Every Vikings Ticket Carries a $72 Taxpayer Subsidy?

Cursor_and_vikings_suites_-_Google_SearchAre Minnesota Vikings season ticket holders effectively government-dependent welfare queens?  After all, a state legislator’s analysis finds that every Vikings ticket benefits from a taxpayer subsidy of over $72.

If that analysis is correct, it would mean that over the next decade a season ticket-holding family of four will be benefiting from about $29,000 in subsidies from Minnesota taxpayers.  Over the three-decade life of the stadium, the 24 corporate benefactors sipping chablis in the Valhalla Suite will be benefiting from a government subsidy of about $521,000.

And we’re worried about poverty-stricken families on Food Stamps? 

Those figures are based on an analysis done by Minnesota State Senator John Marty (DFL-Roseville).  Senator Marty calculates that the entire taxpayer burden for subsidizing our new People’s/U.S. Bank Stadium is over $1.4 billion.  I’m not a public finance expert, but Senator Marty is a bright guy with access to public finance experts, and he seems to have done a lot of homework to develop this estimate.  He shows his homework in the spreadsheet provided below.

For purposes of the estimate, Senator Marty assumes that the Vikings will sell about 19.5 million tickets over the next 30 years.  While other non-Vikings events will also be held in the facility, Marty’s analysis only looks at Vikings tickets.

From there, it’s a simple calculation: $1.4 billion in subsidy÷19.5 million tickets=$72 subsidy per ticket.

Cursor_and_Subsidy_per_ticket_-_calculated_May_15_2012_pdf__page_2_of_2_Critics may quibble with the specifics of the Marty analysis.  But specifics aside, the undeniable fact remains that Minnesota taxpayers are on the hook for an enormous subsidy that looks to be much larger than the $498 million figure typically quoted during legislative debates.

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Is Zygi Claus As Generous As Local News Coverage Makes Him Out To Be?

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Billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf is Minnesota’s Santa Claus. That’s essentially the message local news and sports coverage has hammered into Minnesotans’ heads over the last couple of years.

There has been a steady string of positive headlines promoting the Wilf’s stadium-related generosity: Twin Cities Business magazine: “Wilfs Commit $19.5 million More to New Vikings Stadium.”  Minnesota Public Radio:  “Vikings add 19.7 million to stadium contribution.”  WCCO-TV:  “Vikings, Wilfs To Commit to Additional $14M To New Stadium.”  The Saint Paul Pioneer Press:  “Vikings’ Zygi Wilf to increase stadium contribution.”  The Star Tribune:  “Vikings pony up $49 million for stadium accessories.”

Legendary Star Tribune sports columnist Sid Hartman regularly preaches about how fortunate we Minnesotans are to have the Wilfs lavishing us with additional stadium-related toys out of the goodness of their hearts.  For instance, under the homer headline “Vikings Stadium Will Be Spectacular,” a typical Hartman column tells Minnesotans to “take your hat off to the Wilf family,” and then essentially turns his column over to Vikings executive Lester Bagley’s pro-Wilf spin:

“The Wilf family has put in an additional $95 million since the bill passed the Legislature, because a lot of teams and communities get to this point and they start to cut things [and] we don’t want to cut things. We want to add things and make sure this is the best stadium in the league.

The Legislature had us agree to $477 million in team/private dollars and since the bill passed, on top of that $477 million, the Wilfs have agreed to contribute an additional $95 million and counting.”

In addition to his newspaper columns, Mr. Hartman even more frequently carries the same kind of Wilf cheerleading to the powerful radio airwaves of WCCO-AM.  KFAN-FM and 1500-ESPN also do their fair share to promote Zygi’s stadium contributions to their listeners.

The cumulative effect of all of this has been to paint a portrait of jolly old Zygi Claus and Lester the Elf continually delivering millions of dollars of new stadium toys to Minnesota’s football loving girls and boys.

I don’t blame reporters for those headlines.  The budget increases happened, and reporters need to cover developments like that. Moreover, I’m glad that the Wilfs are paying the extra costs.  It’s better than the alternative.

But as Mr. Wilf prepares to cut the ribbon for his new business asset later this summer, and have even more adoration heaped upon him by Mr. Hartman and others, it’s important to look at the broader context.

