Wilf ready to talk stadium plans with legislators in '08

  • Article by: KEVIN SEIFERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 2, 2007 - 11:13 PM

The Minnesota Vikings will present a stadium financing proposal to the 2008 Legislature, owner Zygi Wilf said Tuesday, clarifying his plans after a summer of indecision.

The Minnesota Vikings will present a stadium financing proposal to the 2008 Legislature, owner Zygi Wilf said Tuesday, clarifying his plans after a summer of indecision.

For the first time, however, Wilf said the Vikings will derive almost no profit from a new facility. He cited additional debt service and a projected decrease in NFL revenue sharing.

Wilf tried to recast the 10-year stadium debate as a "quality of life" issue.

"There has been a bad rap that all you're doing is further enriching an owner if you give public funds for a new stadium," he said during a speech at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management. "But that is not the case. It's a fallacy."

Wilf said the Vikings and the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission are refining a $950 million plan for a retractable-roof stadium on the site of the Metrodome.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who met with team officials this summer, said the plan's chances hinge on the November state economic forecast.

"Anybody coming in and asking for something that's going to cost money will have a tough time if the forecast is bad," Bakk said.

When and if it is considered, the stadium plan calls for the Vikings and NFL to contribute $250 million. According to Wilf, debt service on that total would eat away a portion of the team's new stadium revenue.

The remaining revenue, Wilf said, would replace the loss of NFL welfare they currently receive to offset low revenues in the Dome. In the end, Wilf said, the Vikings' financial situation in a new stadium would be "close to the situation we're in today."

NFL teams receive more than $100 million annually in revenue sharing from their collective television contract. The Vikings also are eligible to receive an additional $10 million from a new program that requires the league's wealthiest teams to redistribute funds to the league's poorest.

The Vikings would not provide specific figures to back Wilf's claim. But Lester Bagley, vice president of public affairs and stadium development, said they would reveal that financial information in a private meeting if called upon by the state's financial leaders.

A financial pickle?

Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a national sports consulting company, said the Vikings' financial predicament is not typical.

"I don't know of a single team owner in professional sports that has gone into the process of a new stadium without the expectation of generating additional net income," Ganis said. "It's one thing if they don't actually do it, because of cost overruns or other issues, but I don't know of any team that has gone into it without having [additional revenues] as their expectation."

The Vikings have long tied a new stadium to the need for increased revenue necessary to compete with other NFL teams. Indeed, NFL teams typically realize an additional $40 million in annual revenue from new stadiums.

Wilf's revelation eliminates that incentive, but Bagley said the Vikings' financial health is not the issue.

"We need to solve the problem for the long-term stability of this community," Bagley said. "We're competing with other communities around the country to be considered a major-league market. And we want people to have the kind of fan experience at Vikings games as they see at the Xcel Center and around the country at other NFL venues."

Before Tuesday, Wilf's immediate plans were uncertain following the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge. Wilf further fueled speculation last month, canceling a $45 million deal to buy four city blocks owned by the Star Tribune in downtown Minneapolis.

On Tuesday, Wilf acknowledged that the bridge replacement will take priority in the 2008 legislative session but said that it should not eliminate the Vikings stadium from debate.

"I think they have to get the infrastructure issues resolved," Wilf said, "and then move on to other issues that we have to take care of in this state."

'They need to win games'

Whether state leaders take him seriously is yet to be seen. During a meeting this summer, Vikings officials asked Bakk what it would take to gain legislative support for a new stadium.

"I told them they need to win games," Bakk said.

The Vikings have won one game and lost three so far this season.

Staff writer Mark Brunswick contributed to this report.

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