Vikings’ dreams of a new facility are moot

Like a kid crying because he has last year’s He-Man doll instead of the newest Power Ranger, the Minnesota Vikings have joined ranks with many other professional sports teams in demanding new facilities — or else. Such hollow ultimatums are juvenile and counterproductive. Like any level-headed parent, the taxpayers should simply tell the Vikes: Quit your whining.
Vikings President Roger Headrick publicly stated Sunday that the Metrodome, which opened in 1982, is not up-to-date. But the Vikings, unlike the Twins, signed a 30-year lease, which lasts until 2012 and does not include an escape clause. This means Headrick’s fantasy of a $100 million renovation of the dome or a hip new stadium (he already has a spot near the Convention Center picked out) is moot. Last time the Vikings got a new toy they promised to be satisfied with it until next Christmas, but it’s only Easter and they want to throw it away. Maybe closer to 2012 Headrick can legitimately pipe up again about a new stadium.
The Metrodome was a cool idea in the 1970s, when domes were popping up across the country. The Vikings just had to have one. But now that the trend has changed, Headrick has hopped on the bandwagon of teams using fear to get more money from taxpayers’ pockets.
In Cincinnati, voters approved a half-cent sales tax increase to raise $50 million a year for a new baseball and football stadium. In Detroit, the Tigers received $40 million in a city subsidy to build a new ballpark. And in Cleveland, Browns owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore to claim most of the profits of the new stadium.
Teams used to move because they couldn’t fill the stands. Now owners claim they’ll go broke without state-of-the-art facilities with luxury suites and advertising rights. But new stadiums are extremely expensive and no team (or city) can afford to build a new one every decade. The Metrodome has operated for the past 12 years without public funding, relying on ticket sales, lease payments and the building’s bonds — and it’s still only halfway paid off. Perhaps the Vikings’ proposal would be taken more seriously if they had a roomier lease in a condemned and crumbling 40-year-old stadium.
Headrick is already making threatening hints. He mentioned that Modell threatened to move for seven years before finally packing up his team. And he’s pointing at the Twins’ stadium quest and the Timberwolves’ refinanced Target Center as favored siblings who have gotten, or will get, their way.
Despite overwhelming public rejection of any form of tax-based funding for a new ballpark, the Twins actually have a case. Twins representatives have been pointedly diplomatic in addressing the issue and are now working closely with Gov. Arne Carlson’s staff to arrive at a publicly acceptable method of fund-raising. Also, almost everyone agrees that the Dome is a terrible place to see a baseball game on a nice summer night. But the Metrodome is a great football venue (especially in December) that’s in excellent condition. Headrick’s tactless announcement will neither gain our financial sympathies nor consideration until the Vikings’ lease nears an end in the next century.