Gophers, Vikings seek to balance stadium goals

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Building a stadium for one team can be a complicated process of balancing the players’, owners’ and fans’ needs.

But planning a stadium for the Gophers and Vikings, each with very different needs, owns an even greater degree of difficulty.

A new facility must accommodate both the big-ticket money grab of the NFL, and at the same time provide the tradition and intimacy of a college football game.

State legislators are meeting this week to decide the fate of a Minnesota Twins baseball facility and possibly a shared football stadium.

Though approval from public and private investors is pending, University and Vikings officials are negotiating a proposal.

University chief financial officer Richard Pfutzenreuter said the University established 10 conditions – including a retractable roof, more revenue and an on-campus stadium site – which had to be met before agreeing to the proposal.

Building the facility on the University campus was an anticipated condition, said Lester Bagley, the Vikings’ stadium consultant.

“It makes sense given the stadium politics in the state of Minnesota,” Bagley said. “It makes sense for the Vikings and Gophers to work together. We’re OK with it built on campus if it works better for the University.”

Under the agreement, Vikings owner Red McCombs would invest $100 million for the 68,500-seat stadium, while an NFL matching program – which expires in March – would supply an additional $51.5 million.

The University would supply the stadium site location, which University officials estimate to be worth approximately $2 million. The University would also build the $60 million parking facility.

On Gophers game days, the University would receive money from concessions, ticket sales and parking. In turn, the Vikings would keep the money generated from their games.

The University would use the money generated from the daily use of the parking facility to pay for its construction.

Bagley said the Vikings want the majority of control over naming-rights profits.

“It’s appropriate for the Vikings to receive naming-right revenues because of the exposure of the NFL,” he said.

Possible financial benefits

The University gave its two athletics departments $10 million in subsidies in 2001, according to a fiscal report presented to the Board of Regents in March 2001.

Over the next five years, the departments anticipate needing approximately $21 million extra in fiscal backing.

According to the report, the football program will fall $600,000 short of its 2001 anticipated revenue target.

Pat Forciea, former University associate athletics director and current consultant to men’s athletics, said he couldn’t see how the athletics department would deal with long-term financial challenges without an on-campus stadium.

“The athletics department simply will not be able to generate in excess of $50 million in annual revenue without a football stadium,” Forciea said.

University officials have said the football team cannot meet its expected revenue goal with the current Metrodome lease.

“We play there for not much money, but we don’t get much money out of it,” Pfutzenreuter said.

However, both Vikings and Gophers are tied by contract to the Metrodome until 2011. Getting out of that promise could present problems for the stadium proposal.

University officials said they intend to honor their lease unless the Vikings make a move sooner.

“If 2011 comes and the Vikings don’t get a stadium and leave, something will have to be done,” Pfutzenreuter said. “I believe something’s going to happen before then.”

But should a new stadium be built before the lease expires, Vikings officials said a way out could be arranged.

“We fear the Vikings might leave the marketplace,” said Bill Lester, spokesman for the Metropolitan Sports Facility Commission, which owns the Metrodome.

The Metrodome receives $6 million annually from the Vikings, Gophers and Twins and could go bankrupt if each team moves to another facility.

“If both the Vikings, Gophers and Twins leave, the Metrodome would probably stay open for a year and then be torn down,” Lester said. “Most stadiums only have a 20- to 25-year life span.”

The Metrodome opened in 1982.

If the stadium is demolished, Lester said he was concerned it could harm the community.

“The Metrodome has functioned as a rec room for the community for the last 20 years,” he said. “Decisions get made without thought to other impacts.”


A cohabitation

Pittsburgh University and the Pittsburgh Steelers share the newly built Heinz Field.

Both teams say it’s a mutually beneficial agreement.

“The old University of Pittsburgh stadium was antiquated and in need of renovation,” said Ron Wahl, the Steelers’ communications coordinator. “The partnership evolved into a real positive relationship.”

Marc Boehm, University of Pittsburgh assistant athletics director, said the facility has truly become a home for the college team.

“A great thing, too, about what the Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh have worked out is that on our game day (the stadium) is the University of Pittsburgh’s and it’s clearly identified as the University of Pittsburgh,” Boehm said.

Forciea said the chances of the Gophers and Vikings sharing a stadium with a profitable revenue split are better now than 12 months ago, when the Vikings were less cooperative.

“It appears as if the Vikings are ready to make enough concessions to make it a more attractive and financially viable option for the University,” he said.

But until state legislators agree to back a University and Vikings stadium, the two can only make plans.

“Can a bill still pass the Legislature?” Forciea said. “That’s the $64,000 question.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial and Brad Unangst
welcome comments at [email protected] and [email protected] respectively