The Minneapolis Star Tribune has fired the first shot of the Vikings stadium debate. The editorial board declined to take a position in the debate, instead chastising Vikes owner Zygi Wilf for shooting too low and asking Minnesota politicians to “treat the state’s taxpayers like the intelligent adults they are.”
Both editorial claims seem, frankly, ridiculous.Wilf is not shooting too low — in fact, he’s just about right. He’s offering to pay 24 percent of the new stadium’s projected costs. Owners these days are paying about 30 percent of new stadium costs. Public financing is the rule in today’s stadium-finance world, not the exception.** And lawmakers have treated taxpayers like adults, telling them in a very upfront manner that a projected $1.2 billion deficit makes it difficult to talk about stadium financing.
I don’t claim to have a solution to this problem. But as this debate apparently gets underway again, it’s important to start with a few recognitions:
I think it’s characteristic of Minnesotans to set unrealistic expectations when they argue over stadiums. Think about the Twins’ situation: Everybody wanted Carl Pohlad to pony up for the stadium. It eventually took an immediate threat of contraction to jolt everyone back to reality, and immediately to the conclusion that the Twins were a part of our community worth keeping and cherishing.
I also think it’s also characteristic of Minnesotans to be overly-cavalier about their relationships to the sports teams in town. (If I hear the term “Good riddance” one more time on a Strib comment board about the Vikings, I think I’m going to grow horns.) But when the chips are down, the reality is that most Minnesotans care more deeply about the Vikings than they wish to say, not because they’re beloved in the community, but because they bring money and development to this state, even as the second-least valuable franchise in the NFL.
**As a brief aside, Wilf is offering to pay about 24 percent of the proposed Vikings stadium’s estimated $800 cost. So far as we know, NFL owners of teams who’ve moved into new stadiums in the last ten years have kicked in, on average, just under 30 percent of the stadium’s costs. A few years ago, Chicago’s Soldier Field was renovated with 100% public funds. Even the city of Arlington, Texas, raised taxes to help Jerry Jones pay for his football fortress for the Cowboys. Wilf may be shooting a little low, but he’s well within an appropriate range.