After purchasing the Minnesota Vikings in 2005, current Vikings' owner Zygi Wilf made two pledges during virtually every one of his many stuccato-like speeches linking family values to putting together an NFL team. The first was that he would return the Vikings to championship contention in short order. The second was that he would keep the Vikings in Minnesota.
Zygi already has renegged on his first pledge, contending now that building a championship is a process and one that will take "a few more years" in Minnesota. He now is doing his best to reneg on the second pledge, implicitly threatening to move the Vikings if the Minnesota Legislature does not soon fund a new stadium.
Most fans who have heard similar songs and dances regarding ownership commitment to the community have not been surprised by Zygi's increasingly aggressive comments since 2005. Initially, Zygi's overtures amounted to back door pleas with Minnesota State legislators to commit to funding a new football stadium. Now, they have become full frontal statements with fans left to hear, once again, the laments of a wealthy local sports team owner about not being able to make many more millions on a sports venture in the state without the public's agreement to build a new palace for the owner's team.
Yesterday, Zygi went so far as to compare his current plight to that of the Minnesota North Stars under then owner Norm Green. To say the least, the comparison is disengenuous, save, perhaps, for a comparison of the true commitment levels of the two owners to Minnesota.
Despite reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in the year before Green unceremoniously moved the Stars down South (where he lost his shirt after declaring that only "an idiot" would have trouble making money on hockey in Dallas), the Stars had trouble drawing fans and had no significant revenue streams to cover their arrears in this regard.
The Vikings, meanwhile, stand to profit somewhere between $30 and $60 million in 2007, regardless of whether they even win a game or draw a single fan. And, despite signs that fans remain unwilling to pay exorbitant ticket prices for a product that probably will not live up to those prices, fan support is neither a problem for the Vikings nor critical for team profitability at the current margins.
What works in Zygi's favor as he now panders for a new stadium, promising, "along with the NFL" (read, "NFL"), to contribute $250 million to complete the team's currently proposed $1 billion stadium project is that, as poorly as the team has performed on the field in recent years, the team still enjoys a substantial fan base. This large fan base can only help Zygi in his push for a new stadium.
What does not help Zygi in his push for a new stadium, however, is his lack of understanding of the Minnesotans on whom he is requesting assistance to secure stadium funding. Minnesotans are not fond of being told that they made a mistake in the past, particularly if they still do not believe that they have made a mistake. That's particularly true when the party casting aspersions is an uninformed carpetbagger like Zygi.
While Zygi continues to put pressure on the Minnesota Legislature to fund, not only a stadium but also a megaplex that Zygi can rent out, reap tax benefits from, and make a whole bunch of money for what, in the end, amounts to nothing more than lobbying costs, fans can take solace in the fact that, although the Vikings, in all likelihood, will obtain funding for a new stadium sometime before their current lease in the Metrodome expires in 2011, it need not be on Wilf's terms. For, despite not-so-veiled threats to move the team if the Minnesota Legislature does not act quickly on his request for a new stadium, Zygi has no place to move the Vikings, as there currently exists no available market for a relocating NFL team.
If the members of the Minnesota Legislature determine that it is in the best interests of Minnesotans to provide public funding for a new Vikings' stadium, it, thus, will have the benefit of dictating the terms of such a deal rather than having the terms dictated to them. And, when dealing with an out-of-state carpetbagger, that undoubtedly is what sits best with Minnesotans.
The irony of Zygi's comparison of his predicament to that of Norm Green is that Zygi has asked Minnesotans to "learn from the mistake" of letting the Stars leave Minnesota. In retrospect, the decision was not at all a mistake. Although the Stars' departure meant that Minnesota was without NHL hockey for a decade, it also meant that Minnesota was without Norm Green and an NHL ownership entity that had zero real commitment to the community. It is no mistake to end such a relationship, as painful as that might be to the fan base in the short term. In that respect, it would serve Zygi to learn the lesson of the Stars' departure from Minnesota.
Up Next: Chilly Wouldn't Change A Thing.