NFL commissioner in Minn. to weigh in on stadium debate

Stadium concept
The Minnesota Vikings released this concept of a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis, April, 2, 2012. This concept depicts a night scene incorporating the downtown skyline and events surrounding Vikings game days.
Courtesy of the Minnesota Vikings

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers will visit Minnesota Friday in hopes they can break the legislative impasse over a new Vikings stadium.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the visit underscores the danger that the team might leave, but league officials say it is the sale of the team that fans should be worried about.

Next year may be too late for the Vikings after all, Dayton said.

"I spoke with commissioner Goodell yesterday afternoon and again this morning, and I got a very strong and very clear message from him," Dayton said.

"I think the Vikings have said the same, you know, that next year's too late and they don't know what's going to happen between the end of this session if there's no stadium, and next January."

The NFL's top executives are flying to Minnesota to underline that point in scheduled meetings with the governor and legislative leaders to discuss the faltering efforts to pass a bill that would pay for a new $975 million stadium in downtown Minneapolis.

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"They'll get together with the governor and legislative leaders and look them in the eye, and ask them, "why is this stalled in committee, and what are the prospects for getting it out,' " said NFL Vice President Eric Grubman at the league office in New York.

Grubman is also the executive in charge of getting a new NFL stadium built in Los Angeles, one of the potential new homes for the Vikings if they leave Minnesota without a new taxpayer-subsidized stadium.

Dayton mentioned L.A. as he spoke about the prospect of losing the Vikings. He urged lawmakers to act soon.

But Grubman said relocation shouldn't be the immediate concern for Vikings fans.

"If I were in Minnesota, I wouldn't waste my time thinking about Los Angeles or Toronto or any other city. I would be thinking about whether or not I have an ownership committed to keep it there," Grubman said. "And that's the beauty of the Wilf family. They have been committed to keeping it there."

A change in ownership could commit the Vikings to some other city long before a new stadium is built in Minnesota or anywhere else. Grubman suggested the team's current owners are close to giving up after the failure of the stadium proposal in a House committee on Monday.

"They're tired. They're dejected. They've lost their optimism. They haven't lost their will to fight for it, but they're running out of gas," Grubman said.

Not everyone is convinced. DFL Sen. John Marty said he doesn't think the state should yield to the league's pressure.

"The team is making sort of an implied threat and because of that we have to make the biggest subsidy in history. I think that's wrong," Marty said. "I think we've got so many urgent needs. So many things we could do for rebuilding our schools and our infrastructure. I just think that's absolutely wrong."

But the NFL's intervention, along with a promise by a handful of Senate DFL-ers to support the bill, seem to have gotten the stadium inching ahead again at the Capitol.

Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said the stadium will start moving again through the Senate committee process.

"I'm anticipating we'll probably do this tomorrow. In local government," Senjem said.

The stadium bill has been stalled there since March.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, who offered to help lift the bill over that first hurdle, pointed out that it will have to clear two more committees before it even gets to a floor vote, including Sen. Julianne Ortman's tax committee.

"I don't know what Sen. Ortman's appetite is to give it a hearing, or whether she's willing to support it or not," Bakk said. "I have not counted the votes in the tax committee yet, except the tax committee is going to be hard also, I'm sure."

The bill also shows no signs of movement in the House. A tactical move to give the bill a shortcut to the tax committee failed on the House floor Thursday afternoon.