Why Is Minnesota’s Governor Just Now ‘Concerned’ About The Vikings Stadium Deal?

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (D) is “deeply concerned” about the stadium deal the state signed with the Minnesota Vikings last year after a judge ruled Friday that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf violated racketeering laws related to an apartment development in New Jersey. The case and Wilf’s role in it, Dayton said last week, should cause the state to re-examine the stadium deal before it finalizes its contract with the Vikings.

“The Court’s findings pertain to a case that is unrelated to the agreement negotiated last year with the Wilfs and the Vikings. However, since the Stadium Authority has not yet signed the final agreement, I would urge the Board to have its legal counsel assure them and the people of Minnesota that all of the representations made by the team and its owners are truthful and accurate,” Dayton said in a statement released last week.


Neither Dayton’s deep concerns nor those of other state legislators are likely to derail the stadium plan, even though, as Field of Schemes’ Neil deMause notes, the state hasn’t yet given the green light to the sale of stadium bonds.

The question is why it took so long for those deep concerns to register with Dayton, considering the deal with the Vikings never looked like a good one even before Dayton and the legislature approved it by exploiting a legal loophole that allowed them to bypass voters who didn’t want to use public funds to pay for it. Since then, it’s only gotten worse, and Minnesota has already had to find a new source of revenue to cover stadium debts, since the gambling revenues that were supposed to pay for it have already fallen woefully short of doing so. Dayton signed an alternative funding scheme that raises cigarette taxes and closes a corporate tax loophole to make up the revenue in May. That should keep the stadium from becoming the absolute boondoggle it looked like as recently as six months ago, but it still seems hard to argue that it will be a good deal for taxpayers.

And yet, that’s what Wilf and the Vikings continue to do. The stadium, the franchise says, will create gobs of jobs (though even it admits that outside construction, most of them will be part-time) and generate “$26 million per year in tax revenue and over $145 million in direct spending by Vikings fans inside the State of Minnesota.” But as we’ve detailed repeatedly, even if spending and revenue hit those projections, most of it won’t be new. Instead, it’ll be shifted from other parts of the economy where it would have been spent anyway. And the “direct spending” will occur largely inside the new stadium, meaning it will do more to benefit the Wilfs and Vikings ownership than it will to benefit Minnesotans or the state’s coffers.

Are the Wilfs or the Vikings being totally above board with their claims about the stadium and its impact? Of course not. But that has nothing to do with a racketeering and fraud case. It’s just what professional sports owners and stadium proponents do when they’re trying to secure a deal. Dayton might be right to have concerns, but they should have started a year and a half ago, not this weekend.