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Countdown to Vikings Relocation?

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Since the latest Minnesota Vikings stadium proposal was about as successful as the pre-Gettysburg Army of the Potomac, the ownership has delivered an ultimatum:  Resolve the stadium issue in 2011.  Or else.  They really didn’t specify what the ‘what else’ was, but I don’t think it’s good.  With a lockout looming after the 2010 season, it is time to start thinking about the unthinkable:  There is a distinct possibility that 2010 is the last season the Minnesota Vikings could play in Minnesota.

It’s time to look at some realities.  The NFL is a for-profit business, and the current set of owners have a much different view on how the league should operate.  In the 80's and 90’s, the owners were uber-capitalists who believed in sports collectivism, understanding that if the league as a whole could be successful, everyone would benefit, and everyone could get filthy rich.  Well, even filthier rich than they already were.  A rising tide lifts all boats strategy, if you will.  They were so fervent in that belief that they successfully waged two wars of attrition against the player's union, essentially breaking them in the 1987 strike.  From that labor strife came, among other things, a salary cap and contracts that could be voided at the team's whim.   That has prevented big market teams from outspending everyone else, like exists in baseball.  It has also prevented guaranteed contracts from crippling teams for several years, which has plagued the NBA and MLB for over 20 years.  Because of that long term vision of guys like Ralph Wilson, Jack Kent Cooke and others, the NFL became the most successful American sports league in history.

But as Minnesota native Bob Dylan  has famously said, 'The Times, They Are A-Changin''.  The old guard of NFL owners have been replaced by younger, more aggressive owners like Dan Snyder and Jerry Jones.  Their vision is to maximize money streams for their team above the league, and they have won the war.  A 'hooray for me, fuck you' strategy, if you will.  Jones and Snyder make money hand over fist, and are pissed that they have to put it in a collective pot for other teams to use, like the VIkings.  Without revenue sharing, there is no way that the Vikings could sign players like Steve Hutchinson and Jared Allen.  And that chafes guys like Jones and Snyder, who want teams like the VIkings to stand on their own financially.  And so does the NFL.

With the NFL becoming the most successful league both in terms of popularity and money made, the NFL will not allow a team to stay in a market where they consistently lose money.  Roger Goodell has said that numerous times, and Jerry Jones re-affirmed it last year, when he said this about the Vikings stadium situation:

"Right now we are subsidizing this market," said Jones, one of the most influential owners in the league. "It's unthinkable to think that you've got the market you've got here, with 3.5 million people, and have teams like Kansas City and Green Bay subsidizing this market. That will stop. That's going to stop. That's called revenue sharing. That's on its way out."

According to Forbes, the Minnesota Vikings are ranked 31 out of 32 teams in terms of value in the NFL.  They lost $19 million in 2007, and made $8 million in 2008 and 2009, years in which they had a home playoff game, adding extra revenue.  So they are averaging a net loss over the last three years--with two home playoff games, which is stunning when you look at teams like Washington, who made $90 million, and New England, who made $71 million, just in 2009 alone.  The NFL and team owners will not allow a team as competitive on the field as Minnesota to lose money in the Minneapolis market when there is a market available where they could turn a hefty profit.  Whether that market is Los Angeles or not remains to be seen, but if there is an NFL team available, somebody will move mountains to get them to come to their city.  But Minnesota, apparently, is willing to take that risk.  And if not Los Angeles, look for the NFL to try and go global, to either London or Mexico City.  You heard it here first.

So how did we get here?  Well, there is plenty of blame to go around, from the Governor, to the Minnesota Legislature, to the team itself.  Governor Pawlenty has not lead on this issue at all, and at times has even seemed to sabotage team efforts.  When the Twins and Gophers were looking for new stadiums in 2006, he asked the Vikings to not pursue one.  When the VIkings introduced their plan in the 2010 session, he shot it down almost before the introductory press conference had ended.  The Legislature doesn't understand the cultural and monetary importance that the Vikings have to so many people in the state, and across the country.  The Vikings bring in a tax revenue stream of $20 million a year to the state as I write this.  With a new stadium, that amount is almost sure to go up.  The amount of money local businesses make off of the VIkings are hard to calculate, but no Vikings in Minnesota mean businesses that depend on the 'football crowd' to make ends meet will almost assuredly go under.  They are smug and arrogant in their belief that the Vikings have nowhere to go, much like they thought when the Norths Stars were threatening to leave.  They ignored those threats, and the North Stars left.  Yet in the end, they ended up building the XCel Energy Center to...wait for it...get an NHL expansion team.  How was that financially responsible?  They ended up spending twice as much money to build the X and lure an expansion team than they would have if they had just gotten a new arena built before the North Stars left. 

And then won the Stanley Cup. 

In Dallas.  FUCK!!

And if the Vikings left, the state would also lose tax revenue that they can't see right now.  Here in St. Louis, there used to be a great bar called the Route 66 Brewery that was located in the Union Station Mall, about a block away from ScottTrade Center, where the St. Louis Blues play.  Great restaurant that had awesome microbrew beers...great place to go before and after a hockey game.  When the NHL locked out the players for a whole season, they ended up going out of business.  It does happen, and it will happen in Minnesota.

And the Vikings have done a terrible job of selling and marketing a new stadium to the people of Minnesota.  They have approached it from a financial angle, which it is, but they need to appeal to the positive emotion the Vikings evoke in so many people.  They also bungled a great opportunity to get a new stadium built in Anoka County a few years back.  If you'll remeber, the VIkings had a local partner (Anoka County and the city of Blaine), they had a site, and all they needed from the state was money for infrastructure build up.  Critics of the plan said that there were DNR/wetlands issues which had to be overcome, but if everything else in terms of location and financing was solidified, that was a hurdle that could have been overcome.  But Mr. Wilf got greedy, and kept flirting with Hennepin County, because he wants a downtown stadium.  When Anoka County found out Wilf was still talking with Hennepin County, they pulled their offer.  Now Wilf is left with a potential location, but it's not definite, they have no financing, and they have no local partner.  They went into 2010 with a half assed plan that was thrown together at the last minute, with no local partner.  And then they were disappointed when their plan didn't get approved.

I have always said that I believed that when push came to shove, a stadium deal would get done.  I no longer believe that.  2010 was the best opportunity, because of several factors.  The budget deficit is forecasted to be bigger, costs for a stadium are forecasted to be higher, and all the people who have expressed interest in becoming Governor have not expressed an interest in a Vikings stadium plan.

And for those of you who think the Vikings won't leave, ask the fine fans of the Baltimore Colts or the Cleveland Browns what they think.

The clock is ticking.