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Today’s Plea For Billionaire Welfare

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If only I thought Minnesota would hold the line:

But the Vikings’ pitch stands apart from other N.F.L. stadium deals because it is running headlong into a vastly different economic and political landscape. In a state whose financial hardships were so severe that the Legislature shut down state services for several weeks over the summer, a franchise in the $9 billion N.F.L. is asking the public to pay about 60 percent of the cost of a $1.1 billion stadium that would be built here, about 10 miles north of the Twin Cities.

The country’s most popular sport is colliding with the country’s emergent political philosophy: smaller government and lower taxes.

“We have to ask whether this is really a good use of the money,” said King Banaian, one of more than 30 Republicans to join Minnesota’s House of Representatives this year and a professor who teaches sports economics at St. Cloud State University. “Should we be supporting a new stadium over higher education? It’s simply not a priority. These deals are, by and large, giveaways to millionaires and billionaires.”

It’s very hard to justify stadium subsidies even in the case of something like Comerica Park, where 1)at least the major tenant is guaranteed 81 dates a year, and 2)while there may be negligible if not negative net value for the metro area as a whole there’s at least some economic benefit for the city of Detroit, which does provide some value for the area as whole. But for venue whose tenant plays 10 games a year, in a location where people will just drive in and drive out? That goes beyond being merely bad economic policy to just being a con. The idea that this subsidy of billionaires brings substantial economic benefits is absurd.

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  • The country’s most popular sport is colliding with the country’s emergent political philosophy: smaller government and lower taxes.

    Ha, he thought “smaller government” is actually a real political philosophy for these people rather than just code for “give your money to us, not to those smelly poor people.”

  • wsn

    Sorry Scott, the mob has spoken.

  • Adam

    North Haverbrook Hamilton County taxpayers agree.

  • MNTwins

    Isn’t there a way to work a dig at the Twins into this post somehow? Doesn’t seem complete without one.

    I am praying for an 0-16 season for the Vikings so that no rays of hope can salvage this billionaire subsidy…

    • Hogan

      It’s widely suspected that the Phillies ownership did that strategically: “This team is going to keep sucking until we get a new park.”

  • Right now, the NFL owners only hold power in this because of the unfilled L.A. market. Once someone moves there, the owners have far less power. Where is a team unhappy in its stadium going to move? Portland?

    • firefall

      Minnesota, once the LA Vikings come to existence :)

      …. see, the perfect shell game

      • Could be if it was the Vikings. If it is Jacksonville or San Diego who make that move, no one is going to move into those markets.

        • Which is pretty much the other end of that shell game. The NFL isn’t really about to let the Vikings relocate to L.A., because then they’ll either have to find another market for the Jaguars or Chargers to move to, or they’ll be stuck in one of those markets.

          • Furious Jorge

            I had no idea the San Diego market was so shitty.

  • witless chum

    What the hell are the chances a Republican state senator who goes around calling himself “King” would be totally right about something?

    The percentage of public money funding stadiums for pro sports should be equaled by the percentage of public ownership interest in the team. City of Detroit should have 49 percent of the Lions, etc.

  • Mudge

    And, of course, there is precedent in a Minnesota team moving to LA, the Lakers, the team who have never had the decency to change its name despite the paucity of lakes in LA.

    But, to be fair, some of the new stadiums host professional soccer teams, an occasional college football game and Toby Keith concerts. Pittsburgh’s Heinz field, for example, is used for Pitt games and the HS playoffs as well as Steeler games.

    • Pretty sure the city of Pittsburgh owns Heinz Field, or if not there were heavy stipulations in the original agreement about the other events the stadium would have to be used for, most notably Pitt games.

  • rea

    Comerica Park, by the way, was 62% funded by the Tigers and 38% funded by government–as opposed to the Minnesota project, which is to be 60% government.

    • rea

      Oh, and the Minnesota stadium for some reason consts 3.5 times the price of Comerica Park!

  • Joshua

    But wait, it will also create a lot of low-paying, no-benefit jobs for those 10 (actually 8) days a year. Surely there is no better way for the government to create jobs for $700 million?

    • Joshua

      Yea, it is 10. Forgot pre-season. With good reason.

  • c u n d gulag

    If MN can’t keep them, I would love to see the Vikings move to LA.
    Especially since The Vikings were known to be such vicious marauders along the Pacific coast about a millennium ago.
    It would add to the immense trove of really stupid names for cities and their teams, like when MN lost the Lakers to LA, or New Orleans lost the Jazz to Utah. And, how many trolley’s were there to dodge in LA in ’58 when the Brooklyn team moved out there?

