Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton signed the Minnesota Vikings stadium bill yesterday, putting an end to one of the longest-running stadium campaigns in professional sports. Under the final bill, a new domed stadium will be built on the site of the Metrodome in Minneapolis, with a target opening of 2016; the city and state will put in $498 million (though operating subsidies could bring the total public cost to $800 million), while Vikings owner Zygi Wilf will put in $477 million (though that cost could go up if Wilf decides to make the roof retractable).
It all sounds very equitable — halfsies! — but there’s a lot that that equation leaves out. First off, the Vikings will control all football-related stadium revenue, and as this is going to be a football stadium, that means the team will get vastly more than half of the proceeds from the new building. Second, Wilf’s $477 million will largely be covered by new revenues: He’ll be getting a $200 million loan from the NFL (really a grant, since it’ll come largely from money the team would otherwise have to share with the league); plus maybe $210 million in naming-rights fees over 30 years (worth about $100 million in present value), since under the deal the state gets nothing from the sale of the name of the building it will own and pay for half of; plus an estimated $40 million in up-front seat-license sales.
These numbers are courtesy of an astonishing 1500ESPN radio column by longtime Minnesota journalist Patrick Reusse that ran last Friday — astonishing less because of the figures in it than the tone that Reusse took once the stadium deal was all but finalized:
We in the Twin Cities sports media were so amped up over getting a new stadium for the Vikings and thus maintaining them as a subject to write and talk about that not much time was spent looking at the financial realities.
We have allowed owner Zygi Wilf to be crowned as a patient, generous hero in the proceedings that led to the approval of the stadium on Thursday in the State Legislature. … The truth is that at the new number for the team share, $477 million, this remains a marvelous deal for Wilf and the Vikings.
Both Minnesota Public Radio’s Bob Collins and former Star-Tribune reporter (now independent blogger) Nick Coleman immediately tore into Reusse on Twitter, noting, as Coleman put it, “Failure: Little or none of Patrick Reusse’s financial analysis of #Stadium deal was in StarTribune. Ever.” (Collins called Reusse’s first paragraph “a journalist admitting malpractice.) Indeed, Reusse’s blog item includes citations of my own reporting on the $200 million NFL loan from December, so either he’s only now gotten around to Googling for the details of the stadium finances, or he’s been saving up critical material until it’s too late to matter. Instead, Reusse has been writing such things as this column on how if a stadium isn’t built, the Vikings will move to Los Angeles just like the Lakers did a half-century ago, which concluded:
Five decades later, that should be a lesson to us: Not only will those slicksters steal our football team … they won’t flinch to call themselves the Los Angeles Vikings.
That was on April 19, the day that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell flew to Minnesota to threaten that the Vikings would move, an action that received wall-to-wall media coverage that effectively jump-started the then-dead stadium bill.
In his current blog item, Reusse is quick to stress that he supported the stadium bill — “for the same biased reasons as other people making their living in the sports media,” but also because he thinks that “an active downtown Minneapolis is the most-important element in maintaining a vibrant metropolitan area.” That’s certainly a legitimate position. But it might have been nice for Reusse to come clean about it fully to his readers — “this is a massive giveaway to the Vikings, but I still think it’s worth it” — when there was still time to make a difference.