With an undefeated team, a megastar quarterback and a big game coming up Monday, the Vikings were back at the State Capitol on Thursday to spark interest in the one thing they do not have -- a new stadium.
Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley again told legislators that the team would not renew its Metrodome lease, which expires after the 2011 season. Bagley also said that owner Zygi Wilf is increasingly battling pressure from other National Football League owners.
"They don't ask how's [star running back] Adrian Peterson doing," Bagley said. "They ask him how is the stadium doing, because the NFL is subsidizing this market to the tune of $15 million to $20 million a year."
The Vikings, who are seeking an estimated $700 million in a "public-private partnership," have made their pitch to the Legislature on repeated occasions, to little effect.
But on Thursday they talked not finances, but football, highlighting star quarterback Brett Favre's game-winning touchdown pass Sunday, the team's always-high TV ratings and the feverish interest in Monday night's televised game against Favre's old team, the Green Bay Packers. Vikings officials even briefed legislators on how Vikings players had helped with a campaign to distribute flu shots.
Public subsidies unpopular
Team and stadium officials concede that little regarding their stadium situation has changed and that there remains scant evidence that public subsidies for a new stadium have gained traction among legislators. Metrodome officials even acknowledged that an economic benefit study presented Thursday was the same one shown to legislators in February.
But, they maintained, many Minnesotans do not want to see the Vikings leave.
"When you look at the upcoming Monday night game, you'll see that there's just a tremendous amount of interest in the Minnesota Vikings and the need to keep them here," said Roy Terwilliger, the chair of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which owns the Dome.
Rep. Joe Atkins, chairman of the House Commerce and Labor Committee, which held the hearing, said he wanted to gauge the Vikings' economic benefit to the state, asking, "Does it make any difference to us to not have the team?"
After the hearing, Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said he did not know whether a Vikings stadium would be pushed during the 2010 legislation session. Asked whether he might sponsor legislation for a stadium, Atkins smiled and said that "[I] haven't even given it a thought."
With Minnesota still reeling from the worst recession since World War II, many legislators have remained cool toward backing a heavily-remodeled Metrodome that could cost up to $954 million, two-thirds of which the team wants the public to pay for.
The 2010 legislative session is still four months away, and with a state budget deficit and upcoming gubernatorial race likely to dominate its proceedings, Thursday's presentation by the Vikings seemed to stir little emotion.
Only one legislator had questions for team and Metrodome officials after they finished talking.
Bagley said Thursday that the Vikings were not exploring leaving Minnesota, but continued to draw interest from other cities interested in having a pro football team.
Under a scenario outlined by Terwilliger, a major remodeling of the Dome -- the Vikings' home for 27 years -- would take up to three years and require the team to temporarily play elsewhere, probably at the University of Minnesota's on-campus football stadium, which is new this year.
Bagley said that the actual cost of a remodeled Metrodome with a new roof might drop by 10 percent because the existing site would be used, and he said the cost to taxpayers could be $50 million annually to retire the project's debt.
"It's a little more manageable," Bagley said of the annual debt payment figure.
But of late, the Vikings have done much better on the field than they have at the State Capitol. Three years ago, the Legislature rejected a financing plan for a Vikings stadium even though it approved funding for a university football stadium and also authorized a sales tax increase in Hennepin County to help fund a new park in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Twins.
After a quarter century as tenants at the Dome, the university vacated last month, moving into its new stadium. The Twins will be installed in their ballpark in time for the spring season, leaving the Vikings as the last remaining tenants in the aging Dome.
Pawlenty, Doyle wager
Although he has not championed a Vikings stadium, Gov. Tim Pawlenty showed Thursday that he was not immune from the team's hype. Pawlenty said that he and Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle were wagering on the Vikings-Packers game and Saturday's football game between the University of Minnesota and the University of Wisconsin. "Between a Gopher win at the new on-campus stadium and another great performance from Brett Favre, it's going to be an excellent few days in the land of Purple and Gold," Pawlenty said.
With that in mind, team officials reminded legislators Thursday that the state had not contributed to the building of the Dome but had received $234 million in revenues from the building's events over the past three decades. During a typical game, Vikings officials said, fans spent roughly $600,000 on items ranging from hot dogs to purple jerseys at the Dome.
"When FOX [TV] puts our game on on Sundays, they have a hundred people that come to Minnesota" for the broadcast, Bagley said. "Monday Night Football, for ESPN and ABC [TV], we have 400 credentials that go just to that production."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673