    Is it me, or is LA the destination place for really bad matchups of city and team names?

    For sheer shits and giggles, the best would be if the Timberwolves moved to Las Vegas or Phoenix, or the Mariners moved to Wichita, KS.

    Back on topic, ENOUGH with tapayers paying to build new cribs for the teams of the billionaires.
    You’re a billionaire, or close to being one, finance it on your own, or get some of your other rich buddies to help you out.

    And yeah, the one that makes the least sense of all is a Football stadium for 9-10 home games.
    Baseball at least has 81, and Basketball and Hockey have 41 home dates (not counting pre-season).
    Plus, how many great bands are left that can fill a football stadium for a Rock/Rap/Hip-hop concert?

  • efgoldman

    Just like most NFL (and other sports) owners can’t seem to replicate successful on-field and on-court models, no matter whom they hire, owners apparently don’t notice the money Bob Kraft made by building a decent stadium on his own.
    At the time, even getting some minor infrastructure improvements through the state legislature was a very close thing.
    So Kraft paid back the construction loans way early, has a great revenue stream, doesn’t have to share the soccer or concert revenue with anyone, gets to be a good guy by letting UMass and the high school playoffs use the stadium for free, has now built a mall adjacent…
    I mean, why would anybody in the Twin Cities, or LA for that matter, be interested in copying the Kraft’s business model, on and off the field?

    • efgoldman

      Parking and concessions, also too. Although he does make a very substantial payment to the town.

  • pacifist viking

    I’m a die-hard Viking fan who is terrified of losing my beloved team, but also distraught over using public money to help very rich people get richer. What am I to do?

    I would argue that having a beloved team actually improves the quality of life in a state for fans of that team (though I truly wonder whether the Vikings have given me net-joy or net-misery: I rather feel it is the latter); life is more enjoyable in the state when there is a team to follow. But what of people who don’t care about the team at all (I’d feel a lot better about losing the Vikes to civic principle if the state hadn’t already given a ballpark to the Twins, a team I don’t care about at all but whose ballpark the media has totally shilled for)? And what is the cost of this quality of life? And while public money is used for publicly owned quality of life things (parks, libraries, etc.), why should public money be used for privately owned quality of life things (the NFL forbids public ownership of teams, with one carved out exception for that despised team across the St. Croix)?

    I wish there were a way to allow only those who support a Viking stadium to pay for the Viking stadium. I, for one, am willing to pay, but I have trouble justifying asking others who don’t care about the team to pay. I suppose it would be against everything the NFL has to ask fans to donate money to the stadium, or to allow some sort of public ownership of the stadium (I’ve seen this idea floated on message boards: we can’t buy stock in the team, but could we buy stock in a stadium?). But if they taxed me to be able to keep rooting for the Minnesota Vikings, I would say, by all means, tax me! I’ll admit I’m a bit irrational as a fan (I used to blog about my miseries following this team, after all, but the last two seasons drove me away from it. I sometimes wonder, if somebody asked me “You can have X dollars but the Vikings will never win a Super Bowl,” how high would X need to be before I’d take it, and it gets rather embarrassing to admit that X would need to be close to six figures before I’d consider it).

    I also think that if public money is going to a stadium, it should come with strings attached. Why just give it away? How about some demands! Here’s one demand: if public money is used for a stadium, no game in that stadium can be blacked out. And that’s just a start. If you want our money, give us something substantive in return.

    I should probably start up my Viking blog again to ramble there rather than here, but you broached a topic near to my heart.

    • commie atheist

      How about just asking the owners to pay for it themselves? Seems to have worked here.

      • pacifist viking

        That’s my feeling, certainly, but if I can summarize my feelings: as a politically minded Minnesotan I oppose public money for a privately owned team’s stadium, but as a Viking fan, I will feel relief if they are not moving.

        • Malaclypse

          You do realize that you can still watch them, even if the corporate offices move, right?

          • Anonymous

            But I would not enjoy them. Irrational, maybe, but then investing emotional and psychological energy in caring about a professionally owned organization that exists primarily to make money is irrational, and I haven’t found much I can do about it.

            • pacifist viking

              oops, that’s me.

            • I can’t tell you what to do, but I will make a suggestion. When you are weighing in on a billion dollar decision, forget your emotional and psychological ties to a team and make the rational decision.

              I went through this myself when the Browns moved to Maryland. The city would be better off if it had not built a stadium then handed it to a billionaire to use at more or less no cost.

              There are cities all over the world with no NFL team.

