Many stadium watchers remain frustrated that the Minnesota Vikings’ share of the $1.08 billion U.S. Bank Stadium under construction in downtown Minneapolis can be paid with something other than the personal checks of the team’s wealthy owners.
Just the team’s total commitment is known, not how the owners will meet it. It started at $477 million — vs. $498 million for the public — but the team’s total keeps inching up and stands now at about $572 million.
With the Vikings finally selling the naming rights to the stadium recently to U.S. Bank, the last big piece of the financing puzzle has fallen into place. It’s now possible to accurately estimate what the owners will end up putting into the stadium.
It’s about $572 million.
Yes, the team has gotten money from the National Football League and just raised a lot more by selling U.S. Bank the naming rights for 20 years. But the important thing to realize is that an owner’s dollar is worth a dollar, whether it’s a share of the naming rights proceeds or money pulled from a personal checking account.
There is no way of knowing just how easily these owners could have pulled together $572 million in cash from their other holdings had they tried. The team is controlled by successful real estate entrepreneurs Leonard, Mark and Zygi Wilf. The Wilfs’ two partners, Alan Landis and David Mandelbaum, also have done really well in real estate.
No matter what their checking account balances are, guys this wealthy could raise the cash by selling or financing their assets, as they do all the time in their real estate portfolios. That’s essentially what they have done here in Minnesota, beginning with a financing deal with the league.
The team declined to discuss this in detail, so we don’t know what’s been actually provided vs. what’s coming, but the team’s deal with the NFL includes just a straightforward $50 million loan that has to be paid back.
A more interesting piece is another loan that does look like a subsidy from the league’s other team owners, because it’s $100 million that gets paid back from what’s called the incremental visiting team share of the gate receipts here in Minnesota.
That’s money the owners here don’t have to pay back. But the Vikings play road games, too, and the team has to give up part of its share when visiting new football palaces such as Levi’s Stadium in Silicon Valley, site of the Vikings’ season opener with the 49ers.
It may be that these payments eventually offset each other. In any case, the $100 million loan here is also guaranteed by the controlling owner.
The most interesting part of the NFL stadium finance program, for up to $50 million, doesn’t have to be paid back at all. It’s maybe less a grant, though, than a bonus payment the Vikings earned.
The league created it to get team owners to really hustle to sell the so-called personal seat licenses to fans, which grant the fans the right to then buy tickets for the best seats.
And hustle the Vikings did, calling them stadium-builder licenses and setting out to net $100 million. Why raise $100 million? Because that’s the number that appears to maximize the $50 million available under the NFL’s financing program.
So with $200 million from the NFL and $100 million netted from seat licenses, the last big piece of financing was wrapped up with the sale of the naming rights for the stadium to U.S. Bank.
Informed estimates for the fee fall between $5 million and $10 million per year, so let’s call it $7.5 million. Twenty years of that big payment from a solid corporate citizen like U.S. Bank creates a highly bankable asset. With a reasonable assumption of what a dollar 10 or 20 years from now is really worth today, the total deal comes to just under $100 million.
That leaves about a $175 million hole that still needed to be filled by the owners. But add it all up and the team’s owners found other ways to come up with nearly $400 million.
There is really no question that it’s their money, too. After all, without the need to fund their share of the stadium, they could just put the naming rights fees from U.S. Bank in their pockets.
And why did the Vikings get those naming rights in the first place? It’s because without the Vikings games and all the related “earned media” creating value for U.S. Bank, a name on the stadium is just more billboard advertising worth a fraction of $7.5 million per year.
It’s the same story with the seat license proceeds. What’s worth $100 million is the right granted to thousands of the team’s best customers to buy the best tickets for the spectacle of an NFL football game. In our market, only seats at Vikings games have that kind of value.
And if Vikings customers didn’t want to pay it, they didn’t have to. They could happily join the loud guys dressed in purple who watch games for free at Buffalo Wild Wings.
And that’s the important thing to understand about U.S. Bank Stadium construction costs. The taxpayers may not like being asked to help fund it, but the taxpayer contribution to its construction was capped.
Every other dollar that’s needed, the owners will put in themselves or they will get from people willing to spend a lot to buy some kind of Vikings experience from them, mostly money that could otherwise have gone into the owners’ pockets.
And the owners are almost certainly going to put in more than they’ve committed to already, given the nature of big construction projects.
There had better not be even a hint of complaint from them, however, because we can all remember the $498 million for their stadium that they didn’t have to come up with at all.