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Vikings: Personal seat licenses were no surprise in Minnesota’s stadium deal

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Vikings CFO Steve Poppen explaining personal seat licenses to the Senate tax committee on Dec. 6, 2011. (MN Senate media)
Steve Poppen
Vikings CFO Steve Poppen explaining personal seat licenses to the Senate tax committee on Dec. 6, 2011. (MN Senate media)

There was no secret, nothing underhanded and no sneaking involved in the personal seat licenses that were written into Minnesota's deal with the Vikings to build the team a new stadium, the team says.

"Stadium builders licenses were vetted in 16 Legislative committees," said Vikings vice president Lester Bagley, after Gov. Mark Dayton yesterday said he thought the controversial financing mechanism was "snuck" into the stadium bill he signed last year. The licenses are one-time, up-front fees charged to ticket buyers that give them season ticket rights. They can be bought and sold like stock or real estate, and can costs thousands--or even tens of thousands--of dollars.

Dayton made the remark about seat licenses after noting he was "deeply concerned" about the business dealings of the team's principal owners, Zygi, Mark and Leonard Wilf. A judge in New Jersey found they'd committed "fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty and violated New Jersey's civil racketeering law" in a real estate development deal.

The Vikings, though, said that the personal seat licenses (known as stadium builder licenses in state law) "were detailed in the term sheet that was supported and agreed to by the state, the city and the Vikings." Which is true. They were also discussed at some length by the Senate tax committee, (You can see the tape here. Vikings stadium consultant Craig Skiem discusses PSL's with chair Julianne Ortman at the 40:00 minute mark, and Vikings CFO Steve Poppen talks with her again about the subject at about 1:09:00 into the hearing.)

Here's a screenshot from the team's Powerpoint that day:


Poppen did tell Ortman that teams like the Vikings typically raise about $50 million from personal seat licenses. But the Vikings may have had something more in mind, even back then. Back in May of 2011, the team struck a tentative deal with Ramsey County for a new stadium on the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant site in Arden Hills. That mentioned $125 million (or more) worth of personal seat licenses -- for an average of $1,923 per ticket in a 65,000 seat stadium.

The issue may be headed for some resolution soon.  With stadium groundbreaking scheduled for October and major construction expected to start in November, the state is going to quickly burn through the $50 million the Vikings have to offer in advance for  the project. That means the state will have to sell stadium bonds soon to raise cash and the people who buy those bonds may want to see all the math behind the stadium deal before they loan the state any money.