    • MNTwins

      The “state” actually refused to pay for the Twins stadium. The taxing authority is Hennepin County (containing Minneapolis) and the tax is 0.15% (spend a hundred dollars, Twins stadium gets 15 cents). The Vikings stadium proposal is for a tax more than three times as high (0.5%) on citizens of a different county (Ramsey) which has only a sliver of the commercial activity of Minneapolis and environs.

      • pacifist viking

        I stand corrected on that detail, but how much do the specific details (local gov v. state gov., X amount v. Y amount) affect the principle (public money given to enrich private owner)? Perhaps as a Viking fan and non-Twins fan, I take little comfort in those specifics.

      • pacifist viking

        I was remembering the state legislative decision to allow the county to tax without referendum; in that sense the state was involved in giving the Twins a stadium.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Target_Field#Legislation_and_funding

    • SamInMpls

      A cold Omaha.

      That is the implication behind every argument in favor of using Minnesota tax dollars to subsidize our professional sports teams.

      I can get behind lending public funds at sweetheart rates to finance stadium deals if it results in something generally useful for the community at-large. The deal that brought the NHL back to Minnesota sort of worked that way and as things played out was at the very least a defensible use of tax dollars. Renovating an obsolete facility that was going to waste in a downtown area and thereby attracting the 2008 GOP convention (and less newsworthy events) wasn’t the worst decision in the world. Tax payers loaned $65 million to the Wild interest free and later lowered the team’s repayment obligation to $48 million after the team negotiated away partial use of the arena to the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission.

    • Quercus

      >I wish there were a way to allow only those who support a Viking stadium to pay for the Viking stadium.

      If only there was some mechanism where money could be transferred from those who actually go to the stadium to the owners of the stadium/team. Perhaps by collecting payments from attendees before they’re allowed to enter the stadium or some other unworkable mechanism.. .

      Or if somehow when the team owner broadcast the games over television for the benefit of those not coming to the stadium, the team could get some kind of payment for that…

      And what if those who were passionate about the team could transfer money to the owners, maybe by paying extra for regular consumer goods that are allowed to have the team’s logo on it…

      And of course, it’s too bad that regular citizens who appreciate the team are legally forbidden from simply donating money to the team, if they wished. Likewise, it’s a darn shame that legally, the owners are required to sign multi-million dollar contracts for people who play ball games all day, so the owners are simply unable to budget for stadium costs.

      Well, best of luck with your non-market tax solution to funding professional sports teams.

      • pacifist viking

        I certainly see your point. My point is that I am willing to pay the extra (however it is collected), while unwilling to require others to pay extra.

        • pacifist viking

          I feel I expressed myself poorly, and would clarify:

          The reality of the situation is that without some public money toward a stadium, there is a likely chance the Vikings relocated. I wish that were not the situation (that Wilf would pay for a stadium himself, that he’d be satisfied with the Metrodome, that he’d be allowed to sell the team to the state, etc.), but it’s not. Given that reality, one of two things will happen that I consider bad: either public money is used to enrich an already rich man, or the Vikings relocate. That is the source of my tension.

  • Henry

    Traveled to Minnesota this summer… rest areas in the Interstate Highways were closed because disagreements between the Guv and the republican legislature, something about spending cuts and not raising taxes.

    But now they are hand-in-hand in giving away money to billionaires and raising taxes to pay for them.

    Sad, sad, sad.

  • Tom Finneran, the first of Massachusetts’ three consecutive indicted House Speakers, did one thing right: he stood up to Robert Kraft’s threats to relocate the Patriots if the commonwealth didn’t fund a new stadium.

    He was absolutely vilified in the media for it…until Kraft’s deal fell through and he funded the new stadium privately.

    Too bad about the perjury and all, but he gets props for that stand.

  • bfranky

    Don’t forget that the Wilfs are developers and are no doubt going to develop the areas next to the stadium. That’s the only reason I can see the push for this site rather than one in Minneapolis or St. Paul that are better able to deal with the huge traffic jams around a football stadium on Sunday. Zigy came to Minnesota wanting to develop something around a new stadium, and this is going to be it.

  • firehat

    If those blood-sucking welfare queens in the firefighters’ and teachers’ unions would only agree to pay cuts and right-sizing, then we could get this thing built for these civic-minded billionaires who really are the ones who create all the jobs.

  • Check out the discussion at Field of Schemes for more discussion.

  • Professor Fate

    It’s merely a side note but making this kind of demmand right as the team have stumbled to an 0-4 start doesn’t stike as the best idea these folks have ever had.

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