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December 13, 2010

Metrodome roof collapse: The Monday morning quarterbacking

As expected, yesterday's blizzard-related deflation of the Metrodome roof has unleashed a flood of predictions that the Vikings will now either get a new stadium or move out of Minnesota entirely:

  • It only took a matter of hours before Fanhouse declared the Vikings dead in Minnesota, calling it "an awful, and potentially tragic, reason for seeing the Vikings go after 50 years." Writes columnist David Steele: "The building named for political icon Hubert H. Humphrey has been called a lot of things during its 28-year-long life. But the one thing everybody agrees it can be called today is 'unsafe.'"
  • SFGate says the roof collapse makes it "even more obvious that the Vikings need a new stadium," calling the Metrodome "a pretty bland place."
  • The Associated Press writes that "the Minnesota Vikings' long push for a new stadium has been stuck in neutral for more than a decade, but scary images of the Metrodome's wrecked roof might accelerate the process." The AP cites Minnesota stadium commission chief Roy Terwilliger as saying that "obviously it can't help but call attention to the fact that the facility is 28 years old," while New York Giants owner John Mara chimes in that it "bolsters their argument why they need a new stadium. For this to happen nowadays is pretty incredible."

Okay, not all that incredible, really, given that the Metrodome roof has deflated three times previously, as did the BC Place roof in Vancouver a few years back. It's the disadvantage of an inflatable roof, the advantage being that it's way cheaper to build — not to mention way cheaper to fix when it breaks. (Metrodome staffers say they hope the roof can be repaired in time for next Monday night's Vikings game.) And MinnPost.com notes that there are lots of stadiums more than 28 years old, and "last time I checked, the Red Sox weren't threatening to move to the City of Industry." (MinnPost also gets in a dig at the Vikings' owner, accompanying its link to helicopter footage of the accident with "If you look closely, I believe you can see Zygi Wilf with a box cutter rappelling down the north side.")

Probably the most sensible, if not exactly coherent, reaction came from former state senate majority leader Dean Johnson, who told the St. Paul Pioneer Press:

"I think it gives pause to look at the situation," Johnson said. "Most of the legislators who are there [now] were not there 28 years ago [when the Metrodome was built]. Anything that is 28 years old begins to have some maintenance issues." ...
"Having said that, there is no legislator in his or her right mind that's going to propose a new stadium from general fund money."
The bottom line, Johnson said, "is that it does provide an eye opener for a stadium that's close to 30 years old and a roof that is in need of repair today. It's a Monday-morning, coffee-cup, water-cooler discussion point that legislators will say, 'Oh, here's another thing on our agenda.'"

In other words: The Vikings don't need a stadium today any more than they did on Saturday, and the Minnesota legislature isn't any more eager to throw money at the team. But if you want to get people's attention, having a stadium with a giant hole in the roof, no matter how fixable, is an excellent starting point.

COMMENTS

Stop using the word collapse. The roof did not collapse because the roof is air supported. The roof can deflate, which has on a few occasions, but it cannot collapse.

A building, which has support beams, can collapse but it cannot deflate. I saw too many headlines that stated the Metrodome had collapse when, in fact, it had deflated.

Conversation at the Bevo household around noon eastern time on Sunday:

Mrs. Beveo: Did you hear about the Metrodome?
Bevo: No


Mrs. Beveo: It collapsed.
Bevo: Wow! Really? The whole building fell down? I guess they need a bigger dome.

Mrs. Beveo: No. The roof collapsed
Bevo: No. It deflated. It has done that like two or three times in the past. I think it is the largest air supported roof or some such.

Mrs. Beveo: That's not such a big deal then.
Bevo: No unless you own the Vikings, are a legislator who wants a new stadium for the Vikings, or don't know how to write headlines.


Posted by bevo on December 13, 2010 03:14 PM

I don't know when the roof was actually replaced in Minnesota, but other air supported domes (like BC) have been replaced at relatively regular intervals (I believe BC's was done about ten years ago).

The Teflon fabric does have a limited life span. So let's stop calling this an engineering issue or building failure. It was too windy for workers to be sent up to shovel the snow off, so the load built up until a couple of the panels failed. It happens, whether due to legitimate overloading or aging (and thus weaker) roof fabric. The good news is that it is relatively straightforward and cheap to repair, unlike other construction materials.

