Monday, February 16, 2009

LA Move Unlikely for Vikings

As frauds continue to fall in the U.S., there remains a shining beacon to all who worship at the throne of the fraud. That shining beacon is the NFL. For the past three decades, the NFL has pitted markets against each other in the lucrative game of selling fear to generate revenue for owners and the league.

For three decades, the NFL's fear-mongering has worked, convincing fans from across the country that their favorite team will move but for a new stadium built on the public dime. Now, it appears, the tide might be turning. Despite shiny new stadiums, teams like the Cincinnati Bengals, Jacksonville Jaguars, Detroit Lions, and Seattle Seahawks showed little on the field in 2008 to support the league's long-held contention that new stadiums are a panacea for the fans of the teams for whom new stadiums are built.

Enter the economic crisis of 2008-2009.

With an increasing number of workers waiting in unemployment lines, state and local revenue streams shrinking daily, and the country in the midst of its greatest act of deficit spending in its history, the NFL continues to foment stories about the possible move of various franchises to the long-NFL-dormant Los Angeles market. And it appears fewer people either are buying the propaganda this time or fewer people care.

Whatever the case might be, there is little reason to believe that the Minnesota Vikings are headed for Los Angeles any time in the near future. That is, unless the Vikings want to buy their way into the lucrative market.

Rumors of the Vikings' impending move to Los Angeles, the creation of a triumvirate of actors in the NFL offices, the Vikings' front office, and the Vikings' flagship radio station, are not new, stemming from the fact that the Vikings' lease at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome expires in 2011. Despite annual net profits in the neighborhood of $100 million, the Vikings continue to plead poverty, pointing to the lack of revenue streams generated for team ownership by the Metrodome as opposed to those generated for team ownership in other cities.

Paying attention exclusively to the Minnesota market could lead one to the conclusion that the Vikings have both opportunity and reason to leave the state in favor of the lucrative climes of L.A. That view, of course, would ignore several pressing external factors, not the least of those being the dire economic climate.

With nearly $40 billion in state debt, California seems a highly unlikely place for a publicly financed stadium, other than one for which the city that finances the building receives a healthy cut of the revenue streams created by the new stadium. That makes L.A. a highly unattractive relocation venue for a owner such as Zygi Wilf who already has a good deal in Minnesota that will only get better, no matter what the stadium resolution in Minnesota, after 2011.

Even if Wilf wished to move to L.A. and the city already had a stadium in the works, there is the needling issue of priority. And the Vikings do not appear to have that either in or out of league offices.

There are currently at least three teams that are more of a threat to move to L.A. than are the Vikings. In order, those teams are the San Diego Chargers, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Buffalo Bills.

Beginning this year, the Chargers have an opt-out clause in their stadium lease with the City of San Diego. The clause provides the Chargers a three-month window, beginning Super Bowl Sunday, to opt out of the current arrangement, with the window re-opening each subsequent year of the agreement. The cost to the Chargers of opting out of its agreement with the City of San Diego would be $56 million.

For several years, the Chargers have threatened to employ the opt-out clause in their lease agreement in an attempt to put pressure on the City of San Diego to finance a new football stadium. To date, the City has balked at the Chargers' threats and, to date, the Chargers have failed to make good on the threat. That could change, however, if a new stadium becomes available in L.A., where the Chargers recently began spending significant money marketing the team.

Even if the Chargers remain in San Diego, however, the Vikings would have trouble overstepping the Jacksonville Jaguars for a place in southern California. Despite being one of the league's newer franchises and playing in one of the league's newer venues, the Jaguars continue to struggle at the gate. Those gate problems have factored heavily into Jaguar owner Wayne Weaver's attempts to find a buyer for his franchise. Though Weaver has expressed a preference to keep the Jaguars in Florida, a move to L.A. likely would not upset the NFL.

The Buffalo Bills are in a similar predicament to the Jaguars, though with stadium undertones added to the mix. In search of a new stadium to boost sagging attendance, the Bills have suggested that a move is not out of the question. The recent devaluation of the Canadian dollar and the NFL's general disinterest in operating on the other side of the border make the Bills' recent threats to move to Toronto less, and a move to the much larger L.A. market more credible for the Bills.

Even were L.A. to have an empty, NFL-ready stadium, the Wilf's to be inclined to share substantial revenue streams with an LA-area municipality, and the Chargers, Jaguars, Bills--among others--willing to step aside and allow the Vikings first shot at the market, there is little reason to believe that the NFL would want the Vikings in Los Angeles. And much reason to believe otherwise.

In addition to having more vulnerable markets at risk than the solid Minnesota market, the NFL is mindful of what it has in L.A.--a threat to other markets. Removing that threat not only creates less of an incentive for other cities to worry about the long-term commitment of their local team to the city, but also creates legal challenges for the league from neighboring teams, such as San Diego.

There is also the fact that, with the 12th largest market and a consistently solid fan base, the Vikings are one of the preeminent franchises in the NFL. Particularly with the current economic uncertainties, the NFL would be loathe to upset such a situation. Considering the lack of success that the Rams and Raiders had at the end of their respective runs in Los Angeles, the Vikings appear primed for a long stay in Minnesota, regardless of the league's public position and the rhetoric offered by the Vikings' front office and their flagship allies.

Up Next: The Case Against Cassel. Plus, Free Agency.

1 comment:

L.Timberlake said...

Funny I just googled up this topic and came across your blog. One of my associates at work really believes this is true. I told him it's a bunch of hype because their lease ends I'm '11. It's the business and like you said "fear." Which brings money. :)