Others Paying “Owner’s Share”

Remember that the owner has had lots of help paying the so-called “owner’s share” of the stadium. The Vikings are getting hundreds of millions of dollars from a number of outside sources, such as a NFL loan program, seat licenses paid by fans, and enormous naming rights payments coming from U.S. Bank customers.  As Minnesota Public Radio reported:

“If the team gets the NFL loan, sells naming rights and charges for personal seat licenses according to these estimates, it would have about $115 million of the original $427 million pledge yet to pay. Compared to the upfront price tag on the stadium of $975 million, the amount left is about 12 cents on the dollar.”

Note that this April 2012 MPR analysis was done prior to the Wilf’s increasing their stadium contributions by an additional $95 million or so.   It also was done without solid numbers related to these three types of funding sources.

But details aside, the larger point remains:  What the owner is actually paying is only a small fraction of what is described in news coverage as “the owner’s share.”

Star Tribune sports columnist and 1500ESPN radio analyst Patrick Reusse also wrote an excellent 1500ESPN blog post asserting that about $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by someone other than the Wilfs.  Reusse’s analysis was titled “Quite a Bonanza For Our Stadium Martyr.”  However, the radio station appears to have removed the post.

“Worst Deal From Sports Team”

Mr. Wilf is the generous one?  Really?  Minnesota taxpayers are bearing a heavy burden for the stadium, because the Wilfs insisted on it, during a decade worth of legislative warfare.  In naming the Twin Cities one of “5 cities getting the worst deals from sports teams,” MarketWatch asks:

“How do you get taxpayers to chip in $500 million on a more than $1 billion stadium when only one city, Indianapolis ($620 million), has ever paid that much?”

MarketWatch also notes that Minneapolitans “will end up paying $678 million over its 30-year payment plan once interest, operations and construction costs are factored in.”

I’m not informed enough about every stadium deal in the nation to say whether MarketWatch is correct that Minnesotans got one of the worst deals ever.  But it is important to understand that Minnesota taxpayers are being extraordinarily generous to the Vikings owners, not the other way around.

Wilfs Are Takers, Not Givers

By any reasonable analysis, the Wilfs are the big takers in this scenario.  They are not, as much of the news and sports coverage has implied or asserted, the big givers.  After all, this luxurious new taxpayer subsidized stadium won’t make taxpayers’ wealthier, but it is already making the Wilf’s much wealthier.

Forbes magazine estimates that the Vikings franchise, which reportedly was purchased by the Wilfs for about $600 million in 2005, was worth $796 million in 2011, the year before the stadium subsidy was approved.  By 2015, after the taxpayer subsidy was approved by the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Dayton, Forbes estimates the value of the Wilf’s business had spiked to $1.59 billion.

That’s a remarkably quick appreciation going to Zygi Claus’s bottom line in the post-stadium approval era.  Add what the owners will be pocketing due to large increases in stadium-related revenue in the coming years, and it’s pretty clear that the Wilfs are making out like bandits.

Precise analysis is pretty much impossible on this subject, because executives are not nearly as forthcoming about details related to the loan, seat licenses and naming rights as they are about contributions. However, this is roughly what it looks like to me:  Zygi Claus is investing something in the neighborhood of $200 million to see his business valuation increase by at least $800 million, and probably quite a bit more over time.

None of this is illegal, or all that unusual.  But it also is not Santa Claus.

My Vikings Legacy Brick

Vikings_brickMy kids are all too aware of my unhealthy obsession with the Minnesota Vikings, so for Christmas they splurged and got me a “Legacy Brick”, which will be part of the plaza on the front porch of the Vikings new stadium.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much this gift pleased me.  After all, I’m a grown ass man. I understand this is just an appeal to vanity and hero worship as a way to have rubes like me finance an asset that will make billionaire Vikings owner Zygi Wilf wealthier.

But come on, it’s granite, with my name on it, in the Vikings’ front yard! How AWESOME is that? The Vikings and I were both born in 1961, and I and other family members, living and dead, have closely followed them for as long as I can remember.  This is a chance to memorialize our collective misery.

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Better yet for a guy who likes to write, the accompanying brochure pledges that “your personal message” will be engraved on the brick. Hot damn, a blank slate!