I don't recall anyone (other than players) deeming the place dangerous to the public when the last batch of artificial turf had to be replaced, do you?

Now, if you want to talk about catastrophic failure, youtube some of the fixed roof (or retractable) failures of the last decade or two.
Didn't Detroit's new facility have some roof issues a few years back? Or am I 'misremembering' that...

Posted by John Bladen on December 13, 2010 04:41 PM

I believe the roof of the Metrodome has never been replaced. That's part of the problem. The roof maker evaluated it and it's well past the point where it needed replacement.

Posted by Dan on December 13, 2010 04:47 PM

Bevo, I think there's a distinction to be made here between "Metrodome collapse" (which I've seen in headlines, and been peeved at) and "Metrodome roof collapse." But point taken, and in fact that's why I mostly used "deflation" in the article itself.

(There should be another synonym available here, really. "Falldownification"? "Geroofenblitz"?)

Posted by Neil deMause on December 13, 2010 05:55 PM

Regardless of what they call it the roof deflating will be used as impetus (or at least evidence) for a new stadium or a massive renovation. It's happened every time a similar situation has come up. Be it Seattle when the Kingdom dropped a few tiles from the roof, Yankee Stadium when pieces fell off an upper deck, Vancouver when BC Place's roof deflated, this too will be used and one way or another the Vikings will be getting a new stadium somewhere. And to an extent you can understand while. While the Teflon roof is light, it would still kill if it dropped on someone and it has no proven to be a safety liability. Now could it be fixed or rendered safe, sure, but it would take a full replacement of it that the team and state don't want to pay for on a 30 year old stadium. Fact is these inflato domes have proven to be a very bad idea long term which is why so many of its ilk have been demolished or had their roofs replaced with real roofs like in Vancouver or at Santa Clara University.

Posted by Dan on December 13, 2010 07:32 PM

I'm sure you're right, Dan, the club and league will try and use it (no less a figure than Mr. Mara, who has just built a privately funded stadium without a roof, has weighed in already). But will it work? And if so, should it?

A new roof will cost a miniscule fraction of replacement stadium cost (I can't remember what BC's OEM replacement was going to cost, but it was around $5m I think, and is a significantly bigger stadium than the HHH), and should last another 20 years minimum. It isn't an exaggeration to suggest that a stadium should last 50 years, is it?

In the end, if the Vikings want to move to LA (they might have to hurry) or elsewhere, they will move. With apologies to anyone in this situation, showering the entity with money & gifts to get them to commit to staying is no different than doing the same with a spouse: If it works at all, don't expect it to work for long. And it won't feel like a victory for very long, either.

Posted by John Bladen on December 13, 2010 08:23 PM

"why so many of its ilk have been demolished"

There's the RCA Dome and ... any others, actually?

Posted by Neil deMause on December 13, 2010 08:31 PM

Anyone know who operates the Metrodome? Is it a private firm, a government entity, or perhaps the Vikings themselves? I would never question their decision not to send workers onto the roof, but it is intriguing that a camera was up and running all night, and that at least some of the lights were on for the 'show'.


Dan, are you certain that the team & state have refused to pay for a replacement roof? Do you have a link to this info?

There does come a point at which one is just throwing good money after bad in any investment, but I wouldn't have thought a $5M - even $10M - roof replacement (a capital improvement to be sure, but not an unforseeable one) would get you there when the option is $4-500M min. for a new facility. It isn't an order of magnitude above new turf, for example.

Maybe I just don't understand the Minnesota market. Perhaps it's common in the Land of Lakes to throw away one's car when the tires need replacing?

Posted by John Bladen on December 13, 2010 09:03 PM

Neil, I suggest you read the rest of the sentence you plucked from...

Posted by Dan on December 13, 2010 09:24 PM

Oh, so by "which is why so many of its ilk have been demolished or had their roofs replaced with real roofs" you meant "which is why one fabric-roofed stadium was demolished and two others were replaced with real roofs"? If so, fine, but that's genuinely not how I read it.

