Vikings official: Some are 'jumping the gun'

  • Article by: RICHARD MERYHEW , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 16, 2012 - 9:16 PM

A Vikings official said the governor, public are too quick to judge on seat licensing issue.

A Vikings official said Friday that Gov. Mark Dayton and others are "jumping the gun" by expressing outrage over the team's interest in establishing license fees for premier seating in a soon-to-be-built $975 million downtown Minneapolis football stadium.

"A lot of people are jumping the gun as to their thinking on what we'd do," said Lester Bagley, the team's vice president for stadium development and public affairs. "We're doing our homework. That's all we're doing."

Bagley's comments came at the end of a week in which Gov. Mark Dayton sharply criticized the team and its owners for not being forthright during stadium financing negotiations last spring about the possibility of charging season-ticket holders a personal seat license or "stadium builder's license" fee.

The team began surveying season-ticket holders on the issue last week. The fees, which generally are a one-time payment, would be paid on top of the cost of a season ticket. Revenue generated by the fees, which ensure season-ticket holders premier seating, would count as part of the team's share of stadium construction costs.

"The project's strong support came from many regular Minnesotans, not just rich Minnesotans, because they believed the Vikings are also their team," Dayton wrote in a stern letter to Viking owners Zygi and Mark Wilf on Tuesday. "If a new stadium were to betray that trust, it would be better that it not be built."

Dayton later said that he had not been aware last spring of the scope of the Vikings seat license plans.

Bagley reiterated Friday that the team was "very above board" about its desire to pursue the option to help finance its portion of stadium construction costs.

The state and city of Minneapolis are contributing $498 million to construction with the team picking up the remainder through a variety of sources, including an NFL loan, stadium naming rights and possibly seat license fees.

"We were very forthright, we were very clear, we were very direct in the legislative process," Bagley said after a morning meeting of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which is overseeing construction of the project.

Bagley said that in hindsight, it might have been better if team officials had publicly announced plans to survey fans, giving the governor and the public a heads up.

"We were not trying to hide anything," he said.

More than half -- 17 of 32 teams -- of the National Football League franchises have charged fees for seat licenses to raise money.

Fees range from a low of several hundred dollars to as much as $150,000, depending on the market, the team and the seat.

Bagley said the Vikings are at the "very beginning" of the survey process and have made no decision. But he said that if fees were imposed, they'd be in line with what the market could bear.

"We are taking a hard look at this particular item," he said, adding, "we have a lot of work to do ... If we proceed with this ... this has to fit the market."

Michele Kelm-Helgen, a former Dayton staffer who is the authority's chairwoman, said the survey "got people very anxious and concerned that there'll be these very high fees."

But, she added, Dayton has expressed "confidence" in recent days that the authority and team could work together to resolve concerns.

The stadium legislation gives the authority the right to own and sell the licenses with the revenue going to the Vikings for construction costs.

Kelm-Helgen said the authority will work with the team in coming months to determine whether fees should be charged and at what price.

If fees were established, she said, they probably would be modest and more in line with others charged in the local market.

When Target Field, home of the Twins, was built, the team charged up to $2,000 for premium seats in its second-deck Legends Club.

"Having this highlighted early may be good," she said. "Now it's out there."

Richard Meryhew • 612-673-4425

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