As a long-suffering fan of the historically snake bit franchise, my mind immediately went to trolling. That is, I considered capturing a grievances in granite.

For instance, in homage to the embattled offensive tackle Matt Kalil, who fans particularly love to hate when the offense is sputtering, I considered a paver inscribed, “Walk all over me, just like Kalil gets walked on.” Petty, but gratifying.  Similarly, to celebrate the storied career of the plodding tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, I thought about submitting “This brick is faster than Kleinsasser.”  Or to honor running back Adrian Peterson (AP), who has 33 maddening fumbles as part of his Hall of Fame career, I was tempted to go with “Me: One on the ground for my team. AP: 33.”

And then there are the numerous scandals that could have been cathartic fodder for brick copy.  The Love Boat sex scandal.  The Adrian Peterson child abuse.  The endless player prosecutions.  The arrogance and immaturity of Randy Moss.

I also considered commemorating my own lameness as a fan. I waxed nostalgic about a frigid day in December 1980 when a boyhood friend and I left a game at Met Stadium early. As it turns out, we missed seeing the greatest comeback victory in Vikings history against the Cleveland Browns, only to be scolded by a highway patrolman during our solemn drive back to South Dakota. The paver could mock us, just as the officer did that day: “You boys left early, huh? 12-14-80.”

That friend also suggested a granite haiku that captured the epic tragedy that is Vikings fandom:

Left early against Browns,
Take a knee, wide left Atlanta.
Life of a Vikings fan.

I don’t mind telling you, that one made me misty.

Political animal that I am, I also really would have loved to make a political statement, such as “Bought this brick for a billionaire.” That would really stick it to The Man, and bring some progressive awareness to the old town square!  It also would effectively clarify that “yeah, I’m a chump alright, but I’m a politically savvy chump!”

Naturally, I considered Packer hating: “Packers fans got 13 championships. I got this brick.” I also wondered if I could get this past the censors “Puck the Fackers.” See what I did there?

But alas, after all of my fantasizing, I finally read the fine print on the Vikings’ website:

Discriminatory, political, offensive, or inappropriate messages as determined by the Minnesota Vikings and MSFA will be declined. References to other NFL teams will not be accepted. The Minnesota Vikings and MSFA reserve the right to approve all brick inscriptions. Inscriptions that do not conform to these inscription guidelines or that are deemed unsuitable will be declined and will require a new inscription to be submitted.

My creative visions all were ruined by the Vikings. Between this censorship and a rather severe character restriction, my options were very limited. So, I played it straight:

Skol or uffda,
bleeding purple
since 1961.
Loveland Family

Booooooring. Schmaltzy!

Hey, but it’s my name, in granite, in the Vikings’ front yard!

Who Negotiated That Stadium Deal Again?

Vikings PR people like to tell Minnesotans that the team’s owner, billionaire Zygi Wilf, is paying about 60 percent of the ever-growing $1.2 billion stadium cost.  The truth, as Star Tribune/1500ESPN columnist Patrick Reusse pointed out back in May 2012, is that something like $450 million of the Wilf’s share will be paid by people other than the Wilfs. For instance, season ticket holders will be making exorbitant seat license payments to the Wilfs, the National Football League will be paying a subsidized “loan” to the Wilfs, and U.S. Bank will be making naming rights payments to the Wilfs.  All of this will offset the Wilf’s stadium costs by about $450 million.

Taking all of that into consideration, Mr. Wilf looks to be shelling out more in the neighborhood of  $250 million of his own money, or 21% of the cost of the $1.2 billion total, not the 60 percent the Vikings claim.  It’s difficult for an outsider to come up with precise numbers, but that seems like a pretty fair, pardon the pun, ballpark estimate.

Meanwhile, state and local taxpayers are paying about half a billion dollars for the Vikings’ stadium, or about 40 percent percent of the stadium cost.  In other words, taxpayers are paying significantly more than the billionaire owner.

Despite being the majority investor, taxpayers have no say in the name of the stadium, and will be getting 0 percent of the estimated $10 million per year of corporate naming rights payments that U.S. Bank will be paying over the next two decades.  The billionaire Wilfs will be getting 100 percent of the $220 million in naming rights payments.