In any event, I'm still not seeing how this is evidence that inflatable roofs are a bad idea long-term. The bubble roof is what enabled the Metrodome to actually pay for its own construction costs (okay, that and a reasonable lease), which is a rarity in today's sports world. I can see why I'd rather have a steel roof if I owned a team and weren't paying for one, but that's sort of a different question.

The big issue here seems to be that the roof should have been replaced by now, but wasn't because the Metrodome is considered to be on borrowed time. Not sure if that would have prevented the gotterdammuroof, but if so you could legitimately argue that it was the Vikings' new-stadium demands that led to this turn of events.

Posted by Neil deMause on December 13, 2010 09:34 PM

I suppose you could put it that way, but then you end up with a chicken and egg situation. Plus if I'm not mistaken it's not the Vikings responsibility strictly speaking to replace the roof as they're not the owners of the stadium. Same issue has cropped up with several of the older city/county/state owned stadiums like Candlestick Park and the Oakland Coliseum as well over the years where they need even basic maintenance improvements/repairs and the teams don't want to pay because they don't actually own the venue.

Posted by Dan on December 13, 2010 11:22 PM

Dear Minnesota,

Take a lesson from your friends north of 49 and watch how Vancouver is renovating BC Place. This is a solution that is more environmentally sound, less expensive, and just more dignified than building bigger and bigger Viagradomes to compete with Texas or whatever.

Seriously, take a look at this. Be like Canada: smarter than Texas, and with a saner design sensibility.

Posted by Anderson on December 14, 2010 08:45 AM

Finally, a price tag:

"A new roof would cost $12 million to $15 million."

www.startribune.com/politics/state/111801929.html

The article also indicates that an inspection earlier this year said the roof was in overall good condition, and should last another four years. Barring 18-inch snowstorms with 30-mph winds, I guess.

Posted by Neil deMause on December 14, 2010 09:15 AM

John Bladen:
The Metrodome is run by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which is a government agency. As for the roof, workers were up on it Saturday during the blizzard, hosing the roof down with hot water, to melt the snow, since the other deicing system can't handle that much snow. The problem was the snow was coming down too hard. Then one of the workers nearly got blown off the roof, so they decided to get down and hope for the best. The MSFC told FOX that they were very worried the roof would collapse, so a member of the FOX crew decided to leave the cameras, which were already in place for the game, rolling all night, just in case something happened. As for the lights, if you look at the video closely in the background, you see a golf cart go speeding off the field as the roof starts to fall. There were people in there, preparing for the game, and watching to see if the roof would survive. I know you probably didn't think it really was a conspiracy theory, but I figured I'd give you a little background.
As for the roof itself, I think it is a stupid design for the climate up here. Sure, deflations like this have only happened 4 times in 28 years, but the truth is, the Vikings are losing a LOT of money because it happened. They lost 1 home game, and have to refund all the tickets. Next week, they will likely play in a smaller college stadium, which means they will have to refund another 14,000 tickets. Even if you spend the $12 to $15 million to buy a new roof, it still could collapse. Don't forget the first 3 deflation incidents happened in the first 5 years of the dome's existence. It's just a bad design for a place where huge snow storms and strong winter winds are a reality.
In the end, I don't know what the solution is. I know the Vikings won't sign another lease to stay in the dome, so it comes down to how bad Minnesota wants the Vikings, and how creative they can get with trying to pay for it. I say racino!!

Posted by Ben on December 14, 2010 10:40 AM

I have almost always found when the argument "throwing good money after bad" is being used, it is really just a way of saying that "I want something new..." instead of being based on an actual need.

12 to 15 million is not that bad compared to the interest on a 800 million load to finance a new stadium. Even without interest, figuring that a stadium is used for 30 years before being replaced,requires a payment of about 26.6 million per year just to pay for the capital cost of new construction. 15 million is not a major expense if the stadium is used for more than two seasons or so.

Of course, the cost of the roof replacement is not relevent since the roof will be replaced anyway (the team needs a place to play the remaining games this year and be prepared for next season).

