Campaign for Twins stadium

Michelle Moriarity

The fight for a Minnesota Twins stadium is — and will remain — a losing battle, according to a study recently issued by the Minnesota Public Advocacy Research Team.
Led by University speech communication professor Ed Schiappa, the report, “Squeeze Play: The Campaign for a New Twins Stadium,” is a collaborative effort of Schiappa and several speech communication graduate students. The 140-page document analyzes the economic feasibility and public support for a stadium — and finds the campaign lacking strength in both areas.
“It certainly wasn’t our intent to go after anybody,” Schiappa said. But months of research and interviewing revealed that uncoordinated campaigning, weak public support and inconsistent management decisions all helped bring the campaign to a near-standstill.
Twins President Jerry Bell began investigating the possibility of constructing a $300 million baseball stadium in April 1995. The Metrodome, which was primarily designed for football, was an inappropriate and obsolete facility for baseball use, Bell said.
According to the report, the campaign to build public support for a new stadium failed because proponents, including Twins officials, Gov. Arne Carlson and citizen group Minnesota Wins, did not coordinate their efforts.
“I developed a picture of a very odd campaign,” said Julie Mactaggart, a speech communication graduate student who contributed to the report. “Everybody was privy to their own spin without being educated to the others.”
The report also suggests that Twins owner Carl Pohlad’s credibility diminished when he failed to agree to concrete financial and tactical plans for stadium advancement.
“There was general agreement among legislators that the single biggest error made by the Pohlads was early in the process when they suggested a ‘cash contribution’ toward the Twins stadium that, once the fine print was read, turned out to be a ‘loan,'” the report states. “Representative Jean Wagenius suggested that, whatever the reason, having ‘gotten off on the wrong foot when they didn’t tell the truth at the beginning, (the Pohlads) never recovered.'”
Knowing the Twins could not survive without a new facility, Acting Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig told Senate and House tax committees in April 1997 that without plans to change the Twins’ economic situation, the team could relocate.
The impasse led to Pohlad’s tentative, but ultimately unsuccessful, deal with businessman Don Beaver to move the team to central North Carolina.
Although Gov. Carlson expressed strong interest in public stadium funding and called a special legislative session to approve a stadium bill, public opposition fueled legislative vetoes during the past two sessions.
State Rep. Phyllis Kahn said team owners have not explored the most effective options for revitalizing professional baseball locally.
“We’re asking the wrong questions,” Kahn said. “I don’t believe that there is any chance for a stadium bill.”
The answer to increasing public support and team revenue, she said, is to utilize some form of public ownership.
The Twins, who spent more than $1.5 million lobbying for the stadium during the past two years, have suffered more than $80 million in operating losses since Pohlad bought the team in 1984.
Schiappa said, however, that until the team can offer more competitive salaries to players, the Twins will not attract the fan base necessary to increase ticket sales.
“It’s ticket sales, not a new stadium, that will financially boost the Twins,” Schiappa said.
Twins communications director Dave St. Peter said in spite of the campaign’s failure, the stadium is still key to the Twins’ economic growth.
He added, however, that the stadium debate will stay off the team’s agenda for the next few years. The Twins achieved a two-year Metrodome lease this summer; during that time officials will focus on shaping a more competitive team out of developing young players.
Despite team officials’ optimism, Schiappa and his research team are convinced that the stadium will remain a losing proposition for Minnesotans.
“If it brought some clear good, it would be easier to package and present,” Mactaggart said. “You have to have a plan and you have to stick to it.”