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mao_tiananmen_squareIt’s bad enough that U.S. Bank looks to be getting more corporate visibility than Chairman Mao demanded for himself at Tiananmen Square. To add insult to aesthetic injury, taxpayers aren’t getting a single penny for putting up with U.S. Bank’s excessive corporate graffiti.

And so ladies and gentlemen, I give you U.S. Bank Stadium, formerly billed to skeptical taxpayers as the “people’s stadium.”  State leaders should be doing some retrospective soul-searching about how they got so thoroughly fleeced by the Wilfs on this deal.

If Vikings Pick Punters “Strictly Based On Performance,” They Should Bring Back Kluwe

kluwe_censoredIn the wake of Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe’s advocacy of gay marriage, Vikings Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer publicly said he was tired of Kluwe-related distractions, privately told Kluwe that the gays should be rounded up and nuked, and fired Kluwe and replaced him with an untested rookie.

Despite the timing of all these events, the Vikings vehemently denied that Kluwe was fired due to his activism. The Vikings released a statement assuring Minnesotans:

“Chris was released strictly based on his football performance.”

There you have it.  Not salary. Not age (he was 31, relatively young for punters). Not activism. “Strictly based his football performance.” The Vikings assured us that they run a pure meritocracy, and Kluwe’s performance just wasn’t up to snuff.

But that was always a head-scratcher. After all, the statistics show that Kluwe was the best punter in Vikings history. For instance, Kluwe is at the top of the heap in Vikings history in career punt average, at 44.4 yards per punt. Of course, punting is also about placement, but Kluwe is also number one in Vikings history in punts placed inside the 20-yard line.

Despite Kluwe’s impressive performace-based records, Kluwe was fired and replaced by Jeff Locke, a rookie who was completely untested in the NFL. Priefer assured Vikings fans that Locke had bested Kluwe during a brief closed-door punt-off at the Vikings’ practice facility. So, while Kluwe was statistically the best punter in Vikings history, Locke was, Coach Priefer assured us, going to be even better. Kluwe wasn’t even get a chance to compete for his job at training camp.  One closed-door punt-off supervised by Priefer, and the most accomplished punter in Vikings history was shown the door.

How is that working out for Priefer and the Vikings? Kluwe’s replacement Jeff Locke was named by the wonky analysts at Pro Football Focus as the single worst punter in the NFL. Bleacher Report elaborates:

While Kluwe may have been outspoken and a hassle at times, he certainly was able to get the job done from a punting perspective, something Locke has not been able to do through nearly two seasons.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Locke has received a combined rating of negative-20.8 since he entered the league in 2013, which is far and away the worst rating of any punter during this time fame. His negative-10.2 rating this season ranks dead last among 33 analyzed punters.

If it’s really true that Kluwe was replaced by Locke “strictly based on his football performance,” maybe Coach Priefer, or Priefer’s replacement, should be bringing back Kluwe for the 2015 season.

– Loveland

Note:  This post was also published by MinnPost.

Vikings To Return To Full Strength Next Sunday With Return Of Gay Nuker and Child Abuser, Says Rackateerer

vikings_stadium_adrian_petersonNext Sunday’s game looks to be a proud moment for the storied Minnesota Vikings franchise, and, by association, all Minnesotans.

  •  Special Team’s Coach Mike Priefer, who got caught lying for months about saying that he wanted to nuke a whole class of humans because of who they love, is expected to be back after a three game suspension shortened, due to good behavior, to two games.
  • Star running back Adrian Peterson, who has admitted that he repeatedly beat a four-year child bloody with a stick, will be back from a one-game deactivation.

But don’t be concerned.  Zygi Wilf, the Vikings owner who has been found guilty of racketeering and fraud after a New Jersey judge found that “I do not believe I have seen one single (Wilf-generated) financial statement that is true and accurate,” has investigated and cleared Peterson and Priefer.