Posted by poor_taxpayer on December 14, 2010 11:55 AM

There is little doubt the Vikings are moving out of Minnesota after next year (Assuming there is a season). Obviously the Dome collapse is huge, but the fact the Vikings are one of the least profitable teams in the NFL, and they essentially need a new start on the field (On and off), all add up to the Vikings playing in the LA Coliseum or Rose Bowl ASAP.
As for the Dome itself, they will put a new roof up there, Vikings or no Vikings, because of the Democratic National Convention in 2012, and all of the various events in the Dome.

Posted by David Brown on December 14, 2010 03:04 PM

The NFL considers the Coliseum obsolete. Two men were stabbed outside the Rose Bowl before the USC-UCLA game 10 days ago.

You're more likely to see the Vikings staying put with a new roof on the Metrodome.

Posted by Chucky on December 14, 2010 07:20 PM

It does not matter to the NFL if guys were stabbed at the Rose Bowl. You have teams playing in far worse areas than that (See Oakland, Detroit & St Louis). As for the Coliseum, I am sure something of a temporary nature could be worked out if there is an agreement in place to send the Vikings to a new facility in LA.

Posted by David Brown on December 14, 2010 10:20 PM

Thanks for the info, Ben.


David; They may well move, but at present they don't have a stadium to move to... moving a franchise to a 'temporary' home in LA destroys the leverage the NFL has over the city to get a new facility built (how's that going these days, anyway?). In my view it's highly unlikely that a team will play in LA before a new stadium is built. And the Vikings won't simply be able to walk into that market... other teams will want a shot at it as well.


$12M??? Inflation.... Birdair built one of the roof systems at Montreal's semi-covered stadium years ago... it was a huge failure and I believe the OIS sued the company for their poor design (theirs wasn't the only poor design work done at the Big Owe, as many will remember).


Interesting, Neil, the article seems to imply that the real weight problem for the roof wasn't so much the snow, but that the hot water the maintenance teams were using to try and clear the snow away wasn't running off, but pooling (and, one would guess, freezing).

Perhaps their options were limited (with the heating already on and snow melting anyway), but it seems like they may have exacerbated the problem with their attempted fix. Still, better that it happens in an empty facility than a full one, I guess.

The more we read about this, the less it looks like material failure below design load than simply excessive load (whether due to snow or the abortive attempts to clear it).

Posted by John Bladen on December 14, 2010 10:50 PM

There are a couple things that everyone who pays any attention to the issue of erecting or renovating of sports arenas can agree on: 1: Municipalities are not in as good a financial position as before to afford them, and the political and civic will is not there for such projects these days. 2: There are only so many places them teams can afford to move to (This is particularly true for the NFL).
If we bring this back to the Vikings, the team, the NFL, & the State of Minnesota know both of these things are true, and thus the ability to play cities and states off against each other, is not as strong as it used to be (If it is there at all), not to mention the fact, the Vikings lease is up after the 2011 Season, which gives them the chance to jump, before the Chargers or anyone else get there. For those reasons, the Vikings will leave.
As for the stadium itself, pictures speak louder than words, and the sight of the Metrodome collapse will make a bigger impression on the general public and politicians than any commentary by engineers and other "experts" in the field, who talk about "Design Load" and "Capacity". This simply gives the team and the politicians cover when the Vikings move out of town.

Posted by David Brown on December 15, 2010 06:10 AM

So, if I wanted to move my business and didn't have the money and suddenly something happened to the roof, taxpayers would suddenly "chip in" and purchase a new location for me? Sounds like a good idea.

Posted by Wade on December 15, 2010 10:02 AM

@Wade Except for the fact that nobody cares about you, your business or any of your employees. The same cannot be said about the Vikings.

Posted by Benjamin Miller on December 15, 2010 05:10 PM

@Ben,

Sure, lots of people care about the Vikings. The question is does Minnesota or Minneapolis have $700mil to build a new stadium designed to be used 10-12 times a year (save the stuff with the high school sports, etc. That pays no bills). The presence or absence of an LA stadium is really the only factor in play, and the public finances of California are even worse.

