The Vikings are headed for Seattle this weekend, and that isn't all.
They're playing one of the NFL's No. 2 teams at 9-1, with the third-highest scoring offense in the league. By comparison, the Vikings are No. 30 in the NFL defensive rankings. This morning's odds have Seattle by almost two touchdowns on Sunday, which could help put the Vikings in theoretical danger of their worst season ever. (They went 3-13 in 1984 and 2011)
This happens as the team is wrapping up the final details on its new stadium, and presumably a naming rights deal, since the team hasn't named a headline sponsor yet. Naming rights fees, with NFL subsidies and personal seat licenses, are the third tranche of the $490 million the team has publicly pledged to stadium financing.
But who'll want their name on a losers' stadium?
Well, U.S. Bank seems to be a leading contender, according to the Pioneer Press' Charley Walters. KARE 11 had a story this week repeating that assertion, and even putting a price tag on the rights: $10 million a year. (That's nearly a match with one of the NFL's highest profile naming rights deals, this year's Levi's Stadium deal, worth a reported $11 million a year.)
E.J. Narcise is a founder of Rockville, Md.-based Team Services. They've done naming rights deals for the Carolina Panthers and Ericcson Park, The 49ers and 3Com, Reliant Park and the Houston Texans, the Washington Redskins at Fedex Field, and with M&T Bank for the Baltimore Ravens. "We've got a little bit of history," Narcise says.
They're not working for the Vikings, although they're familiar with Minneapolis. Narcise says his company worked for Learfield Sports when the company was bidding on the broadcasting rights for the Minnesota Gophers.
That $10 million a year figure for the Vikings? Narcise isn't so sure.
"You're not New York or San Francisco," he says.
But he thinks the number will be respectable. He says the Twin Cities "are right up there in the rankings of corporate hubs. So I think you're in very good shape ... You certainly have a very well rounded group of Fortune 500 companies that are headquartered in that region."
But how 'bout those Vikings? Will a string of losses like that shellacking the Packers applied to the team in the Metrodome last month discount the value of having a brand name on the building?
Narcise says no.
"We're not talking about Jacksonville here. We're talking about a history of NFL football that is for the most part always been very well supported, and ownership that's always done their best, including going out and getting a Brett Farve, and doing whatever they have to do to make themselves competitive.
There is an ebb and flow in all college and professional sports and it'll come back around.. and there's no doubt that Minneapolis will host a Super Bowl down the road.
That said, if I'm the buyer, I'm going to believe all of those things, but I'm going to beat (the Vikings) over the head with the fact that they're horrible and they don't have a quarterback and all of those things. It's just part of the negotiations."
Narcise says there's another factor in play here, as well: stadium naming rights deals aren't just about having a sign over the front entrance.
"In the past it was strictly a branding play," now it has to go to that next dimension. There has to be a business to business relationship, perhaps a technology partner that's involved in the construction and wiring of the building."
U.S. Bank has a solid business connection already to the Vikings future home. The bank, along with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, is underwriting the new stadium funding. Narcise says banks are good fit for naming rights, because they're a retail business and can leverage the link with the NFL.
For their part, the Vikings aren't saying anything about the naming rights, beyond, as team spokesman Jeff Anderson says, "there's no timeline on that right now."