Wells Fargo has told the Minnesota Vikings that mounted, illuminated signs on the bank’s new 17-story Downtown East towers are well within its contractual rights and don’t constitute photo bombing of nearby U.S. Bank Stadium.
Wells Fargo formally responded Friday to the lawsuit filed against it by the Vikings, who want the signs covered immediately.
Wells Fargo’s 37-page response fairly drips with disdain for the NFL team’s request. The Vikings’ position “belies common sense and the purpose of the signage. A sign is made to be seen,” according to the response signed by Lindquist & Vennum lawyers Christopher Grote and Bryan Freeman.
The suit argues that the signage would “irreparably injure” the team by distracting from the image of the new stadium. But Wells Fargo’s attorneys called that a “never-before-recognized form of irreparable injury.”
The Vikings claim the signs would permanently “photo-bomb” the image of “iconic” U.S. Bank Stadium, which they emphasize is a public investment to be protected.
Wells Fargo’s response was dismissive of that argument, saying, “the interests the Vikings advance here are unquestionably their own private, pecuniary interests.”
At the heart of the dispute is the multimillion dollar issue of branding. U.S. Bank has paid the Vikings undisclosed millions to put its name on the stadium to promote the brand in widely broadcast events, including the 2018 Super Bowl. While U.S. Bank isn’t a party to the legal dispute, the Vikings presumably want to protect the value of the naming rights.
U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank will hear oral arguments on the team’s request at 2 p.m. Jan. 15 in his St. Paul courtroom.
Contract right — or injury?
The squabble revolves around two signs, 56 feet by 56 feet (the size of a large house), on the rooftops of the two 17-story towers. The red-and-gold signs feature “Wells Fargo” in letters raised about 1½ feet above the roof surface. They have not yet been lighted.
Wells Fargo said that the team’s “vague, alleged image-based injury is speculative and illusory,” and that its signage was “indecipherable … even when one knows where to look” in the NBC video footage that the Vikings’ submitted with the lawsuit.
In a written statement released Friday after the Wells Fargo filing, the Vikings said the February 2014 contract allowed “non-mounted roof signage on each of the Wells Fargo towers,” not the mounted and “significantly different” signage installed.
The team’s statement said that Wells Fargo’s signage “adversely affects the image of U.S. Bank Stadium” and that the Vikings “have no choice but to pursue this legal remedy in order to enforce the contract.”
Taxpayers are covering $498 million of the $1.1 billion cost for the stadium, set to open in August for the 2016 NFL season.
Wells Fargo’s response highlighted its $300 million investment in the $400 million Downtown East mixed-use project with Ryan Cos. The bank also emphasized its commitment to Minnesota with 20,000 employees here.
Initially, the bank said, the Vikings’ opposition to any signs on the Wells Fargo buildings “nearly scuttled” the $400 million development.
In 2014, Wells Fargo successfully sought an amended ordinance from the City Council that “clearly permits” illuminated signs. Its response Friday said that nothing in the Vikings’ agreement prohibits them.
The Vikings’ claim of irreparable harm to the image of U.S. Bank Stadium is “speculative and supported by nothing more than the Vikings’ conclusory, overreaching say-so,” Wells Fargo said.
The company noted that the claim of damage is “belied by the fact that each building includes two illuminated Wells Fargo signs” with raised lettering on the sides of the buildings.