The NFL, like other pro sports leagues, foolishly expanded into Sun Belt cities that looked wealthy 10-20 years ago, mostly based on retiree inflow and construction. The lack of corporate strength of many of those towns (Jacksonville) and the continued decline of older cities (Baltimore, Cleveland) will continue to put pressure on the ability of NFL teams to raise revenue. This problem is actually compounded in new, luxury-box-dependent stadiums.

One could just as likely say the wisest course for Minnesota is to sit tight and do nothing other than replace the roof of the HHH. With the NFL overexpanded and teams ready to leak financially, you could argue that the cities have the leverage right now.

Of course, the Vikes retain the option to go Tampa-style and put a bunch of rubes in purple jerseys who couldn't care less about public finance in the seats of some city council meetings. Our elected representatives have fallen for less.

Posted by GDub on December 16, 2010 05:22 AM

GDub:

I agree that the state has bigger problems. I never said it didn't. All I said was that Minnesota has a decision to make. The lease is up next year. LA's stadium won't be financed by the city, it will be financed by AEG. So it doesn't matter how bad California's finances are. Maybe it's a bluff, maybe it's not. Sadly, I do think if Minnesota lets the Vikings go, we will pay 10 times as much a few years down the road to build a stadium for an expansion team (think Minnesota Wild) or to lure some team away from another troubled city. It's sad that sports has come to this

Posted by Ben on December 16, 2010 12:01 PM

I don't think you are giving Minnesota much of a choice. Build a stadium now or build it later? How is that a choice?

We'll see if AEG can privately finance a stadium. That is far from assured. If they can, the Vikings aren't the only team with an allegely "bad" stadium or lease. Think of it this way: spend nothing and you probably have an 80% chance of keeping your club.

NFL owners wanted to pay themselves lots and their players slightly less. They gambled and lost on revenues. Let them work it out first. If you don't have the Vikings, go skiing.

Posted by GDub on December 16, 2010 01:15 PM

Good Points, GDub.

Speaking of LA, fans there have more professional football on tv now than they did when they had teams. No doubt some miss the Raiders, probably fewer miss the Rams.

But for 'low cost' access to the NFL product, I would argue that nobody has it better than LA fans. As far as NFL merchandising goes, I think you could make the argument that the league will see minimal upswing in merch if they have an LA team. Some may buy LA jerseys and the like, but this would be more of a redistribution of existing merch $ than 'new' business.

re: AEG, it is still an open question as to whether they can finance a new facility. It's a lot of money to spend, particularly in a state where money is tight (for both Gov't and consumers).

One thing that may work in their favour is that, a la Roski, I would expect the stadium owner to take a significant stake in the team that ultimately moves to LA. It won't be as simple as the Vikings (or Jags, or Rams or Raiders or ....) simply deciding 'we're moving to LA'. Who will be willing to pay the league to move to LA & give up, say, 35% of their franchise equity to win the LA market?

Posted by John Bladen on December 16, 2010 05:15 PM

For $700M your city gets a football team for the next 25 years or so. Is that worth it? Maybe not, but I think in a lot of cases the answer is yes. Football franchises are like movie productions in a lot of ways in that they can move anywhere and still run a similar business. If you're NY or LA you have the hammer of market size to make the team pay. Not so in Minneapolis or New Orleans. I'm not necessarily saying it's always worth it, but don't act like giving over millions to NFL owners has no value.

Posted by Benjamin Miller on December 18, 2010 12:43 AM

Los Angeles hasn't had a football team in 15 years and has lost 3 football teams in 50 years. Would anyone says LA is a worse place to live without NFL football?

Cleveland and Baltimore have NFL teams. Portland Oregon doesn't. What ranks higher for quality of life, per capita GDP, etc.? I think most people would say that on a broad set of criteria Minneapolis is more like Portland than Cleveland.

50 years ago NFL teams played anywhere they were allowed to and weren't much of a civic burden financially. Nowadays, with more 'product' and greater exposure, cities act like the NFL is more scarce.

750 million for 25 years of football is never worth it. 30 million dollars a year? Even adjusting for inflation, that's a lot to pay for "entertainment" and the always popular "civic pride". (Are MN fans more "proud" this year of the Vikings?)

If cities don't use leverage when they have it (and need it), when would they ever use it?

Posted by GDub on December 18, 2010 06:50 AM

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