I had a chance to catch a bit of Mark Dayton’s appearance on Mid-Day with Gary Eichten on MPR on the 13th. While the show’s topic was Dayton’s first year in office, spending the public’s money on a new stadium for our local NFL franchise was the most popular topic among callers who, generally, did not support the Vikings’ demands for public funding.
It was interesting hearing Dayton describe the stadium issue. As the governor of the state, I believe he should make a solid effort to create a business friendly environment. However, the challenge here comes down to what type of concessions should the public be willing to make for a private business? It’s one thing to update infrastructure for a business, such as building new roads or sewers to employees can get in and waste can get out. It’s something else entirely for the public to absorb the majority of the construction costs of a building on behalf of a private business.
One area where Dayton regurgitated a popular Vikings talking point rather than get to the reality of the issue was the jobs creation potential of stadium construction. As I’ve pointed out here, the true jobs potential of the proposed project in Arden Hills is less than 700 people over 3 years based on full-time equivalent positions would be needed over that time. Sadly, Dayton regurgitated a figure with something like 7,500 jobs. As Governor, Dayton should be able to parse the difference between someone working for a few weeks pouring concrete and a full time job.
The one where Dayton threw me the most was a comment he made about the beating Wilf has taken in the press regarding his plans for a stadium. Dayton inferred that Minnesota doesn’t come across as a business friendly environment when businesses have to put up with criticism in the press while taking steps to keep their businesses in the state.
I find this line of reasoning extraordinarily odd. As polls have shown, the public enjoys watching the Minnesota Vikings. But, the public does not enjoy publicly subsidizing the Minnesota Vikings at the expense of far greater public needs, such as education, health care, and transportation. That said, I believe that there would be enough public support to spend at least some money on a new stadium for the Vikings if the subsidies being requested were at least somewhat reasonable.
When a guy buys one of our state’s oldest sports franchises, runs the business profitably in our existing and paid for facility (the franchise’s value has increased by $200 million over the time he’s owned it), then demands more public financing than any team in the history of the NFL to build a stadium in a location that doesn’t leverage any of our state’s existing investments in infrastructure, we would be crazy if we didn’t say no to such a proposal.
The public should be business-friendly to public-friendly businesses, but unfriendly to businesses that demand more from the public than they offer in return.
When the Vikings suggest that all of the revenue their business generates for the state through sales taxes and income taxes should NOT go into the general fund (where it could be used for education, health care, and transportation), but should instead be earmarked for stadium construction, that business is not being public-friendly. It’s not anti-business to say no to such an absurd request.
Leadership: Make a Rational Case to the Public
Leadership, to me, means looking out for ALL interests involved in the issue. To me, Dayton’s efforts to date seem to be focused largely on meeting the Wilf’s demands rather than finding a fiscally sane solution to what may not even be a real problem (frankly, the Vikings have a want rather than a need they’d like fulfilled).
Here is one way Dayton could approach it:
Arden Hills? Dayton should call the Arden Hills proposal what it really is: dead. There is no way the public will support spending $200 million to build a 21,000 car parking lot in the suburbs for 10 uses per year. The public is far too rational to support such a plan, so let’s move on to plans that are closer to what the public may be willing to support.
Naming Rights? Dayton should tell the Vikings that the public is going to need to be the beneficiaries of stadium naming rights. Obviously, we should profit from any name that’s attached to the building we own. And, by profit, I mean “lower our debt payments on a building we built for a private business.”
Personal Seat Licenses? Dayton should then tell the Wilfs that the public is going to need personal seat license revenue to go toward reducing the public’s financial commitment rather than reducing his own. This needs to be done to make the deal somewhat equitable.
Fan support? And, Dayton needs to speak to the fans and ask them how committed they really are to the Vikings. While people clearly enjoy watching football on TV, and 1% of the population enjoys watching the team in person, are enough fans committed to this business’ team to be willing to spend their own money to support the construction of a new stadium? If so, Dayton should tell fans that they need to come up with something like $100 million through their Personal Seat License purchases to make the numbers work. That’s a 1-time fan commitment of $2,500 per ticket to ensure that the team stays in Minnesota for another 30+ years. If fans aren’t willing to do that, the differences on that $100 million chunk should be made up by the Vikings.
Long-term commitment? Dayton should request that the Vikings sign more than a 30 year lease. Let’s build a stadium that will last with an appropriate lease to match. The Vikings have churned through through two stadiums in 50 years. Would it really be too much to ask for a 50 year commitment?
By skipping the 21,000 car parking lot construction and using naming rights and PSLs to lower the public’s debt obligations, we would likely reach a public commitment down from $650 million to less than $300 million. That could be further reduced with a $1m/yr in revenues from car license plates (assuming 20,000 plates at $50/yr). Throw in a tax on tickets and Vikings related merchandise, and the numbers start to make sense.
I believe this would get us into the financial range where legislators may be willing to hold their nose and vote for a new stadium project.
If Dayton brought this type of a presentation to the public:
– The Vikings would get a new state of the art stadium
– At a price to the public where we’re at least not losing money on the deal
– Where we don’t have to talk about this again for 50 years
He could get public support.
If, after getting to that point, the Vikings turned that down and decided to leave (or sell to an owner who planned to move the business), the public would understand that the Wilfs were unwilling to accept our reasonable offer.
I hope that the Wilfs would consider an offer like this to be reasonable. In the end, if the only offer they are willing to accept is one where their business becomes a financial drain on our community, I’d much rather watch the Vikings on TV while they drain a community other than ours.