As Minnesota Vikings New Stadium Inches Closer to Reality, So Does a MLS Team – Maybe?
An amendment to kill the Vikings’ right to bring in a Major League Soccer team to Minnesota in the first 5 years of operation was struck down by the finance committee yesterday, leaving the door open for the possibility of a soccer team owned by the Wilfs.
A new downtown Minneapolis stadium for the Vikings got one step further to reality on Wednesday as the bill passed the finance committee 9-5 yesterday after nearly six hours of discussion.
The Stadium deal that looked dead earlier last week, sprang to life again when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, Pittsburgh Steelers President Art Rooney II and NFL vice president of operations Eric Grubman, met with Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and other key legislative leaders last Friday, April 20. Since that meeting and a renewed bipartisan promise, the stadium bill seems to have taken to life again passing through several key committees.
The latest hurdle was the finance committee who tacked on “racino” as another funding mechanism which was looked at as a deal killer by Senator Julie Rosen, (R-Fairmont) sponsor of the stadium bill in the state Senate. That amendment was proposed by Sen. Sean Nienow, (R-Cambridge) who called racino a “proven, across-the-nation funding mechanism” instead of counting on tax revenue from electronic pull-tabs, which he said was based on “fairies and foo-foo dust.”
Nienow made the comment even though many experts including a top executive from the Goldman Sachs Group had testified that the projected electronic pull tab numbers estimated in the bill were solid and conservative if anything.
Rosen and others backing her bill had worked hard with charitable gambling to get the bill this far. Racino has been controversial in the past as it allows slots machines to be placed at horse racing tracks in the state. Racino has never been approved because of opposition from tribal casinos and there’s no reason to believe the amendment won’t bog down the stadium bill which is now expected to hit the floor of the senate.
The controversial racino amendment of senator Nienow’s wasn’t the only part of the stadium bill he tried to tack on yesterday. Another proposal of the Cambridge representative was to kill the Major League Soccer component to the stadium bill.
As it stands now, the proposal calls for the Vikings to have rights to a MLS team for 5 years. That portion of the bill was clarified yesterday via Twitter to IMS by the Vikings’ Jeff Anderson who is Director of Corporate Communications for the Vikings. He stated that the five-year period when the Vikings would have exclusive rights to bring in an MLS team to play at the new stadium rent free, would start from the date that the first NFL game is played in the new facility.
While Nienow had no problem with the Vikings bringing in and operating an MLS team he did have an issue with what he called “a state sanctioned monopoly (that) would let them operate with no rent.”
“I actually think it’s a great deal,” said Rosen, who seemed to share the same sentiments as most finance committee members. “If they want to bring in a Major League Soccer team and they want to put in a retractable roof and make that investment, that’s their responsibility and their cost. For them to take a leap of faith and want to bring in a soccer team, develop a fan base that’s going to generate revenue … why would we not want to give them an opportunity to do that?”
The proposed and defeated amendment tipped off nearly 30 minutes of discussion about MLS to Minnesota and some of the components of the Vikings’ rights to bring a team to the state.
Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs for the Vikings, made it very clear that the team would not be interested in bringing MLS to Minnesota if they were not afforded the opportunity to play dates in the new stadium, rent free. He also said they have had a number of conversations with the league.
“The agreement that has been negotiated separately with state leaders, the city and the team, over a period of several weeks and months included this opportunity to try to secure for Minnesota a Major League Soccer franchise,” said Bagley. “We have a 5-year window according to the legislation.”
Bagley also said the Vikings would pay all the game-day related costs of hosting MLS games at the stadium but expected the rent-free portion of the agreement to be ongoing.
The Vikings vice president of public affairs also said that there is tremendous economic activity in MLS with 18 home games and average crowds of 17,000. He said it would cost the Vikings $30 to 40 million to acquire the franchise. (MLS commissioner Don Garber has stated the next franchise would most likely go for between $70-90 million. The Montreal Impact purchased their franchise 3 years ago for $40 million.)
Finance committee chair Claire Robling seemed to ask the probing question of the day that drew chuckles even from Bagley. “Mr. Bagley, since a lot of people like to see soccer played outside would that mean that you might, at your expense, put on a retractable roof.” (Laughter)
Bagley answered, “Madam chairman, I think that is something that we have discussed.” The Vikings spokesperson then carefully avoided the question by speaking to the contributions that team will be making to the cost of construction and maintenance of the stadium.
Finance committee member Terri Bonoff of Minneapolis sounded quite enthusiastic about an MLS team and even seemed a bit knowledgeable about the sport. “I see a huge opportunity for us and I’m excited about that opportunity,” said Bonoff. “I hope when you pursue the soccer team you will strongly consider the retractable roof.”
IMS recorded the 20 minutes of conversation concerning the MLS portion of the agreement and you can listen to that here.
Yesterday afternoons finance committee hearing can be viewed here.