Loserville

Nearing the end of their second season in a shiny, publicly financed new ballpark that was said necessary to keep the franchise “competitive,” the dreadful Minnesota Twins are 27 1/2 games out of first place in a division that features exactly one team playing above .500. Catcher Joe Mauer, the newly-minted gazillionaire face of the franchise is slogging through a lost season and listening to mutterings about his lack of toughness and leadership. Whom he might lead anywhere at this point is a mystery, as the team has quite understandably given up and quit.

Target Field, meanwhile, continues to draw fans galore–proving what its detractors have always maintained, namely that fancy new stadiums are great for the owners’ bottom lines but have nothing to do with winning and losing.

This is a good thing to bear in mind as the perennially doomed Vikings continue their quest for a new pleasure palace in Arden Hills. Giving them one will change the fortunes of one Zigi Wilf–but not those of the team, which, to put it plainly, got off to an abysmal start last weekend. Among the team’s top problems on Sunday was two-time reject quarterback Donovan McNabb, who is on pace to match–on a cumulative basis– the Patriots’ Tom Brady’s passing yardage from his opening game by around Week 14.

The team lately hasn’t fared any better on the legislative front after being stymied during the most recent legislative session–though to be fair, that legislature didn’t do anything for anybody. The Vikes got left off the agenda of the Special Session over the summer, though why we still call these annual inevitabilities “special” is beyond me.

In happier times

As the Vikings and their various government partners–including a reluctant Ramsey County–try to resolve the “details” of a stadium plan, the price goes up, the deal gets hazier, and certain elements have emerged that make the prospect of actually doing the dirty deed seem more remote. One of my favorites was the discovery several weeks ago that the Wilf plan included a convention hotel as part of the associated development–a feature that would thus put public funding to use in competition with existing convention facilities in Minneapolis and St. Paul. When pretty much everyone howled about this the plan was quickly discarded–the Vikings said it was only a “preliminary” idea anyway–but it leaves a bad taste, as it seemed to confirm the suspicion that Wilf is a slick carpetbagger looking to skin us rubes of the tundra.

Then there was the sudden and quite unexpected announcement by leaders in both the House and Senate that an Arden Hills stadium would need a public referendum in Ramsey County. This is seen as a stadium killer, since everyone knows that the public does not support using public money to line the pockets of sports team owners. In other words, the stadium plan abruptly ran up against the reality that it is a public project the public does not, in fact, want.

Cynics see the referendum as a back-door effort to kill the Arden Hills option in order to re-open consideration of a new stadium in Minneapolis. I like a conspiracy theory, but will somebody explain to me how a Minneapolis stadium would not also require a referendum if that’s the mood we’re in? One wouldn’t pass there either, so if a vote on a Minneapolis site were somehow avoided it would look like the fix is in.

Meanwhile, a possible solution has presented itself. The Vikings now hint they might spend as much as $500 million of their own money on a stadium.  That’s moving close to the estimated cost of the open-air, football-only stadium the team says is all it really needs. So if Mr. Wilf will only come up a little more he can do the whole deal on his lonesome and us taxpayers can go back to wondering how to pay for schools and roads. If he’s a little short maybe Joe Mauer or Donovan McNabb could float him a loan. They’ve both got more money than they deserve.

19 Responses

  1. But is it true that “everyone knows that the public does not support using public money to line the pockets of sports team owners”? With rare exception these edifices are funded with significant public support in all other communties. No? These communities must feel an intrinsic value in participating in the national sports scene I would think, and are able to justify what has become the price of admission, even while public services and schools are being strangled by budgetary cutbacks.

  2. To my knowledge, there has never been a poll in Minnesota showing public support for subsidizing professional sports stadiums…which is why it has become axiomatic that any referendum on one is by definition a “deal killer.”

  3. Feeling cranky today, William?

  4. Today and every day…

  5. I kind of agree that the public does not support public funding of a significant nature for a Vikings stadium. that said, when such a referendum goes down to defeat, and the Vikings move on to LA, i expect the same public will be up in arms about “who lost the Vikes”.

