Let me start by saying I’ve been a Minnesota Vikings fan my whole life. Born and raised in Minnesota, that was the team to watch. Even though baseball was, and still is, my first sport, my first replica jersey of any player in any sport was a nice purple Tommy Kramer No. 9. And in my closet I still have more adult-sized jerseys of John Randle and Jake Reed. (Jake Reed? I mean, really, who has a jersey of JAKE REED?)
So I was a little worried when reading about how the Vikings wanted a new stadium but the state wasn’t necessarily in favor of the idea. Having lived through the departure of the North Stars in 1993 and the ensuing depression that followed, I didn’t want to see this happen to another of my favorite teams.
(The North Stars depression still lingers – I’m not a Wild fan, and I’m not a Dallas Stars fan. I’m still a North Stars fan – just two weeks ago I went home for a quick visit and came across an old-school North Stars player T with “Bellows” and his No. 23 on the back. Might be the best $15 I’ve ever spent).
Anyway, although Vikings owner Zygi Wilf never actually came out and said he would move the team, and despite having one year remaining on its Metrodome lease, the thought was that the team would move (Los Angeles has been angling for a team ever since the Raiders moved back to Oakland) if it didn’t get a new, mainly taxpayer-supported, stadium.
In their defense, they are still playing in the Metrodome – perhaps the worst venue to play, or watch, a professional sports event in history, while the Twins got a nice new shiny ballpark, as did the Minnesota Gophers football team.
And, despite Wilf pledging to put up more than $400 million of his own money – the third-most ever pledged by an owner of a team to build a new stadium – it seemed the people and the state weren’t necessarily convinced that in this age of economic austerity, funding a stadium was the way to go. (By contrast, Jerry Jones and his family originally put up just $241 million of their own money for the new, $1.5 billion Cowboys Stadium).
It’s the time of political uncertainty throughout the country, as incumbents on both sides of the aisle are being voted out of office on a regular basis. Politicians everywhere are grasping at straws, trying to find the one that will resonate with their constituents enough to remain in office.
Whether it was straw-grasping, purple-bleeding, or good old common sense-thinking, this week both the Minnesota House and Senate approved the stadium financing plan, meaning the majority of Minnesota lawmakers are in favor of a publicly subsidized stadium. (And also meaning that the good citizens of Lake Wobegon can relax a little bit and perhaps appreciate their government’s recent efforts). The road is paved, barring any last-minute setbacks, for the Vikings to have their very own nice new shiny $975 million stadium, something they have wanted for more than 10 years. And once it gets to the governor’s desk, it’s just a matter of formality as Mark Dayton has been a proponent of this all along.
This is a good thing for several reasons, but I’ll just point out a couple (and yes, these are stunningly obvious, and I’m surprised these reasons alone didn’t push this thing through years, or even months, ago).
First, it will create jobs. There is no doubt about that – you can’t build something of this magnitude without needing A LOT of people. But beyond the construction of the stadium itself, jobs will be created within the stadium as well. More fans will require more in-the-stands vendors. Larger, more well-stocked souvenir shops. New vending options in the main concourses. More attendants. More security. And I haven’t seen the plan so I’m not sure if parking lots/garages are part of the construction, but those will require attendants and security as well. So, the ongoing employment should far outweigh the current tepid Metrodome workforce (tepid in terms of scope, not in terms of ability!)
Second, of course, are the ongoing contributions to the infrastructure of the city. There is a tremendous amount of things to do in Minneapolis, from the Guthrie Theater, the Walker Art Center, the Zoo, the Mill City Museum, Minnehaha Falls, Lake Calhoun, Lake Harriet, Brit’s Pub (but I prefer Gluek’s) and on and on. Not to mention the vibrant nightlife now found down around the Warehouse District. What do people do when they come from out-state to watch a football game? Just sit around their hotels? No, not at all – they go experience the city. The bars, the restaurants, the nightlife, the culture. And they spend money. A lot of money. Especially when their team wins and they are happy, which is happening more and more often these days.
What franchise is the biggest draw in Minnesota? Not the Twins, even though they are the most successful professional sports team in town over the past 25 years (although watch out for the Lynx next year!). It’s the Vikings. The Purple People Eaters.
Losing that team would mean losing that fan base, losing that financial windfall for the city, losing the word-of-mouth advertising, even losing part of one’s identity. And that might be almost as devastating as suffering the ignominy of being unable to support two professional sports teams in the span of 20 years.
So, the only logical solution is a win-win-win for all involved – the politicians win and get some positive press, the team wins because it got what it wanted, and most importantly, the fans win because they get to keep their team.