NFL has a record of success on campus

  • Article by: KEVIN DUCHSCHERE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 29, 2012 - 10:12 AM

As a Dome stadium site gathers momentum, the Vikings and the U explore how to exist together.

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In 2010, the Minnesota Vikings and the University of Minnesota came together to put on an NFL game at TCF Bank Stadium on short notice.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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The NFL team had decided it was time for a new stadium to replace its outmoded downtown domed arena, and agreed to a public-private deal to build on the dome's footprint. In the meantime, it proposed to play at the stadium of the large university nearby. The school agreed, and a deal was struck.

A future scenario for the Vikings and the University of Minnesota? Maybe. But it actually happened to the Seattle Seahawks and the University of Washington in 1999, when the Pac-10 school let the Seahawks move to Husky Stadium for two seasons in a deal that both sides said worked out well.

With the Metrodome site picking up momentum as the potential location for their next home, Vikings officials are figuring out how and where the team could play during the two to three years it will take to build a new stadium.

One idea is to build next door to the Dome, which would allow the Vikings to play there until the new stadium was ready. The team says Star Tribune property adjoining the Dome is too narrow to build on, but it hasn't ruled out an area southeast of the Dome that contains an office building and Xcel Energy substation.

For now, team officials assume they would build where the Dome stands. Which is why they and U officials are talking about how to turn cozy, collegiate TCF Bank Stadium into an NFL arena.

The Vikings estimate that moving to the U for three seasons will cost $48 million. The biggest problem is that TCF has 14,000 fewer seats than the Dome, which would squeeze out thousands of season-ticket holders. The university stadium would need to be winterized for the frigid months when the Gophers don't play but the Vikings do.

Even worse, the university prohibits beer sales there.

Asked whether the NFL was reluctant to have the team play at TCF, Vikings vice president of stadium development Lester Bagley said: "It's not ideal for anyone, including the NFL, fans, the Vikings, visiting teams, the university."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday that reports that the league wasn't eager to have the Vikings play at the U didn't come from his office, but he declined to comment further. Three-fourths of NFL team owners would have to approve the temporary move.

Seating could be issue

Challenges aside, the U and the team believe they can reach an agreement. They worked together on short notice in December 2010 to move the Vikings to campus for a game against the Chicago Bears after a blizzard ripped open the Dome's fiberglass roof.

Since 1995, five NFL teams have played a season or two at college stadiums while their home facilities were being built or remodeled.

TCF Bank's seating capacity could be a sticking point. The college stadiums where Seattle and Chicago played seated about as many or more than their own stadiums.

Mark Rotenberg, the University of Minnesota's top lawyer and lead negotiator in talks with the Vikings, said the U is willing to consider temporary seating but opposes permanent seating expansion. "We love the stadium, and we want to keep it the same size," he said.

Rotenberg said the U would probably install the heating coils the Vikings want below the playing field, and he said it likely would accommodate the team's desire to sell alcohol during games, an opinion echoed Friday by U President Eric Kaler.

Bagley cautioned that the stadium site question isn't settled and reiterated that the team's choice is Arden Hills. But if financing and political pressures lead to the Dome site, he said, the Vikings need to be ready to take up temporary quarters at TCF. "We knew it was always a possibility we would have to do this again for more than one game," he said.

Perhaps the best parallel to what could become the Vikings' future is the Seahawks' past. The team played the 2000 and 2001 seasons at Husky Stadium while a $430 million stadium was going up where the Kingdome stood 4 miles away in downtown Seattle.

The Seahawks and da Bears

Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen bought the Seahawks in the late 1990s with the expectation of getting a new stadium. After Washington voters narrowly approved public funding, the team began wooing the University of Washington as a temporary home. The Seahawks immediately pledged to keep Husky Stadium dry, avoid playing on the same weekends as UW and meet with university neighbors to discuss traffic concerns.

In May 1999, the Seahawks agreed to a deal that included an $800,000 transportation plan with shuttles and trash cleanup, no weekday and night games, and a community planner for local issues.

The Seahawks paid the university $6.1 million for 20 games over two seasons. The team covered game-day expenses and controlled campus parking spaces, while the school took care of the field. The team also spent $1.1 million to cover the university's field and practice area with FieldTurf.

By then, UW officials were grinning ear to ear. "We genuinely enjoy these people," then-Athletic Director Barbara Hedges told a Seattle columnist.

For the 2002 season, the Bears agreed to pay the University of Illinois 10 percent of gross ticket revenues as rent, and split the concessions 50-50. Legislators at first refused to allow beer to be sold during Bears games, but then approved a subsequent bill allowing beer on Cook County golf courses as well as in the Champaign stadium.

Neither the Seahawks nor the Bears said how much revenue they lost in the seasons they spent away from home.

Two seasons - or three?

The Vikings say that three seasons at TCF will cost the team $36.9 million in operating losses and $11 million to refurbish the U stadium to NFL standards. The Vikings paid $1.7 million to the U to play there against the Bears in December 2010.

Bagley said that stadium construction might require only two seasons, but that the team wants to plan for the worse-case scenario. If a deal is reached soon, he said, preliminary structural work could begin this fall at the Dome to allow the Vikings to continue to play there.

How long it takes "depends on when the bill is passed and how quickly we could get an architectural team going," said Ted Mondale, chairman of the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission.

Mondale said they're seeing whether a stadium might work southeast of the Dome on property occupied by the 511 Building, a former Control Data center that houses telecommunications firms, and Xcel's Elliot Park substation.

Bagley said the Vikings were told that the substation can't be relocated and that the 511 Building carried long-term leases. "That would be the ideal situation, but we've not yet seen a viable plan that would accomplish that," he said.

Staff librarian Sandy Date contributed to this report. Kevin Duchschere • 612-673-4455

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