  6. Interesting study from Minnesota State University economist Phillip Miller:

    Using panel data for Major League Baseball teams from 1990-2002, I find that, after controlling for team quality and metro area differences, regardless of the financing mechanism, a team playing in a brand new stadium realizes an increase in its franchise value. I also find that a team playing in its own stadium has a higher franchise value than a team playing in a public stadium. However, the difference in franchise values between playing in a team-owned stadium and playing in a public stadium does not offset the average cost of constructing the stadium. The paper thus provides a deeper understanding…of the motives of sports team owners in their lobbying efforts for public subsidies.”

  7. I have to admit, I’m a bit torn on the Vikings stadium referendum issue. On the one hand, it’s seems preposterous that the Vikes oppose a referendum because they know the vote won’t go their way. It’s tax payer’s money – if they don’t want it to fund a stadium, why should they have to?

    On the other hand, there wasn’t a referendum on the Twins stadium. Politicians get elected to make these tough decisions for their constituents. If they don’t want to make these tough decisions why should they even have the job? We can just get rid of the politicians and use SurveyMonkey for every vote.

    I don’t have any answers, so I think I’ll just try to enjoy the weekend and hope the Viking’s passing game can look semi-professional this week.

    • Yes…And there must be some reason, certainly in the case of the NFL, that cities having lost a franchise–Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Houston, LA–aggressively pursue a replacement at the ever increasing cost.

      • And there must be a reason these cities lost their team to begin with.

        Comedians since the dawn of humor know the secret–
        –For a marginal joke to go over, timing is critical.

        To float this joke of a proposal in the midst of dreadful austerity and a dead economy with daily glances to see if Europe has collapsed due to the bankster’s demands that will produce the second great depression…giving Zygi 600 million to keep the Vikes in town just doesn’t make EVEN political sense to say nothing about financial sense and is societal nonsense.

        Maybe if Zygi spend any decent time here, even he would realize that.

  8. Well, is it “societal nonsense”? Even in a time of precarious economics might society be short-sighted in not supporting something that could be considered of benefit to it and the future in the long term? Is this franchise of ultimate benefit to the community not only economically but intangibly? Once it’s gone it is likely far more costly to ever contemplating replacing it–and it will never be easy to justify subsidizing billionaire owners even when times are flush. But that’s how the game is played.

    • It would be worth it if localities got an ownership interest as a part of the deal…

    • Yes Mr. Lang, that is how that game (of pro football) is played. Zygi has done his job–he bought a pro team and year after year craftily negotiated to extract the highest possible profit by holding the team hostage while demanding a succession of the most incredible ransoms from the state of MN.

      Each year he would tweak it, try to find the weakest link in the political power change to buy into it, and devise new and improved astroturf ‘grassroot’ campaigns to make it look like tons of people favor it. And then of course insist he will leave and take the team with him.

      Then you say we will have to replace it. Sure, but if I was to replace it, it would be with another game…quite literally, anything else that did not involve wasting valuable local land and public funding resources to enrich out-of-state carpetbaggers.

      But if I were forced, say I was a county commissioner and my job forced me to create a deal to keep the Vikes here at all costs, I suppose I would have ended up with this proposal.

      And then, say I was a state and county lawmaker who needed to approve that deal, I suppose I would have to admit this deal is not worth approving, even if I was blamed and voted out of office.

      It should be possible, in a fair world, to create a win-win deal for this. But we all know that pro sports is no longer fair, even to its most loyal fans. No, I should say ESPECIALLY to its most loyal fans, because these owners are now predators.

      They no longer are the civic leaders that formed the team back in the 60’s and we should not be fooled by this new ilk of owner. If they were true community leaders, it would be possible to negotiate a proposal that would not literally be ‘at all costs’…look at the reaction of everyone short of a fear-based fanboy of the team, this deal is far too costly.

      A cost we maybe felt we could afford before the dotcom bubble burst in 2000 and the housing bubble burst in 2008. But then again no, because even the sensible civic leaders of 1980s built a multi-use Metrodome. Long before we had to think about things like this–
      –Do you know how much money your 401k lost in this past decade?
      –Do you know how much money your house lost in the last five years?
      –How’s that job treating you these days?
      –How’s that cost and coverage of that health care program?

      These are questions I never used to worry about, but come to mind much more than I worry about the latest Viking stat, injury, win or loss.

