Hartman: Pay a little now or pay a lot more later

  • Article by: SID HARTMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 18, 2012 - 9:53 PM

The cities that lost NFL teams in the past ended up paying much more down the line to get the league back.

As the Legislature continues to block attempts by Gov. Mark Dayton and the Vikings to get a new stadium built on the existing Metrodome site, it's important to look at how costly it has been for mid-market cities to replace their NFL franchise after they leave town -- something I am sure will happen here if a stadium bill isn't passed at least by the 2013 Legislature.

It's clear the NFL wants a franchise in Los Angeles, a market that has 5.6 million television households, second in the nation only to New York. The Twin Cities area is 15th at 1.7 million. The recent $2 billion price paid for the Los Angeles Dodgers was because of the team's big TV market, again showing just how important the area is to the NFL and its broadcast partners.

In the past 30 years, six NFL teams have relocated. The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984, the St. Louis Cardinals moved to Arizona in 1988, the Los Angeles Raiders moved back to Oakland in 1995, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis that same year, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996 and the Houston Oilers moved to Tennessee in 1997.

Four of the cities that watched their teams leave managed to bring in teams years later, while the Los Angeles area continues to angle for a new franchise.

Here is the background on the cities that lost teams and what it cost them to get one back.

• The Baltimore Colts moved in March 1984 with Robert Irsay moving the team in the dead of the night. Irsay was asking the city of Baltimore for money totalling anywhere from $25 million in stadium improvements or a proposed development of a major domed stadium to house football, hockey and baseball that would have cost around $78 million. Neither plan passed into law for various reasons. When Baltimore finally got another franchise, taking the Browns from Cleveland, it cost $220 million to build Ravens Stadium in 2003, 19 years after the Colts' departure.

• In St. Louis, the city refused to build a new, bigger stadium so the Cardinals wouldn't have to play in the old Busch Stadium, so owner Bill Bidwill moved the team to Arizona in 1988. When St. Louis went after the Rams, the city had to build a new domed stadium to attract the team. The building now known as the Edward Jones Dome cost $280 million to build in 1995, seven years after the Cardinals left.

• Art Modell's decision to move the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore stemmed from a loss of revenue for Cleveland Municipal Stadium after the Indians moved into what's now known as Progressive Field in 1994. He had asked for $175 million in tax dollars to update the stadium, but one day before Cleveland voters passed that bill overwhelmingly, Modell announced he was moving the Browns because Baltimore could provide the money for a first-class stadium. It cost $349 million to build Cleveland Browns Stadium, and the expansion Browns returned in 1999, after the city lacked pro football for three years.

• After the city of Houston turned down Oilers owner Bud Adams' request for a new stadium in 1997, he moved the team to Tennessee, where it eventually became the Titans. The Houston Holdings Group then went to work trying to secure a new franchise for the city and the NFL granted them an expansion franchise. In 2000 the city broke ground on retractable-roof Reliant Stadium, to be the home of the new Houston Texans, which cost $352 million to build. The team started play in 2002, five years after the Oilers left.

Costs have gone up

According to a report from Marquette University Law School, in every one of the previous four cases where a city lost a team and then built a stadium years later, the public paid a much larger percentage of building costs than the Vikings are asking for.

And while the cost of the Vikings stadium, nearly $1 billion, is much higher than all the other stadiums because of inflation -- Houston's stadium, the youngest of the four examples, was built a decade ago -- the percentage of money provided by the team is much higher. Imagine how much less a stadium would have cost had it been built when Red McCombs bought the team in 1998.

The people of Baltimore provided 87 percent of the financing for their new stadium after the Colts left town. In St. Louis, public financing for their new stadium came 100 percent from the public after the Cardinals moved. The citizens of Cleveland put up 76.5 percent of the funding for their new stadium after the original Browns left for Baltimore. And in Houston, public financing for Reliant Stadium came in at 73 percent after their first team left town.

The current Vikings proposal has the state of Minnesota and the city of Minneapolis providing 56.2 percent of the financing for a new building -- public financing through taxation remains a question mark in the deal, but it would certainly be lower than that percentage. The Vikings would provide 43.8 percent of the stadium financing.

Without question, this is a lower percentage the citizens of Minnesota will have to pay than if they lose this team and try to bring pro football back to the Twin Cities in the years ahead.

Jottings

• Gophers athletic director Joel Maturi reports that once Big Ten hockey starts in 2014, there will be a conference playoff with all six teams participating in a round-robin tournament to be played at a neutral site. No doubt Xcel Energy Center will be considered, but the best bet is that it will be played at the United Center in Chicago, the part-time home of the Big Ten men's basketball tournament.

• The point system put in by the Gophers to season-ticket holders of hockey and basketball doesn't effect football season-ticket holders. The football system has been in effect since TCF Bank Stadium opened. ... If the Legislature passes the bill allowing alcohol to be sold at TCF Bank Stadium, beer will be available in the stadium lobbies but won't be sold in the stands.

• Former Gophers receiver Eric Decker reported to ESPN that he has been very impressed with the way new Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning has thrown to him in recent workouts. "The guy's still throwing the ball a long time, throwing it great, hitting you in the right spot," Decker said. "He's such a perfectionist. If he hits you in the belly button, he gets mad at himself for not hitting you in the chest. It's unbelievable to be around a guy who has those standards for himself."

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on WCCO AM-830 at 6:40, 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com

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