I love the Vikings, but these are just the facts.  This lifelong Vikings fan has to go take a shower now. – Loveland

Viking Coach Priefer Still Doesn’t Get It

Mike_Priefer_nuke_gaysEveryone makes mistakes, but the key is to learn the right lesson from the mistake and move on.  That’s the message being stressed by the Minnesota Vikings leadership in the wake of discovering that their Special Teams Coach Mike Priefer had been lying to them about making breathtakingly ugly anti-gay remarks in an attempt to stop punter Chris Kluwe from championing gay rights off-the-field.

That’s a good message.  Yesterday we learned that Coach Priefer is all about the “move on” part of that message.  But the “learn the right lesson” part?  Not so much.

Priefer did appear to learn some lessons:  If you lie, you might get caught.  And if you lie and get caught, that can embarrass you, your family and your team.

Those are lessons all right.  But are they truly the most important lessons?

Coach Priefer was given the golden opportunity at the news conference to prove that he had learned the most important lessons.  As the Star Tribune reported:

Priefer got emotional when asked what he regretted most about what transpired between him and Kluwe.

The biggest thing I regret is I brought a lot of bad publicity to the Minnesota Vikings and I felt like I let my family down,” Priefer said, choking up as he finished his sentence.

Wrong answer, Coach.

When you say that we should round up a group of human beings, put them on an island to be murdered, your biggest regret should not be that the remark created embarrassing publicity.  Your biggest regret should be that you said something unbelievably hateful and hurtful about your fellow man.  You should regret that you infected the world with verbal violence that, intended or not, really does feed and rationalize actual violence against gays and lesbians.   You should regret that you stood in the way of the cause of equality and freedom of speech when you bullied an employee who championed those uniquely American values.

Those are the right lessons, the more meaningful lessons.

Coach Priefer clearly still thinks everything is all about football.  Human rights?  Sure, whatever.  Hate speech feeding hate crimes?  Shrug.  Freedom of speech?  Whatever.  No, Mike regrets that he got caught slamming Kluwe and the gays because it created a distraction from football and an embarrassment to his football organization.  Football, football, football.

I hope someone is dreaming up an industrial strength sensitivity class for this guy, because it is going to take one kick ass class for him to get it.  In that class, they need to show Priefer how many morons with heads full of Priefer-esque “jokes” humiliate, maim and kill people, solely because of who they love.  They need to show examples of how power-drunk employers throughout history have punished African Americans, women, workers’ rights champions and others courageous enough to stand up for American values.

I also hope they line up a management class for Priefer’s boss, Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer who told the Pioneer Press:

“I’ve had a chance to visit with Mike Priefer on numerous occasions, almost every single day, to find out what kind of person he is,” Zimmer said. “I knew his father. I know what kind of family guy he is. He made a mistake. So I just go by what I see; I don’t go by what I hear.”

“I just go by what I see, not by what I hear.”  Are you serious?  This guy just repeatedly lied to you, and you’re still saying that you  just go by what you see when you look at the guy and his background?

With that kind of attitude, Coach Zimmer is poised to sweep all kinds of future personnel problems under the rug.  Allegations of sexual violence, domestic abuse, or criminal activity?  “I just go by what I see, not by what I hear about those allegations, and I don’t see a rapist when I look him in the eye.”

The Vikings organization’s words and actions show that it looks upon Priefer’s “nuke the gays” remark as a PR embarrassment, and little more.  Make it go away with some obligatory spin. But they need to take off their football goggles for a brief second to learn the truly important lessons stemming from this ugly episode.

– Loveland

What Chris Kluwe Should Be Saying

chris_kluweChris Kluwe, the former Minnesota Vikings punter who has been blowing the whistle about Vikings speical teams coach Mike Priefer’s anti-gay remarks, could use some PR help. I’m a PR guy, so I can’t help but want to put words into people’s mouths. These are the words I would advise Kluwe to speak today:

 It’s time for me to shut up. Those who know me know that’s not easy for me. But upon reflection, I’ve decided it’s time.

First, I need to do what I urged Coach Priefer to do when he did something ugly. I want to admit I was wrong and apologize.

I was a moron when I pulled an immature locker room stunt that made light of people being raped by a coach at Penn State. I wasn’t threatening an employee for speaking out about civil rights or advocating violence against a class of people, but I was very wrong in a different kind of way.   I was seeking laughs, but I was doing it at the expense of innocent victims. At the time, I thought I was joking, but it obviously looks very different through victims’ eyes, and I should have realized that. That was wrong, and I sincerely apologize.

