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After Latest Stadium Setback, Should Vikings Stay or Go?

If a stadium deal can't be reached this year, Vikings fans may find that Zygi Wilf's boots were made for walkin' and that's just what they'll do.
If a stadium deal can't be reached this year, Vikings fans may find that Zygi Wilf's boots were made for walkin' and that's just what they'll do.

Monday was not a great day for the Minnesota Vikings in their quest to get a new stadium. In fact, it was basically a dinger.

Looking at the current state of the Minnesota Vikings' stadium situation, I find myself wondering if Minnesota lawmakers are capable of the level of cooperation it would take to place an order at Taco Bell, let alone pass legislation to build a $975 million stadium in Minneapolis. That might not be fair, but I'm not feeling particularly fair.

Just when hopes had been raised because the stadium bill was rolling along nicely in the Minnesota House of Representatives, it came to a screeching halt with a 9-6 bipartisan opposition vote in the House Government Operations and Elections Committee. Technically, it isn't impossible for a stadium bill to pass this session, but according to Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, one of the stadium bill's authors, "Somebody's going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat."

It looks as if passing a stadium bill in the current legislative session would require a unified, bipartisan effort of the Herculean variety and, if the Minnesota Legislature was capable of such an effort for the stadium bill we'd probably already have one passed.

Lester Bagley, the Vikings' vice president of stadium development, doesn't throw around threats, although maybe he should. He isn't given to big hysterics or hyperbole. Bagley chooses his words carefully, so when he says, "We've done everything we've been asked," or that waiting until 2013 "isn't an option" it carries the weight of a concession speech.

But is this the end? Will the Vikings leave Minnesota, their home of 50 years?

What happens next now that the Vikings' best hope for a new stadium this legislative session has hit such a substantial roadblock?

The politics

Minnesota Legislators seem to be clock-watching for the end of the session the way school kids do for summer break. They have reelection campaigns to think about and all the handshaking and baby kissing that involves. The Vikings stadium situation is going to be only as important to them as it is to their constituents, so, as always, Minnesota residents who want to see the Vikings get a new stadium need to continue to contact their representatives and, in polite but firm tones, tell them to get a deal done. And individual supporters need to enlist the help of those with more clout like business associations and unions in the stadium effort. Labor unions have lobbied for the stadium bill to pass because it will mean thousands of construction jobs, and they are likely to keep bringing home that point, but encouraging them to do that is still a good idea.

Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton thought the Vikings' stadium issue was important enough that he talked about it repeatedly during his campaign and he has exerted considerable influence not only in saying a solution needs to be found, but also saying where it needs to be built. On its own merits, the Metrodome location might not have been able to beat out other locations to be the new stadium's location, but it received a strong boost in support when Dayton said the Metrodome site was the only viable location if stadium legislation was going to pass in the current session.

However, now that the stadium legislation's passing is clouded with even more doubt than usual, other locations are beginning to reassert themselves. As Chris posted last night, Hennepin County, rumored to have been waiting for the current stadium bill to die a grisly death at the Capitol, has been revealed in a report on KSTP to have worked behind the scenes on support for a plan that would put a Vikings stadium not far from Target Field in the Farmers Market area, rebranding it as a "stadium district". Hennepin County has been largely quiet in the stadium discussion, but some stadium watchers speculated the County favored the Farmers Market site and would promote that location if they became involved in stadium negotiations.

As with all of the locations suggested for a new stadium, there are both benefits and drawbacks to the Farmers Market site, however that is less concerning right now than whether the Vikings have the patience to continue stadium negotiations for any site in Minnesota. Negotiations for another site, even if it is in Minneapolis, would take time and the Vikings are tired of waiting.

The team

What are the Minnesota Vikings? A football team? In literal terms, yes, they're a football team, but in broader marketing terms they are a sports entertainment brand. The Vikings don't just sell tickets to see a game, they sell tickets to a game-day experience. For years, that experience has been lacking because the Metrodome is a crappy sports venue.

Last year during the lockout, we learned just how lucrative the NFL's version of sports entertainment is. Even in a down economy, the NFL generated $9 billion in revenue. That staggeringly high revenue is because the NFL creates a quality product with multi-generational, multi-ethnic appeal for both male and female fans. Just like any other branded product on the market, the NFL works avidly on quality control.

In order to maintain quality, the NFL does things to keep parity between the teams. If a team is lousy one season, they get high draft choices so, hopefully, they can pull themselves out of the basement and be competitive again, thus making for more interesting games, thus enhancing the overall quality of the NFL's product.

And if a franchise's profits are low, they are subsidized by the other teams' profits. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has the most lucrative franchise in the NFL (according to the 2010 Forbes rankings) and has spoken publicly about his irritation at subsidizing teams like the Vikings (Forbes ranked them 30th of 32 teams). Jones might be one of the more vocal NFL owners, but he's likely not the only one to resent using his team's success to prop up under-performing franchises, something that has less to do with on-field performance than you'd think.

Winning is great for teams. It gets their games flexed to prime time, it sells out the stadium, and it moves merchandise. Don't get me wrong, winning is great. But, while winning probably does help to make teams more profitable, in 2010 with Forbes ranking the Cowboys first in value, the team had a 6-10 season, just like the Vikings had in 2010. However, unlike the Vikings, the Cowboys also had a shiny new stadium and all the revenue potential that brings in the form of naming rights and luxury suites. So, even though the quality of the talent that the Vikings and Cowboys put on the field in 2010 was equally forgettable, the quality of the venue played a big part (though not the only part) in keeping the Cowboys at the top of the Forbes list, and Minnesota at the bottom.

The staring contest

The Vikings, currently in the second-oldest stadium in the NFL, are under pressure to elevate the NFL fan experience from the NFL itself (if Roger Goodell's chats with Minnesota lawmakers are any indication), and under pressure to increase team revenues from the NFL owners' association. Minnesota may be asking for one more year to get a stadium deal done, but in the past that has stretched into a decade. How much longer can the Minnesota Vikings really wait given the pressures and requirements of their particular form of sports entertainment? We may find out in a very tangible way, very soon.

A special thanks to the long-suffering Eric for letting me call dibs on this Clash song months ago.

*These additional revenue sources were deemed necessary to have in place to protect the state's general fund in the event that the electronic pull-tab revenues were not sufficient to cover the cost of paying back the bonds for the state's portion of the stadium cost.