Gov. Mark Dayton is trying to stop the Minnesota Vikings from charging their fans personal seat license fees to help pay the team's share of a new $975 million football stadium in downtown Minneapolis.
Dayton told team officials today that he strongly opposes shifting any stadium costs onto fans, even though the stadium bill he signed into law explicitly allows for such an option.
Dayton said he was "greatly distressed" by news that the team was considering fees paid by season ticket holders to help cover the team's share of the publicly-subsidized stadium. In a harshly-worded letter to owners Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf, Dayton stressed that the nearly $500 million private contribution they agreed to is their responsibility and not the responsibility of season ticket holders. The governor said his intention was a "People's Stadium," not a "Rich People's Stadium."
Dayton warned that it would be better not to build a new stadium than to have it betray the trust of the regular Minnesotans who supported the project. Asked for clarification on the implied threat, Dayton's press secretary Katharine Tinucci said the letter speaks for itself.
A year ago, when pre-session stadium discussions were bogging down, Dayton seemed open to fans paying part of the state's share of the stadium, not the team's.
"I'm for a memorabilia tax on the Vikings souvenirs and things sold there. I'd take a look at a ticket tax, so the users of the stadium are paying for part of the operation."
After signing the stadium bill last May, Dayton had this to say about the team's share of the cost: "The private participation is distinctly different from the public, where there should be complete transparency. The authority should have the right to make sure that they have the financial wherewithal. But where their financing comes from really is their business."
The Vikings recently sent out a survey to season-ticket holders to test their willingness to pay a "stadium builder's license." In a news release, team officials said they were disappointed in Dayton's letter because it does not recognize a key component of the stadium agreement.
One section of the law allowing for the new stadium reads: "The NFL team/private contribution, including stadium builder license proceeds, for stadium costs must be made in cash in the amount of at least $477 million."
A later subsection details the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority's role in such licenses. It reads: "The authority shall own and retain the exclusive right to sell stadium builder's licenses in the stadium. The authority will retain the NFL team to act as the authority's agent in marketing and selling such licenses."
Dayton said in his letter that he would urge the sports facilities authority not to authorize the proposed licenses, and would go to the Legislature if necessary to try to rescind the authorization. The governor said some details of the complex project were not fully understood and some differences remain.
Some stadium critics are scratching their heads. They point out that the public is already on the hook to pay the state's share of the stadium through electronic pull-tab gambling. Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, who voted against the bill, said he does not understand Dayton's sudden concern about who is paying and how.
"Zygi is just doing what a businessman would. He's saying, 'well nothing stops us from charging a fee for these, so why don't we do it?' So, I find it quite stunning," Chamberlain said.
On another issue, Dayton expressed his concern in the letter about the Vikings agreeing to play a 2013 home game in London. He said it would be far more helpful if the team focused on playing its home games in Minnesota.