Our guest blogger is Brian Frederick, Executive Director of Sports Fans Coalition, the country’s largest nonprofit fan advocacy organization, which fights to give fans a voice on public policy issues.
In an egregious example of how professional sports can be little more than a “glorified real estate scam,” the owners of the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings are about to fleece an unwilling Minnesota public for hundreds of millions of dollars, as they push to secure public subsidization of a new stadium. A deal is reportedly “imminent.”
Real estate developer Zygi Wilf and five partners bought the team in 2005 for a reported $600 million. (The franchise is now valued at $796 million.) From the get-go, Wilf and his partners wanted what every owner in the NFL wants: a new stadium.
The Metrodome opened in 1982 and is certainly not the newest and most lavish in the league, but there are eight stadiums that are older. And Minnesota voters clearly do not want to pay for a new stadium using public funds. A February 3 poll sponsored by KSTP-TV in Minneapolis found that a whopping 68 percent of Minnesota voters think the new stadium should be built “entirely with private financing.” Only 22 percent believed that any tax dollars should be used at all.
Even more astounding, these results came after a six-figure ad campaign paid for by the Vikings to try to drum up support for financing the stadium.
So leave it to Minnesota’s politicians to find a way around the public will. Gov. Mark Dayton (D) has been out front on the stadium issue and is doing everything he can to get a new stadium built. “We’re at the five yard line and its first and goal, and I think we’ve got a great opportunity,” Dayton recently said.
But in 1997, Minneapolis voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum stating that voters must approve any plan to spend more than $10 million on a sports facility. Given that a referendum today would obviously fail, how is the governor going to get a stadium built in downtown Minneapolis? By exploiting a loophole, of course.
In the latest stadium proposal, at least $300 million in Minneapolis taxes already devoted to paying off the city’s convention center would be diverted to pay the city’s share of the new stadium. And to circumvent the requirement that voters approve funding for the stadium, Dayton’s top stadium negotiator, Ted Mondale, explained that a newly created “stadium authority” would spend the city’s money, rather than the city itself.
So despite the fact that the Minneapolis public voted to require a public referendum before financing any new stadium, and has made it clear that it doesn’t want a new stadium in this case, Minnesota’s governor and state legislature appear poised to spend $300 million in taxes on one anyway by creating a new entity out of thin air that is not subject to the referendum law.
The NFL is making money hand over fist, but the public is expected to pay the costs of providing a (lavish new) place for NFL teams to play, socializing the costs of the sport while privatizing the profits.