Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Minnesota House and Senate bills that would have allocated $50 million in one-time funding to lure major sports events to the state likely won't pass at that funding level this year. The House reduced its request to $6 million, and Gov. Tim Walz has $6 million in his revised budget. But the Senate didn't include anything for the effort.
Lawmakers should consider a larger amount during upcoming conference committee talks, even if the $50 million request is not resuscitated.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board has long maintained that Minnesota should invest public dollars in sports and events marketing largely because of the economic activity that they generate. When hundreds or thousands of fans come here, local communities profit as hotels, restaurants and the airport are packed with visitors.
The $50 million request came from Minnesota Sports and Events (MNSE), the nonprofit that was created to bid for large events such as the Super Bowl, college sports championships, and other national and international tournaments.
Historically in Minnesota, the cost of bidding for and hosting events has been funded by corporate and other donations. But Wendy Blackshaw, the president and CEO of MNSE, told an editorial writer that the bidding world has changed dramatically since the pandemic. Corporate contributions are down, she said, and Minnesota cannot compete with other markets that have reliable sources of state funding to add to corporate sponsorships.
"We're certainly grateful for the $6 million. That might be enough for the gymnastics tournament we're bidding on," she said, referring to the 2024 U.S. Gymnastics Olympic Trials in which Minnesota's Suni Lee is expected to compete. Blackshaw added that without additional funding, there are other bids the organization will have to take a pass on. Events are increasingly requiring that states have funding already secured to demonstrate the ability to host them.
Minnesota was a finalist in the bidding to bring the NCAA Men's Final Four back to U.S. Bank Stadium for any of four years beginning in 2027 but lost out in bidding last fall. The successful bidders — Detroit, Las Vegas, Indianapolis and Arlington, Texas — all had public funding in place.
Blackshaw rightly points out that hosting major events brings other community-building benefits to the state in addition to visitor spending. During the 2018 Super Bowl, for example, there were numerous free events for the public and opportunities to involve underserved populations. And to add to the celebration of women leaders, MNSE offered events and programming to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX in 2022 to highlight the impact of female Minnesota trailblazers.
Rep. Kaohly Vang Her, DFL-St. Paul, author of the original House bill, said in a statement that for every dollar spent on successful bids to host events such as the Super Bowl and other large attractions returns up to $10 in economic benefits returns to the state.
"This is a jobs bill, an economic development bill and a tax growth bill," she said.
The initial measures had significant bipartisan support, with Democrats and Republicans signing on as co-authors. And during hearings, Gophers and North Stars legend Lou Nanne testified via video in support. He said it would cost $18 million to host USA Hockey World Junior Championship, but it would ultimately be a boon for the economy and the reputation of the Twin Cities.
Another bill supporter, Fartun Osman, the founder and president of the Somali Girls Rock Program, said younger athletes are inspired by sports events. And Blackshaw pointed out that significant work was done for American Indian youth connected to the Women's Final Four.
Minnesota has made a significant investment in sports facilities, and those stadiums and arenas should not be empty. State lawmakers should make a significant investment to help MNSE be more competitive as it tries to make Minnesota a viable bidder for major events.