It’s also time for me to shut up about Coach Priefer.

I achieved what I most wanted to achieve when I started speaking out against my coach’s anti-gay remarks. I got the truth out, an important piece of it anyway. I’m very proud of that, and that made this all worth the effort. After repeatedly denying it for months, Coach Priefer corroborated my story that he said gays should be rounded up and nuked.

It was gratifying to hear Coach Priefer say that I was not lying, as he had accused me of doing. It was much more gratifying to hear him say that he was wrong to say those hateful things. I sincerely hope he means it, and I hope the training he takes about gay people truly changes his heart.

There are still things I don’t understand about this whole situation. I don’t understand why the Vikings don’t release the whole truth, the full investigative report.   I will never understand that. Truth heals, and covering up the truth causes festering.

I also don’t understand why the Wilf’s sanction isn’t commensurate with the transgression — a boss using violent, hateful speech about a whole class of human beings, and threatening his employee for advocating for civil rights. If Coach Priefer had said the same things about African Americans, or other minority groups,  the punishment obviously would have been much heavier. That makes me think the Vikings don’t give gays and lesbians the same level of respect they give others. That is wrong.

Finally, I don’t understand why the Vikings would release a punter who, according to the statistics, was the best in team history. I don’t understand why they would do this at a time when I was doing everything the coach asked me to do for the sake of the team, including punting shorter and higher, which helped the coverage teams and hurt the statistics upon which I am judged.

I know that money and age are always part of player retention decisions in the NFL, but I also know that my championing of civil rights also was part of that decision.  I know this because Coach Priefer said publicly that “Those distractions are getting old for me, to be quite honest with you.”  No employee should ever be punished by an employer for  speaking out in favor of civil rights.

I knew I would never get my job back. I knew I would never get lost salary, because any money I would have won was promised to LGBT rights groups. But I was still tempted to sue, because I was worried that my employer’s firing of me for speaking out would stifle other NFL players from speaking out for what they feels is right. I still worry about that a lot.

The Vikings are dead wrong about those things. But I’ve decided not to file a lawsuit after all. I got the truth out, and that was my top priority. I hope we all learn the right lessons from this whole ugly chapter. Onward.

Mr. Kluwe is not going to convince the court that age, performance and salary weren’t also part of the Vikings’ decision to release him, so he should reclaim the one thing that is still available to him — the high road.

– Loveland

Photo credit:   Sophia Hantzes, Lavender magazine.

The Strib boldly goes … .

Lambert_to_the_SlaughterTo give credit where credit is rarely due, I must say I read Mike Kaszuba and Rochelle Olson’s Sunday piece on the beyond-parody list of freebies and concierge services the NFL demands of its Super Bowl host cities and had a hard time stifling my amazement. Not that the NFL demands/”requests” for stuff like police escorts for team owners who have already had special clearance to land their private jets at local airports … I fully assumed that … the surprise was that the Star Tribune ran the story on 1A.

While the scoop of a reporter actually getting his/her paws on the … 153-page … document wherein one of the most lucrative commercial enterprises in America sets down in writing exactly how it expects to be treated like a preening Kardashian was far to juicy to ignore, I will argue that a year ago, the Strib would have conceived a rationale for tucking it away from the heavy traffic. The paper, certainly its opinion page, really has been that obvious a shill for the NFL for that long.

There’s a very revealing, amusing tell-all e-book in some Strib insider’s account of the myriad ways the paper failed the basic rules of journalistic skepticism in its sustained campaign for the lop-sided stadium contract with which taxpayers are now ladened. This would include, for example, why the sharpest criticism of the deal voiced by veteran sports writer Pat Reusse — a bona fide opinion leader for the sad rubes bowing in front of Zygi Wilf — appeared not in the Strib, but in his blog at KSTP radio.

I’ll say what I’ve said before (and often), we — the whole damned country — are chumps for the NFL, excuse me, the non-profit NFL. The mix of martial combat, brute machismo and show biz mythologizing makes for an irresistible marketing package. Which is fine. In America everyone’s got something to sell. But what a newspaper like the Star Tribune is supposed to be selling is skepticism, among other vital virtues.

