The sudden blowup between Gov. Mark Dayton and the Minnesota Vikings over personal seat licenses at the team's planned new stadium comes even though more than half of the National Football League franchises have used them to raise money.
Though the DFL governor, who strongly pushed for the $975 million stadium, said he would now "strongly oppose" personal seat licenses or "stadium builder's licenses," 17 of the NFL's 32 franchises charge them. Of the teams that charge premium ticket holders for one-time personal seat licenses, a study showed that the Dallas Cowboys charged as much as $150,000 a seat and that the Green Bay Packers have a user fee of $2,000 per seat to help pay for stadium remodeling.
"Personal seat licenses have been extensively and successfully used by clubs for years," said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy.
Dayton's criticism -- which drew a strong rebuttal from the Vikings -- also came even though his own negotiators had long factored in that the Vikings would use personal seat licenses to help defray stadium costs. Dayton's letter to the Vikings came after the team mailed a survey to season-ticket holders and at least one fan replied that keeping two season tickets on the 50-yard-line could cost $20,000. Dayton, who said Tuesday he might block the use of personal seat licenses, criticized the Vikings for attempting to fund the team's stadium share by tapping season-ticket holders even as taxpayers were already heavily subsidizing the project.
"I am greatly distressed by these developments and the future they portend," the governor said in a letter to team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.
Though personal licenses have been regularly used by NFL teams, they do remain a sticky issue. In Atlanta, where the NFL's Falcons are negotiating for a new stadium, the team may float the idea of using personal seat licences to help pay for a $1 billion replacement facility. "It's a very sensitive issue here as well," said Jennifer LeMaster, a spokesperson for the Georgia World Congress Center Authority, which operates the Falcon's current Georgia Dome home.
The buying and selling of personal seat licenses has also created a secondary market on online auction services, such as eBay. On Wednesday, for example, two New York Jets personal seat licenses in Section 202B, Row 15 were being sold on eBay for $5,000.
A 2010 consultants study prepared as part of the Atlanta Falcons stadium drive showed that the Cowboys had raised $500 million by selling 55,000 personal seat licenses. But while the New York Giants charged as much as $20,000 for a personal seat license, most NFL teams charged much less. The Chicago Bears, as part of a renovation of Soldier Field a decade ago, charged $1,587 -- and raised at least $50 million.
Part of the funding plan
In Minnesota, the governor's objection to the Vikings using personal seat licenses -- the team maintains it has not yet formally decided -- came despite multiple signs that the Vikings had long planned to at least study charging the one-time fee.
A year ago Ted Mondale, Dayton's chief stadium negotiator, estimated that the team could generate $75 million from the sale of personal seat licenses. The calculation was made, Mondale said last November, as state negotiators tried to determine how the Vikings might possibly assemble the team's share of the stadium costs. Mondale said the state estimated that much of the Vikings' share would come from an NFL loan, personal seat licenses, stadium naming rights and other revenue sources -- leaving unclear how much money the Wilfs themselves would contribute to the stadium.
Dayton said at the time he was much more focused on how the state's stadium share came together, and not how the Vikings would generate the team's contribution. "Where the [Vikings owners] obtain their financing, whether it's from a lending institution or their own wherewithal or the league -- it's really their business," he said then.
Dayton spokesperson Katharine Tinucci said Wednesday that the governor felt that "it is the high prices being discussed that is most offensive -- the governor remains committed to building the 'People's Stadium,' as you read in his letter yesterday, not the 'Rich People's Stadium.'"
Lester Bagley, the team's vice president for stadium development and public affairs, said Wednesday the team was attempting to have a meeting with Dayton, and downplayed the large personal seat license fees being charged in some NFL markets. "We know that this is not San Francisco, this is not Dallas and this is not New York," he said.
Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, the lead House stadium negotiator, said he was surprised to hear a figure as high as $20,000 for a personal seat license, and said that during negotiations the figure that was generally discussed was "a few thousand" dollars.
While Lanning said any fee close to $20,000 would be "just too big," he was also critical of Dayton. "His negotiators were well aware" that the Vikings might charge for personal seat licenses, Lanning said.
"The governor's letter [to the Vikings] makes it sound as if he was not aware of this concept, and that should be no surprise to him or anybody," Lanning added. "The possibility of personal seat licenses were a part of the discussion all the way along."
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673