports-themed lottery game failed to move forward. Bagley said a similar financing model is likely for 2011.
Zimbalist cautioned against construction jobs being a magic-bullet economic fix.
“If you spend public money on something, it should be something that is economically desirable and valuable,” he said.
Associated Press writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report from St. Paul, Minn.