Gov. Mark Dayton has reignited the debate over how to pay for a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis. In a letter to team owners Tuesday, he told them he objects now to part of the law he signed in May.
That law allowed the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority to sell personal seat licenses to help finance the stadium. Dayton says Minnesotans are already on the hook for enough in paying for a new Vikings stadium without shelling out for seat licenses. But there's a potential upside for ticket holders.
The personal seat licenses, paid for on top of the ticket price, are called Stadium Builder Licenses in the law. They set up a situation similar to converting apartments into condominiums, in this case the property in question is a stadium seat: Fans are actually buying a piece of the new stadium that they own for 10 days a year, as long as there's a stadium. They can pass along this seat to their heirs, they can buy and sell them online. Even though the license costs fans more money, they have a stake in the deal rather than just paying rent to an absentee landlord.
It's not clear what these seat licenses will cost. Ramsey County estimated them at $125 million when it was pitching the stadium site for Arden Hills. There are 16 NFL teams that have similar programs. The most recent example is the San Francisco 49ers. They sold them for the stadium they built in Santa Clara, and some of their seats come with an $80,000 price tag. In Dallas, they ran as much as six figures.
Based on what Vikings officials have said in the past, the licenses in Minneapolis are likely to be a lot less expensive.
"There's only six NFL teams that have done just a traditional PSL program. Of those six teams, the average is $50 million," Vikings CFO Steve Poppen said in a state Senate hearing last December. "There's this perception that PSLs are going to pay for $300 million of a project. And we don't think that's the case. Again, we're trying to figure out what that is. But again, the average is about $50 million for mid-market communities that do not have anything to do with relocation or expansion."
The math suggests the licenses are likely to average about $1,500 a seat. But seat licenses or not, there's a good chance Vikings fans will pay one way or another to make up the $50 million that team owners want. The team could build the cost right into ticket prices, charging an extra $20 seat per game.
The seat licence issue came up Tuesday at a Vikings-sponsored "listening session" about the new stadium's design in Rochester.
Most of the hour-long conversation centered on whether the roof will be fixed or retractable, how to decrease wait times for women's restrooms and how to make the tailgate lot state-of-the-art.
But Rochester resident and season ticket holder Mike Atkinson said he supports Dayton's strongly-worded letter to the team.
"As much as Gov. Dayton has tried to get this one thing, just like that, he'll take it away," Atkinson said. "That's respectable. That's honorable. That's the Minnesota talking -- a hard person that works for his money."
At the meeting, Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said seat licenses are authorized under the bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Dayton. Bagley said the team is exploring all possible avenues to cover its share of a new stadium.
"The opportunity is there, but again, we're in the field to measure the market and determine whether or not this is a product that will fit the market and if so, what levels," Bagley said. "But no decision has been made on any pricing or any product in the new stadium."
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MPR reporter Elizabeth Baier contributed to this story.