The sports culture’s radio and TV front men, the jocks and sports anchors, have a clear vested interest in boosting/shilling for the fundamental assets of the home team. While cranks like me might admire them more if they made a full-throated, common sense argument against the NFL’s “standard” financing package for these extravagant stadiums, I get that they’re basically publicity agents for the local teams and the league. For them there is no financial upside to quarreling with how the NFL chooses to do business.

But people who regularly lay claim to being “hard-nosed”, “bulldog” reporters have no excuse for running as little contradictory information about the stadium contract as the Strib did during the long, long legislative negotiating saga.

As I say, the opinion page’s drumbeat support, as appalling as it was to people like me who saw so little effort made to deviate from that “standard” financing model — one that always includes the threat of moving the beloved local team to Los Angeles, (a move that would cost the other 31 financially-adroit owners a hell of a lot of money in comparison to carving up a likely $1 billion fee for creating an entirely new team there) — was not surprising. The publishers and owners of enterprises as large as the Strib think of themselves as peers to team owners, and like the NFL plutocracy are generally familiar with the myriad benefits of tax and taxpayer manipulation.

The question for the Strib of this generation is this: In the context of the Vikings stadium saga, who in the newsroom is prepared to publicly assert that the firewall between the publisher’s financial interests and the newsroom’s journalistic instincts was never breached? That in no way were editorial responsibilities in this very expensive matter obstructed or diluted as a result of influence from the executive suites?

Finally, to Kaszuba and Olson … nice work.

But as Columbo used to say, “There’s just one little thing that bothers me.”

In the course of laying out all the freebies the NFL demands — the police escorts, the free parking, the deleted taxes, the NFL channel in official hotels, the 180-person, all-expenses-paid junket — would it have been too much to drop in one short line about how all these niggling perks are to the benefit of … some of the richest human beings on the planet? Truly the .1% of the 1%ers?

I know, I know, that would be “editorializing”, an unforgivable cardinal sin of serious journalism. But it would have put things in a perspective the average subscriber might better understand.

– Brian Lambert

The Yard Canard: Presenting Our Featureless New Corporate Playground

Marred_YardA few days ago, I noted an evolution happening with The Yard, the park planned for west of the new Vikings Stadium.  In the 2018 Super Bowl bid put together by corporate leaders, images of The Yard  were changed from depicting the public playground Minnesotans were initially pitched as part of Governor Dayton’s “People’s Stadium” vision into the more lucrative corporate playground the Vikings’ wealthy owners and their corporate partners covet for  Super Bowl soirees.

This weekend, a Star Tribune editorial bemoaned the Super Bowl bid committee’s proposal for The Yard:

“The public first glimpsed the Yard as depicted in Ryan’s initial renderings: a lush public expanse of grass and trees framing the city skyline. Even in winter, with snow on the evergreens and skaters on a pond, the Yard was to be the “money shot” that defined our city and state to viewers worldwide, as well as a bustling activity zone for fans on game days and for neighbors and downtown workers on the other 355 days of the year.

But a newer image adds tents of various sizes and exclusive activities for Vikings ticket holders for at least 10 days a year, plus events sponsored by the (Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority) MSFA on part of the park for as many as 40 additional days. During rare mega-events like the Super Bowl or the Final Four, garish tents could cover nearly the entire park space, largely to accommodate national security requirements.”

First, national security officials are obviously capable of securing a small public park on Super Sunday.  Maybe skaters would have to walk through metal detectors.  Maybe snow fences and security personnel would have to be temporarily used on the perimeter, as is frequently done on the much larger Mall in Washington, DC.  Come on Star Tribune, are you really buying the Vikings’ claim that ice skaters are some kind of utterly unmanageable national security risk?

But it gets worse.   The Star Tribune then explains that the de-parkification of The Yard goes well beyond Super Sunday.

The upshot is that, yes, the Yard still aims to be both active and attractive, but unfortunately with fewer trees and fewer permanent amenities (public art, fountains, cafes, etc.) than originally imagined, and with more open space for flexible programming, most of it public but some private.

While that doesn’t rule out public skating in winter or soccer and outdoor movies in summer, all of the setting-up and tearing-down of tents and platforms will damage grass and other natural features and, more than that, will consume beauty and time that the public had expected to get.

