Vikings stadium funding counts on Twins merchandise sales

Prepping merchandise
Vinnie Gardner sorts hats at a merchandise booth at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Tuesday, April 5, 2011. A tax on sports memorabilia from all pro teams in Minnesota would help pay for a new Vikings stadium, according to the stadium bill under consideration by the Legislature.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

With just a month left in the legislative session at the State Capitol, the clock is ticking down on a deal to build a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.

Lawmakers will likely weigh in on its price and location, as well as how to pay for the nearly $1 billion facility. Surprisingly, some of the biggest contributors to the effort may be Minnesota Twins fans.

It's one of the basic tenets of the stadium debate in Minnesota right now. If you want to play -- or watch your team play -- you've got to pay.

The stadium bill introduced recently at the Capitol offers a whole list of potential taxes, ranging from ticket fees to sales taxes in the community that hosts the team.

Details on that revenue are vague so far. But a new analysis by the state's revenue department is clear on one thing. About 60 cents of every $1 the state pays for a stadium would come from one source: a 10 percent tax on sports memorabilia.

That includes hats, shirts, jackets, balls, and all sorts of other licensed merchandise that sports fans buy.

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But the tax wouldn't just be on Vikings merchandise. It would also be collected on Minnesota Twins items -- like Joe Mauer jerseys and autographed baseballs. And anything with Timberwolves and Wild logos, too.

But the vast majority of memorabilia money would come from the sale of Minnesota Twins merchandise -- because that's what most sports fans are buying. Elwin Fraley, who has a sports apparel wholesale business called the Scorboard Sportswear company, says that's been his experience.

Based on merchandise sales, Twins fans could pay about 12 cents of every state dollar spent on the Vikings stadium.

"In 2011, it's probably about 60 percent Twins, maybe 25 percent Vikings and the rest split between the Wild, the Gophers and the Timberwolves."

Here's how that fits in the funding picture.

Based on the precedent set for construction of Target Field, the state's share of a new Vikings stadium would be about a third of the total cost.

Because 60 percent of the state's share comes from the memorabilia tax, and most of the memorabilia is Twins stuff, Twins fans could end up paying about 12 cents of every state dollar spent on the Vikings stadium.

Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, is one of the stadium bill's authors. He says turnabout is fair play.

"The Twins, the Wild and the Timberwolves have all benefited from public involvement from state or local governments in order to make those facilities feasible. And so it's only appropriate that the fans who support those teams would support this stadium," he said.

Twins playoff caps
Twins playoff gear lines the shelves at The Majestic Twins Clubhouse Store at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minn. Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2010. A tax on sports memorabilia from all pro teams in Minnesota would help pay for a new Vikings stadium, according to the stadium bill under consideration by the Legislature.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

The Twins, though, see it a little differently. Team officials declined an interview on the subject, but spokesman Kevin Smith released a statement which said the Twins support the Vikings' effort to get a new home. But the baseball team is concerned about the memorabilia tax.

"It all boils down to affordability," the statement said. "The concern is that particularly suggested funding mechanism would negatively affect the affordability of our product to our fans."

And, presumably, it would also affect the Twins' income from souvenir sales.

The Vikings say the idea wasn't theirs.

"We have only ever advocated for an NFL memorabilia tax," said Vikings vice president Lester Bagley. "The legislators came up with the idea to tax all sports memorabilia. And that's what's in the bill."

While the bill is a long way from becoming law, Twins fans could be among the first reaching for their wallets to help build the Vikings a new place to play.