The Minnesota Vikings' Metrodome lease expires after the 2011 season. Even if construction on a new stadium were to begin today, that stadium likely would not be ready for use until the 2013 NFL season.
Since well before Zygi Wilf took over ownership of the Vikings at an estimated cost of $625 million, the Vikings' organization, led by Lester Bagley, has, along with the NFL's vast network, helped bankroll and otherwise perpetuate the NFL's stadium-building cottage industry. The Vikings and the NFL share a common interest in this regard and that interest is two-fold. Both want to continue to increase the value of NFL teams, thereby creating leverage for both the league and team owners, and both want to have the public, rather than teams, on the hook for stadium expenses if and when there are work stoppages.
For purposes of the current CBA discussions, the Vikings and the NFL are playing from well-behind in the leverage game. Ownership groups in Jacksonville, Buffalo, San Diego, and Oakland want out of their current arrangements and are willing to sell to relocators. That makes some sense for each--particularly the relatively new Jacksonville franchise and the always moving Al Davis Raiders. It also makes some sense for seemingly mired and relatively cash poor Bills. For San Diego, as for the Vikings, it makes sense only as a bluff, however.
Like San Diego, the Vikings have an established, loyal (some say too loyal) fan base. Unlike San Diego, however, Minnesota, and Minneapolis and Hennepin County, in particular, have routinely rallied to the Vikings' rescue--even though the team is making money hand over fist. In recent years, public assistance has arrived in the form of forgiveness of millions in taxes and the gifting to the Vikings of naming rights to the Metrodome.
The Vikings, of course, conveniently omit these public gifts, as well as revenue sharing revenue from the league's top-earning teams, from discussion regarding team revenues, opting, instead, to note that in terms of stadium revenue, the team ranks near the bottom of the league. That issue has been addressed on this site numerous times in the past with the basic retort being that the Vikings' claim, while true, tells not even one-tenth of the revenue story for the team; much of that revenue comes in the form of television revenue and merchandise sales. Much more will come in the form of franchise fees, if and when a team finally returns to Los Angeles, a city that cares far less about the NFL than the NFL wants it to care.
Lack of transparency on known money issue, coupled with the workings of other owners around the NFL, rightfully raise public questions regarding the Vikings' intentions, commitment to the team after a stadium is built, and need for public assistance. In the end, the question ought to be whether the public-private relationship makes financial sense for the the public entity. But the Vikings' owners, and other NFL owners, like Washington's Dan Snyder and Dallas' Jerry Jones, have laid substantial groundwork to undermine that message and to frustrate an endeavor that ought not be viewed through either the Vikings' or the public entity's (pick any) current lens, but through a lens suggesting a significant benefit to all involved with all cards laid on the table for public consumption. That course remains open for the Vikings to take, but is unlikely to emerge as long as the NFL and the team are mired in the tired, pre-cable television threat that the team will move to a market open only to new franchises.
Up Next: Vikings Move Laterally on Coaching Hires.