Last week, I was interviewed by two excellent radio journalists, Dan Barreiro of KFAN and Gary Eichten of MPR, and, obviously, the issue of the Vikings stadium came up.
The issue of sport stadiums has been around for the past 50 years creating all the normal divisions among the public and its political system. Some believe that the state should keep the Vikings at all costs and some take strong issue with any form of governmental assistance.
To make matters even more complicated is the fact that the conditions of yesterday are not the norms today. The middle class has been slowly losing ground and is seriously questioning whether the American Dream will be available for their children. The public knows we need more scientists and engineers to compete globally and not more right tackles.
While this may change the flavor of the debate, it does not deal with the possibility that we could lose the Vikings.
Our first determination has to be whether or not we consider the Vikings a state asset. My answer is “yes”, just as I consider the Mayo Clinic, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the Duluth Port to be Minnesota assets. They all help define our unique quality of life.
However, the times dictate a different approach. In December, the state will announce another budgetary shortfall ranging anywhere from one-half billion to a billion dollars. This will instantly remove the Vikings from top priority and, possibly, move the subject to 2013.
In addition, Zygi Wilf, while wealthy, is a bit light when compared to other sports owners.
Both sides would benefit from developing a true business partnership. With that in mind, I would suggest that Wilf consider adding some Minnesota partners which would give the Vikings more capital and a Minnesota flavor which would be most helpful in easing the concerns of Minnesotans.
The Vikings have been advertising the team as a community asset. Partial Minnesota ownership comparable to the Twins, Wild and Timberwolves will excite a broader base of Minnesotans about a true partnership. Names like Glen Taylor, Jim and Bob Pohlad, Ralph Burnet, Stan Hubbard, Bob Naegele, are respected and known in the Minnesota communities. The Vikings are in need of this vital ingredient.
Further, this partnership should extend to the creation of a permanent Sports Facilities Commission with not only management authority but also the responsibility for negotiating with the teams. Since this requires legislative approval, the Governor may want to consider creating a negotiating team now with solid business and finance leaders and a minimum from the political world.
This recognizes the reality that continuing the political collisions will jeopardize success. A buffer group of highly competent business and financial leaders would assure the public of a responsible business deal that will protect their investment as well as assist the Vikings.
But it is important that the Governor focus on picking the best talent in order to insure a quality outcome. This can become the blueprint for future public-private partnerships. I would suggest the following be part of the negotiations:
1. When the Vikings are next sold, the profits attributable to the stadium and its lease become part of the partnership assets and be divided according to contribution level. This way the taxpayers share in the profits.
2. There be full transparency. I suspect that the state would utilize its bonding capacity and look toward special revenues to assist in the payments. This may well include taxes on liquor, tobacco, and stadium admissions, etc.
The Vikings should also make clear where their share would come from in order to avoid any surprises.
3. Naming rights should belong to the partnership.
4. The issue of the possible imposition of pay TV for NFL games should be dealt with in order that the taxpayer partner not be harmed.
The overall goal is to recognize the Vikings as a statewide asset and not the responsibility of any local entity. On the other hand, it brings the Vikings more closely into the Minnesota community.
Again, just a thought.