So, let me get this straight.  The Yard will be exactly like a park, except with few trees,  gardens, water features, art or recreational-oriented equipment or structures.  Other than lacking those typical park features, and being regularly shut down and ground to a pulp by corporate parties, The Yard will be exactly like all the best urban parks.

The Star Tribune, which will be relocated very close to the Yard, seemed disappointed to learn of the newly marred Yard.  But ultimately the editorial staff did what it often does when powerful downtown interests are in play.  It pretty much fell in line with the corporate viewpoint.

It’s nearly impossible to accomplish anything big — say, a Vikings stadium in downtown Minneapolis or an adjacent park — without the financial contributions and willing cooperation of various governments, private companies and nonprofit groups, all with competing interests. The result is often a compromise that doesn’t measure up to every expectation.

“Nearly impossible.”  So that’s what we’ve come to.  Public representatives can no longer create a public park that serves public needs, even after making a half a billion dollar public investment in the development of the area?

The next time you go to Lakewood Cemetery, take a copy of this “nearly impossible” editorial and lay it on the ground.   That rumbling you feel is one Charles M. Loring rolling over in his grave.

– Loveland

Super Bowl Bid Bust: Why Are We Destroying The Yard With The Pole Building?

Minneapolis_The_Yard_winterYou may have seen the artist renderings.  The drawings lay out a vision for The Yard, the planned four-acre urban park adjacent to the mammoth new Vikings Stadium.  In the winter versions, the park is shown populated by happy, hearty Minnesota families  skating, admiring ice sculptures, making snow angels and generally laughing in the face of Old Man Winter.

Minneapolis_skating_outdoorsWhen I look at that rendering, I can clearly hear the soundtrack.

“When it snows,
ain’t it thrilling?  
Though your nose
gets a chilling. 
We’ll frolic and play
the Eskimo way. 
Walking in a winter wonderland.”

That, my friends, is us.  Minneapolis has the best park system in the nation, because Minneapolitans loves them some outdoor activities in all seasons.  That’s why this little outdoor space has emerged as one of the more intriguing, unifying and endearing elements of the Minneapolis stadium area vision.   It is a quintessential Minnesota kind of space being built on Minnesota’s most visible stage.

But the corporate types dreaming up the Super Bowl bid don’t see it that way.  They  promised the NFL muckety-mucks that they would replace The Yard with, well, The Pole Barn.

Minneapolis_super_bowl_-_Google_SearchWell, technically, I guess it’s going to be a tent, but in the artist’s renderings, the ginormous grad party tent looks more like a poultry pole barn to me.  To be fair, it does have a very snazzy Super Bowl LII logo on the roof, making it one of the more swank pole barns I’ve ever seen.

I understand what the Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and his merry band of corporate boosters are shooting for with this idea.  They wanted to reassure delicate NFL billionaire owners who have heard nasty rumors about Minnesota weather that we are in possession of heat, and are prepared to pipe it in wherever the partying swells desire it.

But making The Yard into the The Pole Building is going too far.  We don’t want the Goodyear blimp’s panoramic shots of  Super Bowl LII to portray a generic Super Bowl scene.   We want those  shots to portray a uniquely Minnesota Super Bowl scene.  We want to show the world happy, hearty Minnesotans laughing in the face of Old Man Winter.

After all, we are who we are, and we should be proud of who we are.  We want to show the world that Minnesotans don’t just survive winter weather; we find ways to have fun in winter weather.  Showing everyone skulking into an ugly heated tent paints quite the opposite picture.

To be clear, I’m strongly in favor of heat in February.  By all means, heat the airport, taxis, buses, trains, transit stations, skyways, hotels, convention center, shopping centers, restaurants, bars, strip joints, water parks, indoor skating rinks, theaters, museum and, of course, stadium.  Heck, I’d even be okay cranking it up a few extra degrees for those couple of weeks.

But don’t, repeat don’t heat, sterilize and corporatize the outdoor space that we are building to frolick and play the Eskimo way on the national stage.  Super Bowl week or not, let’s let Minneapolis be Minneapolis.

Loveland

Note:  This post also appeared on streets.mn.