Friday, April 16, 2010

Giant Sucking Sound?

The Minnesota Twins opened their new outdoor stadium this week to much fanfare. The sight lines reportedly are relatively good, the amenities a substantial upgrade over the Metrodome, and the concessions edible. It helps, as well, that the product on the field is among the best in the majors.

Lost amidst all the euphoria, however, are some of the returns to the Twins. For most fans, those returns are inconsequential. For those weighing the merits of a publicly funded stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, however, they are anything but.

Following the Twins' home opening victory over the Boston Red Sox, Twin Cities' news stations prominently featured two stories pertaining to the game. One story was of a Twins' fan who reportedly lost two hundred dollars when he purchased forged tickets to the opener from a ticket scalper. Somehow, the forged ticket read as a valid ticket, allowing entry to the game to the fan. The fan was later removed from the stadium, however, when his seat was taken by a fan with a legitimate ticket.

While it remains a mystery how the forgery was not detected by the ticket scanners at the gate, but was detected by ushers who then purportedly escorted the fan from the stadium, the more intriguing element of the story, is the universal local news response to the incident. The lesson, we were told, is that, although scalping is legal in Minneapolis, Twins fans that want to ensure the validity of their secondary market ticket purchases should purchase either from the Twins or from MLB's ticket re-selling partner, StubHub. Of course, convincing Twins' fans that there is a substantial risk of purchasing forged tickets and thus scaring them to the Twins' and MLB's re-sale sites adds significant dollars to the Twins bottom line.

Also adding significant cash to the Twins' coffers is the Twins' previously unannounced arrangement with AT&T. That deal ensures that those using AT&T cellular devices will receive reception in the open-air stadium. Those attempting to use non-AT&T cellular devices will remain at the mercy of the air currents, cloud cover, and interference offered by the Twins' front office.

Responding to fan complaints that cellular reception was spotty or non-existent in the stadium for non-AT&T devices, the Twins stated that dissatisfied patrons should "contact their cellular phone provider and request that the provider reach agreement with the Twins" to "boost" cellular reception within the stadium for their specific carrier.

These clear money grabs on the part of the Twins are nothing compared to what the NFL and the Vikings have in store for their own fans, if and when a new Vikings' stadium is built. One may rest assured that, if the Twins are able to manipulate cellular signals, the Vikings will as well. The Vikings are also certain to tack on expenses about which the Twins' ownership can only dream--such as seat licensing fees and season ticket renewal fees.

Such fees are neatly tucked under the rug, of course, as the Vikings begin their seasonal assault on Minnesotans' common sense. Much like Mitch McConnell refers to a Democratic proposal to impose a "too big to fail" fee on Wall Street firms as "another bailout by Democrats," the Vikings continue to offer the lines that they "have waited patiently for their turn at a new stadium" and that "time is ticking away on an opportunity to keep the Vikings in Minnesota."

Measured in decades, the latter statement might be true. In the current climate, however, there are neither takers nor options for the Vikings to move elsewhere. Moreover, Minnesota is where the Vikings' bread is buttered, and the organization and NFL understand that. And the NFL clearly has no interest in allowing the Vikings to assume the franchise-fee rich LA market--even if that market otherwise were open to the Wilfs, which it is not.

The patience line is more intriguing, however, primarily for what it does and does not suggest. What the Vikings are implying, if not outright stating, is that the team has waited its turn for public funding, has been promised public funding, has relied on this promise, and that the promise is now due. These statements are valid only the utter abstract.

The Wilfs paid $625 million to purchase the Vikings. Each year, the team receives approximately $220 million from the NFL from various league revenue streams. In addition, the team receives free rent on the Metrodome, naming rights to the dome, approximately $8,000,000 per game in ticket and other sales, and local radio revenue. And the team receives endless free advertising on virtually every local media outlet--all of which shamelessly pimp the need for a new Vikings' stadium so that the Vikings can enjoy greater revenue streams. That's a reasonably healthy return on a private party investment for an enterprise that provides eight guaranteed home games a season.

As the Twins have proven, however, a new stadium and the equity obtained by virtue of that stadium are but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to potential revenue streams--a point even the stadium-at-any-cost evangelicals ought to eye when deciding who ought to pay what for such an edifice.

Up Next: Draft Looms.

No comments: