Vikings tap other sources for stadium pledge

  • Article by: MIKE KASZUBA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 12, 2011 - 1:33 PM

The team pledged at least $407 million toward a new football stadium, but calculations by state officials show that the Vikings would bring roughly $225 million of their own money to the deal and possibly less.

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Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf

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The Minnesota Vikings have pledged at least $407 million toward a new football stadium, but calculations by state officials show that the team would bring roughly $225 million of its own money to the deal and possibly less.

The rest could be made up through a National Football League loan that would be repaid by visiting teams and the sale of personal seat licenses, according to Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission Chairman Ted Mondale.

The calculations come as the Vikings are urging Dayton and legislators to approve a funding plan that would have taxpayers fund $650 million -- about 60 percent -- of the $1.1 billion project at Ramsey County's Arden Hills. The Vikings' overall $407 million contribution would amount to about 37 percent of the total price tag. According to the state's calculations, however, the team's own contribution is closer to 20 percent of the total.

Team owner Zygi Wilf signaled this week that it may not even be that much, depending on which location gets the nod. Wilf, confirming what team officials have long said privately, also said the team would significantly drop its financial contribution to a new stadium if it were built in Minneapolis rather than Arden Hills.

"They keep their stuff extremely close to the vest," Mondale, Gov. Mark Dayton's lead stadium negotiator, said of the Vikings. However, the state's knowledge of the team's inner financial workings, are "as good [as] a public entity would have," he said

With polls consistently showing a majority opposed to public subsidies for a Vikings stadium, many critics -- including some legislators -- have questioned why the public should put up the biggest share of money for a stadium that would primarily benefit the team.

The Vikings have resisted attempts to break down how much their organization would bring to a stadium deal. "I'm not sure I understand the importance of delineating where" the team's money comes from, said Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of stadium development and public affairs.

In offering an inside analysis of the team's contribution, Mondale said consultants working for the state did not make the calculations to question the team's contribution to the stadium, but to make sure the deal was workable and provided the Vikings with roughly a $35 million annual boost in revenue that is estimated the team needs to make enough profit to succeed.

"Some people say, 'Well, they're not putting anything in,' and that's just laughable," Mondale said of Wilf and his brother Mark Wilf, the team's president. "They've got to put a couple hundred million in," he said, either through the Vikings organization's resources or through private financing.

Mondale said that, according to calculations by the consultants who reviewed other stadium deals across the country, the Vikings could get $75 million from the sales of personal seat licenses and an estimated $100 million from the National Football League in a loan that would be repaid mostly through new stadium revenue typically earmarked for visiting teams.

That would drop the team's contribution to roughly $225 million, based on the amount they said they would contribute to an Arden Hills stadium. The Vikings have not indicated the amount by which their contribution would drop if one of the three Minneapolis locations is selected.

Mondale said the calculation does not include two important factors that would favor the team: The Vikings would be expected to net up to $8 million a year from stadium naming rights and another $3.2 million annually from Arden Hills parking revenue.

Bagley said the team has not decided whether to sell personal seat licenses. Mondale's calculations, he said, did not include the possibility that the team could pay $20 million a year as part of a still-to-be-negotiated agreement to have the Vikings operate the stadium, fund capital improvements, and provide police and fire protection.

Gov. Mark Dayton says he has not pressed the National Football League or the Vikings about the details of their shares. "Where the Wilfs obtain their financing, whether it's from a lending institution or their own wherewithal or the league -- it's really their business," the governor said.

But stadium critics say the team's contribution is central to the debate. "The person that has the most to gain from this is Zygi Wilf," said Shoreview City Councilman Ady Wickstrom, who was critical of a plan to increase sales taxes in Ramsey County for the project.

NFL fills the gap

NFL officials say a new loan program for new stadiums, which is still being refined, could make up as much as $150 million of the Vikings' share. Under the league's proposed loan program, the first $100 million would be repaid by visiting teams' share of club seat premiums and by the visiting teams' general admission ticket share.

The Vikings may not have to use their own new stadium revenue to repay the loan as long as the team sold enough club seats, said Neil Glat, the NFL's senior vice president for corporate development. "Their main focus is selling those club seats" in order to not have to help repay the league loan from the team's own stadium revenue, Glat said.

A Sports Illustrated study this year of NFL finances, compiled with the help of a private wealth assessment company, listed Wilf's net worth at $310 million, ranking him 27th among the league's 32 owners. The same study showed that at $1.1 billion, an Arden Hills stadium would be the third most expensive of the 11 NFL stadiums completed in the past decade. Vikings officials have said that the $407 million from the team represents the third-largest private contribution to a new stadium in league history.

Even though stadium legislation introduced in the spring would give naming rights money to a public stadium authority to pay stadium debt and maintenance, one key lawmaker said last month that negotiations indicated the team would likely retain naming rights money.

State Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, the chief author of the stadium legislation, said she had largely given up hope of the public getting any naming rights money. "Oh, sure [we tried]," she said recently of negotiations with the team.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673

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