The Vikings are off to a great start in what could be one of their best seasons ever. It is exciting to see Brett Favre lead a talented team with great potential.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, investors are building a new stadium, hoping to attract an NFL team. The lobbyists for Vikings owner Zygi Wilf are hoping to use L.A. to pressure Minnesota politicians into using taxpayer funds for a new Vikings stadium. They know most Minnesotans love the Vikings and are excited about the team's prospects. And, by holding open the possibility that the team will leave for Los Angeles, they hope to pressure the state into providing a massive taxpayer subsidy for the team.
Los Angeles can and should be very helpful to the Vikings, but as an example, not a threat.
Minnesota is in tough financial shape. Schools are laying off teachers. Our courts are being cut to a point that threatens the integrity of our justice system. 31,000 of the most sick people in our state are losing their health care. Minnesota has aging infrastructure, including schools and bridges, that need attention. And, on top of that, we are facing a multi-billion dollar budget deficit.
It is in that context that Zygi Wilf and the team's lobbyists are asking for public money. Lester Bagley, their chief lobbyist, recently stated that the cost to taxpayers to retire the debt for a new stadium could be $50 million annually. For this price, Wilf would build a 65,000 seat stadium. Every year, the Vikings would play eight home games there, plus two pre-season ones.
To put this into terms to which we can relate, Bagley wants taxpayers to subsidize each of the 65,000 seats at every Vikings home game to the tune of $77 per ticket. That is $77 in taxpayer money for each ticket, at every game, including pre-season ones, for decades to come!
That's a lot of money. Especially when many Minnesotans are struggling to make ends meet and to pay for health care, and government is slowly shutting down core services.
What about the supposed economic benefits of keeping the Vikings? Businesses seeking public money hire consulting firms to produce studies showing "new" tax revenues generated by the business, revenues they claim would not exist without that business.
But neutral economic studies show the opposite. The difference is easy to explain. Studies produced by the team imply that revenue for salaries and profits that generate those taxes, comes out of thin air. In fact, those revenues are paid by spectators, fans, and advertisers who, if they didn't spend it on the Vikings, would spend it on other things, enabling other businesses to hire people and make money, all of which also generates tax money, perhaps more money than would be generated by the team. The economic reality is that these subsidies do not pay for themselves.
What about the financial needs for the Vikings to survive? Forbes magazine says the net value of the Vikings has increased by $235 million since Zygi Wilf bought the team in 2005. And the team has had millions of dollars in operating profits for all but one of the years he has owned it. Despite the recession, the Vikings have been very, very profitable for Mr. Wilf, even in the Metrodome.
Finally, it is important to address the implied threat to move the team. Art Rolnick of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve explained what occurs here: "The leagues of all major sports blatantly aid and abet team owners in extorting public funds for new facilities under the threat of moving." That's strong language, but it is beginning to be heard here, and in most of the other six NFL communities from which Los Angeles is looking to recruit a team.
To his credit, Zygi Wilf has testified before a legislative committee that he plans to have the Vikings stay in Minnesota, whether he gets a new stadium or not. He followed that up with a clear promise: "All that I can tell you is that I live by my commitment…If I don’t play in a new stadium, if I don’t play in the Metrodome, I’ll play on the Pop Warner fields…and it will be in Minnesota."
Mr. Wilf is a smart businessman. Obviously, if he can get a massive taxpayer subsidy to enhance his profits, he will take it. But if there is no subsidy coming, he can learn from Los Angeles that it's possible to build a privately-financed NFL stadium. Businessman Ed Roski and his partners plan to build their new stadium near L.A. without help from taxpayers.
This is a perfect opportunity for the governor and state leaders to sit down with Mr. Wilf and other investors to help them find a way to privately finance a new, state-of-the-art NFL stadium.
In California, Governor Schwarzenegger laid out one clear rule for their new facility: "It won't cost the taxpayers a dime... In California, we don't build stadiums with public money."
A $77 taxpayer subsidy for each of the 65,000 seats, at every Vikings game, year after year? No, here in Minnesota, we can build one without public money as well.