National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell's arrival Friday at the state Capitol to personally lobby for a new Minnesota Vikings stadium may already be creating some political movement.
Gov. Mark Dayton said Thursday morning the NFL commissioner would meet with Republican and DFL leaders Friday, and that Art Rooney II, the owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the chair of the league’s stadium committee, would also be attending.
“They didn’t issue any threats or anything, but it was more of a warning” that the Vikings might leave Minnesota, Dayton told reporters outside his state Capitol office. “It was very clear that they see that the Vikings will be in play [to move] if this is not resolved or unfavorably resolved in this session.”
With the Republican-led Legislature moving quickly toward adjournment for the spring, Goodell’s arrival was the latest sign that the NFL was putting high-stakes pressure on lawmakers to resurrect the Viking stadium legislation in the coming days.
In a slight sign of movement, Senate Majority Leader David Senjem said after Dayton’s comments Thursday that a Senate panel where the nearly $1 billion Vikings stadium plan has been stalled for weeks would now likely meet Friday to reconsider the legislation. [As of late Thursday afternoon however the meeting had not yet been scheduled].
Senjem’s comments came after Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, the lead DFLer in the Senate, said DFLers on the 14-member panel would agree to put up the majority of the votes needed to pass the Vikings plan in the committee.
“The mere fact that they’re here, I suspect, elevates this whole issue,” Senjem said of Goodell’s visit.
“I think the Vikings are probably going to be around for another year or so,” he added however. “But I don’t think we can forget about St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles [and] Oakland” where NFL teams have left. “They experienced this. It can happen. It’s real.”
Some DFLers who are opposed to the public subsidy package for the Vikings stadium looked skeptically at what was occurring.
"The NFL's ramping up the rhetoric because they're not getting the bill passed that they want," said Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who voted against the stadium plan Monday in a House committee.
"It's like any other negotiation. You have to assess when somebody's bluffing, and when they're telling the truth," he said. "We've got to balance the threats they make, with the bad deal that this stadium bill is."
Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, another opponent of public subsidy packages for stadiums, said she wanted to know whether Goodell was coming to Minnesota because Dayton called him as part of an orchestrated stadium lobbying effort, or because Goodell decided on his own the situation was serious enough for him to come.
"I just want to know who called who," she said. "I honestly want to know that. Is it real? Is it rhetoric? I don't know."
So far however the Legislature has shown little overall willingness to resolve their its over a plan that would have the Vikings contribute $427 million toward building a new stadium, have the state add $398 million and have Minneapolis contribute $150 million.
The plan for the nearly $1 billion stadium, which would be built in downtown Minneapolis, remained mired in uncertainty following a jolting defeat Monday before a House panel. Republican majority leaders in both the House and Senate meanwhile have talked of adjourning by the end of the month, at the latest.
Dayton stressed Thursday that Goodell and Rooney had not issued any threats, and that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf likewise had not said that the team would move should a stadium deal not be reached this year. “It’s a matter of fact statement” that the team might move, the governor said.
“[But] it’s not like, ‘Well, if you don’t do this, we’ll do that.’ It was ‘This is the way our league operates,’ “ Dayton said.