      So, this is what is up when I think of this whole idea of this team being so valuable? This is not a child who will die if this ransom is not paid. And even if Zygi ends up moving it, the team will play on, the NFL will play on, life will go on, and people will rather easily replace this team.

      Maybe by gaining back all that free time lost staring at a boob tube, waiting for yet another instant replay, rehashing the game endlessly…what is the cost of all the lost life spent spectating and analyzing someone else’s life while their life drifts away unlived. I’m willing to find out.

  9. The Other Mike–Passionate and very well expressed. Yup, these owners are businessmen in 2011 not 1961. Altruism is far from their most glowing virtue (nor should we expect it to be, they’re billionaires after-all). Sadly, the stakes of the game have changed. Baseball players don’t need off-season jobs to make ends meet and tax players support the guys who fly around in private jets. It’s absurd but that’s the way it is, so within that reality we look for a solution–that is, if we accept that the presence of these teams in our communities means something and will continue to mean something to others, long after we’re too old to be interested. Or, we stand by our convictions and simply throw up our hands in disgust.

    • I’m not interested in playing that game anymore. I’m not even interested in throwing up my hands in disgust. But I am interested in not contributing to it anymore, even in .5% increments…and that is why I bother speaking up. We have a state to run here, not a game to play.

      These increments are a tax where I derive no value, in fact I claim it is a drag on society. It used to be entertainment, then a distraction, and now it is a drag. Money and time sucked out of the community in huge droves instead of invested in each other.

      Call it a line in the sand, the straw that broke the back, or just bullshit, but I’m free to call this what it is–corporate welfare for an out of state developer. It has less and less to do with the Vikings, that quaint team that plays a few games each year…so cute how they run around and bang into each other for our social enjoyment, eh?

      This is about land development now and Zygi World is a complete duplication of same-old stuff that we already have…but it’s not new enough and we are supposed to care but you know I can’t find the energy to care about Zygi or the Vikes, I got other things to do now.

      • A strong case The Other Mike, no doubt shared by many and entirely sensible. One former player, forty years ago and long before the NFL became the corporate monster it is today, called the game–borrowing from Marx I think–the opiate of the masses. You and I may have more important things to do than indulge the game and its owners but I wonder. I should have a better understanding of where my state tax dollars are going but I venture a good portion of them are going into things I’ll never personally use but are hopefully to the benefit of those who will. Is it the “Social Contract” we learned about in Humanities 101? If this franchise has a value to this community–and don’t sell entertainment value short even in hard times, motion picture revenues soared during the Depression–then we have a responsiblity to preserve it. Don’t we?

  10. Dennis…it’s true that the state spends our money on many things that benefit only specific segments of the population. If you don’t camp or hike in state parks you derive nothing directly from the part of your tax bill that supports the parks. Indirectly, of course, you get to live in a state with a fine park system that many people use and enjoy and that adds something to the general quality of life. The parks also undoubtedly bring in visitors from other states who spend time and money here.

    HOWEVER…that’s right, it’s a big HOWEVER…the state parks are not a for-profit enterprise owned by an ultra-rich individual. We don’t pay for them in order to make anybody wealthier. The state does subsidize, by various means and incentives, all kinds of industries and companies. I don’t think anyone would begrudge Zigi Wilf getting friendly treatment on roads, tax increments, etc. What bothers many of us is the scope of the investment in a facility whose ONLY purpose is to enhance an already sizeable bottom line. That and the gun that’s being held to our head.

  11. Why are you such a hater? Obviously you’ve never seriously examined the added-value a gleaming Minnesota stadium viewed by blimp on Sunday Night Football will bring to your life. What Mr. Wilf is selling is ego value through association. It’s time you buy in, bub. Otherwise your ego is going to get out-sourced to L.A.

    • Oh, yeah, you are a fine one to talk–clearly you have outsourced your ego to Arizona–what is wrong with the Boundary Waters, anyway? Is your canyon obsession related to the size of the hole in your life? Get real!

    • The problem with a Vikings game and its effect on my self esteem is that things always seem to start out well before ending badly. This probably explains my reluctance to deposit some of my money in Mr. Wilf’s bank account. Meanwhile, your ad hominem attack is as crisp and on-target as a Donovan McNabb second-half pass. As for blimps and such…the fun on Sunday nights pretty much stops when Faith Hill is done singing.

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