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Stephanie Schleuder knew it was coming.
Ever since the Minnesota Vikings sent an e-mail survey to season-ticket holders last fall to gauge their interest in paying for the right to reserve the best seats at the team’s new stadium, she braced for the worst.
Still, when the e-mail popped up on her home computer Thursday night telling her that the team and the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority had signed off on a deal to attach a one-time, personal seat license fee to three-quarters of the seats in the soon-to-be-built 65,000-seat stadium, she cringed.
On average, ticket holders will pay $2,500 above the cost of a season ticket for the license. But the best seats, like Schleuder’s pair on the 50-yard line, which currently cost her $1,650 each for a season, will go for more, and perhaps as much as the top price of $10,000.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that they’ll be $10,000 apiece if I want to keep those,” said Schleuder, who recently retired as head volleyball coach at Macalester College. “There’s no way an average person can afford that.”
Schleuder’s doubts are shared by many of the purple and gold faithful.
As news of the licenses — used by 17 of the NFL’s 32 teams as a method of financing construction of new stadiums or renovating old ones — spread Thursday and Friday, some ticket holders choked.
“The fact that you are paying for the ability to buy a ticket is pretty hard to swallow,” said Jeff Kuzara, of Deephaven, whose family has shared four season tickets since the late 1960s. “It does make you think twice about ‘Is this really worth it?’ ”
“I’m just really frustrated,” said Gina Stocks, of Edina, whose season tickets have been in the family since the team began play in 1961. “I’m not one of those people who dresses goofy, but I like my football And I don’t think the Wilfs really care.”
Said Doug Carlson, of Apple Valley, who has had end-zone seats for years: “Buffalo Wild Wings looks like an awfully good place to watch Vikings football now.”
Once purchased, ticket-holders own the license for the seat and are free to sell it if they wish. The value of the license varies, depending on the market and the success of the team. On Friday on eBay, for example, the license for a New York Giants seat ran as high as $28,000. Licenses for the Indianapolis Colts, meanwhile, ranged from $5,000 to as low as $799.
Carlson, for one, is not ready to pull the plug on his season tickets until he learns more about the specific fee for his seats.
Details yet to come
The agreement between the team and the authority calls for charging season-ticket holders anywhere from $500 to $10,000, depending on the seat. Roughly 80 percent of the targeted seats will sell for $3,000 or less. One fourth of the stadium’s seats, including some sold to season-ticket holders, won’t be charged at all.
Details on individual seat pricing, marketing, payment plans and due dates have yet to be determined, said Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president. That information probably won’t be known until after the 2013 NFL season, he said.
In the meantime, the team has leased space in the 1010 Building across from the Metrodome to build out a “preview center,” where ticket holders can go later this fall to get more information about seat locations and prices.
‘A Minnesota price’
The Vikings hope to generate $125 million from the seat license program, with $100 million of that sum going toward the team’s $477 portion of the stadium’s $975 million construction cost. The remainder would be used to market the seats and cover financing costs for fans who choose to pay their licenses over three years interest-free.
The state and the city of Minneapolis are contributing $498 million in construction financing.
Schleuder’s concern, shared by others, is that the team owners will reap so much from the license fees — and other sources of potential revenue, including naming rights and rentals from the stadium’s 115 to 125 suites — that they won’t have to put much of their own money into the project.
Michele Kelm-Helgen, the authority chairwoman, said the sum generated by the fees “is a Minnesota” price and pales in comparison with the more than $400 million fee in new NFL venues in Dallas, San Francisco and New York.
Still, Schleuder and others say, the fees — on top of the price of a season ticket — will be so steep for Vikings fans that they’ll price out Joe Six-Pack.
“I do understand it’s a business, but it’s a lot of money, especially when you have kids who are in college,” said Sue Hannon, a longtime season-ticket holder from St. Paul.
Schleuder said Thursday that she “wouldn’t have a problem” with seat license fees — which amount to a user fee — if the stadium project wasn’t getting so much public financing support. The public investment in new venues in Dallas, San Francisco and Atlanta was much less than $498 million.
“It’s just not right,” Schleuder said. “I just think the only people who are going to be able to afford those tickets are businesses and the rich. And if that is the way the Vikings and our state want to promote our team, then I think we’ve reached a sad point in Minnesota sports franchise history.”
Twice in the past year, Schleuder wrote Gov. Mark Dayton, who championed the project and billed it as the “People’s Stadium,” to express her concerns.
While Dayton wrote to the Vikings owners last fall threatening to undo the deal if they passed on stadium construction costs to fans, Schleuder said, he never got back to her.
Said Schleuder, “It didn’t turn out to be a ‘People’s Stadium.’ ”