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Analysis: Three turning points in the Viking stadium deal

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By now, the state of Minnesota and its NFL franchise were supposed to have sealed a 30-year deal to live happily ever after in a new downtown stadium. The Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and the team were scheduled to sign a final deal this morning.

But something has happened on the way to the altar.

The MSFA and the team have postponed the deal. They're still bargaining and apparently have days of negotiations ahead. The Vikings declined to discuss the talks today.

MSFA chair Michele Kelm-Helgen was circumspect about the details.

"I think everyone believes that these are 30 year agreements and it's important that we get them right... We still have a couple of outstanding issues that we need to reach agreement," she said.

Some observers say the state of Minnesota may have benefited by the delay, and that the terms of the stadium deal may be shifting as the stadium endgame plays out.

Gov. Mark Dayton thinks the tables are turning, even though he isn't in the talks.

"There's no question in my mind that we're in a much stronger position now than we were 15 months ago, near the end of the 2012 legislative session," Dayton said in an interview today. " We had [NFL] Commissioner [Roger] Goodell coming in and telling us very bluntly that this is your last chance to control your destiny with the Vikings."

There have been  three key developments that have changed the stadium landscape, and may be strengthening the state's hand.

  1. First, the Falcons struck a tentative deal for a new stadium in Atlanta. The team pledged $800 million to a $1 billion stadium, and the state of Georgia offered nothing. Here in Minnesota, the state has pledged $348 million, more than a third of the cost. The Falcons deal put the stadium financing debate in a new light.

  2. The threat to move the Vikings to Los Angeles also seems to be receding. Yahoo Sports said in March that the NFL has given up on a stadium near the Staples Center, and the commissioner even suggested that the unhappy Oakland Raiders move in with the 49ers, rather than returning to Los Angeles, where they played from 1982 to 1994.

  3. The Wilfs' legal troubles in New Jersey may have made them a less attractive partner to a new host city thinking about a billion dollar business deal with the Vikings. "Such a situation would require a substantial amount of public contribution," says Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist. "The nature of the ownership and any image issues that the ownership of the Vikings had, that would weaken the case for the city supporting a new stadium. (Vikings owner Zygi) Wilf does not have any easy options for relocation."

Those three factors could leave the Vikings without a credible threat to break off stadium talks and leave the state for greener turf. That prospect helped propel a stadium deal through the Minneosta Legislature last year.

"The reality is... at that point the Vikings had more leverage in the situation than we did, because teams do move," Dayton said. "It's not common practice, but these were the circumstances that the League made clear: that if we didn't come through with a new stadium, the League would conclude we didn't have a commitment to host a football team."

Now, the state actually has money on the table and a stadium deal on paper.

That said, there are still important differences between the MSFA and the Vikings that have to be worked out in the next week.

State law provides for the stadium authority to sell personal seat licenses to help fund the Vikings share of the stadium, and it could be a key part of the team's financing. A deal typical of other NFL teams with seat licenses could have fans paying an average of more than $3,000 a seat for nearly two thirds of the seats in the stadium. The proceeds could pay as much as a third of the $477 million the Vikings have pledged to the deal.

"That was set aside to do at the very end," Kelm-Helgen says of the PSL deal. "We have discussed it quite a bit, and I think there are some ideas on general framework that we're going to use."  She said her agency hasn't agreed to any numbers yet.

But her boss, Gov. Dayton, says he'd like that number to be low.

"A majority of the seats should not have any seat licenses... The people of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis are putting a great deal of money into this project, and the private sector side should be financed by the private sector, meaning the Vikings and the League and whatever financial arrangements they make with their bankers, but it shouldn't be shifted over to the people of Minnesota," Dayton said.

Critics say the delay and the haggling are signs that the deal was flawed from the get-go. State Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, voted against the deal in 2012, and says patching up the stadium deal now isn't enough. He says it needs a do-over at the Capitol and more money from the Vikings up front.

"Anybody who's done a home remodeling project knows: it's easier to strip it down to the studs and go the right way, rather than doing it the short cut way, because in the long run, you're going to continue to have problems where its going to take you twice as long to do it and cost you twice as much money."

But with the end zone in sight, it looks like the state may be poised to gain back some ground as the clock runs out on stadium negotiations. That's expected to run down next Thursday, the new deadline for the final deal between the Vikings and the state's stadium builders.