Perhaps you too struggle with rejection. I wrote this piece for the Star Tribune … but it was, respectfully, politely … declined. So, with news today of a “deal” on a downtown Minneapolis Vikings stadium, (a “deal” without any actual revenue production) I inflict my deep thoughts on you … .
It goes like this … .
Like many I’ve developed cramps and eye-strain from three years of scanning the distant horizon for a sign — any sign — of the “jobs, jobs, jobs”-creation agenda our local Republicans promised in 2010. Apparently they forgot to install fresh batteries in the laser they vowed to focus on that piddly issue. One minor oversight aside, credit must be given where credit is due for the idea advanced last Thursday by Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain. This is the one where our beloved, but “uncompetitive-because-of-their-dump-of-a-stadium”, Minnesota Vikings would be offered the opportunity to take out a $300 million loan from you, me and other taxpayers. This long overdue brainstorm would be lieu of the residents of some entity – the state, a county, a city – getting handed a bill for the honor of hosting a new billion-dollar stadium/studio for one of the most fabulously successful private enterprises ever begat in modern America.
Chamberlain’s plan would “allow” the Vikings to tax the bejeezus out of everything their loyal fans touched. Parking? A new tax. Tickets? A new tax. Undercooked hot dogs? A new tax. Naming rights? Taxed. As far as I could tell, the only “amenity” left untaxed would be the 100th to 120th decibels of that godawful country music the team pounds like the hammer of Thor on its fans, numbing them to the fact that they could see better football played Friday nights in Eden Prairie than whatever field the Vikings are on these days.
I was going to compliment Chamberlain and his colleagues unequivocally for breaking the surly bonds of the GOP’s blood oath against new taxes of any kind for any reason. But then I noticed that to this long overdue “take out a damned loan” idea they had attached their inevitable legislative milfoil, namely, you guessed it, the phasing out of commercial and industrial property taxes.
(In fairness, the GOP must be given credit for being resolute on this business tax phase out. It’s like a Tantric mantra with them, and there’s rarely anything they don’t try to attach it to. If doctors told them their dying mother needed an organ transplant, the GOP would consent only if a business property tax phase-out came along with Mom’s new heart.)
But Chamberlain is on to something with this loan business. Like many, I am often stupefied by the thought that in 2012, after four years of a recession brought on by financial piracy on a feudal scale, we would still be considering transferring $600 to $700 million taxpayer dollars to enhance the profitability, (or “competitiveness”, take your pick) of a family wealthy enough to call a $19 million Park Avenue apartment home and a league that just renewed its television contract for $39.6 billion, or nearly double the value of their previous deal.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak recently assured the public that he was going to be a “tough negotiator” when it gets down to the nitty-gritty of who pays how much and for what on the (inevitable downtown) stadium.
Were that the Mayor, the Governor, or the Sports Facilities Commission played “tough negotiator” with the NFL. I ask you, other than Palm Beach and Beverly Hills is there a municipality or state in the country with a better credit rating than the NFL? In late December the NFL let it be known that as much as $200 million “might be available” to this Minnesota project … as a loan. This money is believed to form a substantial portion of the Wilf family’s $400-plus million contribution to the project … leaving us rubes in our Helga hats to fuss as we will over the remaining $700 million.
Point being: The NFL could write a check tomorrow for every nickel of the construction costs of a new Vikings stadium. (And that’d be, “Straight cash, homey” if Randy Moss was explaining it.) At which point the league could lease the thing, in all its “competitive” glory, to Zygi Wilf to develop the acreage around it to his heart’s content. Alternately, the NFL could float Wilf the loan for the full number and make some nice change on that deal too since, my guess here, the NFL can probably “tough negotiate” the rockest of rock bottom interest rates with any number of well-placed banking associates on Wall St.
The idea of calling the NFL’s bluff and telling them, “The public subsidy-for-stadiums concept has worn out its welcome in Minnesota”, is of course naïve in the extreme. The reason being, as we are reminded every day, is because no public official with career viability dares risk pushback from the NFL. Like LBJ in Vietnam, no one is going to lose football on their watch, no matter what the cost.
With good reason, the NFL would regard such a counter thrust as a murderous, seditious, precedent-setting attack on a pillar of its business plan. The airwaves would fill with leaks and murmurings of the Anschutz Group, or another conglomerate, suddenly willing to bear any price to bring the Vikings to Los Angeles.
Although, I wonder. As much as the NFL would like to have a home team in the country’s second largest market, it makes far more sense, if they are transplanting, to take first from Oakland or Jacksonville or San Diego rather than Minnesota. Why? Because even a team as forlorn as the 2011 Vikings, playing in the 14th largest media market, consistently ranked in the top 10 in TV ratings. Pro football, as the NFL well knows, has no lack of interest in Minnesota. Much to the contrary. So what concessions and explanations would the league have to make to move the Vikings to the head of that queue of far less stable franchises? Moreover, what is the likelihood that a “take out your own damn loan” move here would embolden taxpayers in, say, California?
For years stadium boosters have been selling the infomercial-like prattle that with pro football comes the wholly unquantifiable value of “big league-ness”, for which the public should/must pay disproportionately to any other comparable entertainment amenity. Lions of local business will actually doubt their executive recruitment possibilities if their next CFO can’t sit in a better skybox. Please. We’re talking $700 million here, in real numbers. In business, the only things that count are what you can count.
Similarly, politicians have argued the “jobs creation” quotient of a billion dollar stadium project. As though they can’t imagine iron work for anything else. Well, if any of them needs a list of a billion dollars worth of things that need taxpayer funding around the state, stuff that voting citizens will use every day of the year, they can, you know, “Call me, dude.”
It is now 2012, not 2006. If The Great Recession has taught us nothing else, it is that the 1%, or the .01 of 1% like pro football owners, can pay their own freight.
Try playing “tough negotiator” with the NFL.