Thursday, April 19, 2012

National Friday League: Stadium Blues

Stadium and Quality of Life
I'm not going to give you answers, and while I'll give some opinions, those opinions aren't intended as answers. But I believe there are fundamental questions we should ask about a Viking stadium that aren't necessarily economic or political, but connected to quality of life.

1.What are we the public willing to pay for to improve and/or maintain the quality of life for our state?
2. How much are we willing to pay?
3. What compromises are we willing to make to do so?

Let's look at these questions (and the discussion will be somewhat political, but I will try to be obtuse and indirect about it).

What are we willing to pay for?
Public money goes to a lot of things that don’t, on the surface anyway, appear to have inherent economic value (I'm sure economists can identify how these things contribute economic value to a community, and I'll leave that to the economists). We have public parks, which are wonderful: citizens can exercise, play, picnic, and generally enjoy the outdoors. We have libraries, which are wonderful: citizens can read books for free, and do a whole lot more. These things are to the good: they make life as a citizen better. And there are more things we are willing as a public to pay for to keep the quality of life in Minnesota high.

Do the Vikings make life as a citizen better? In my view (and the view of many others), yes. Absolutely. I am not alone in saying that without the Vikings playing in Minnesota, my life would be diminished. I am a happier person because the Vikings play in Minnesota: they are deeply tied up in what I consider my quality of life as a Minnesotan. Again, I am not alone in this; if you are reading this (and you're a Minnesotan), you probably feel this way too. I am willing to pay to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, and I do not disapprove, if there is no other way, of using public funding to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. But that isn't the only question.

How much are we willing to pay?
The Guthrie Theater is wonderful. It contributes to the cultural enjoyment of the Twin Cities (even if relatively few people enjoy it). It is something to be proud of, a landmark, a source of acclaim beyond Minnesota’s borders. To me, the Twin Cities wouldn’t be the same without it. And public funding contributed to the new building. But that contribution was much, much smaller than what the Vikings want the public to contribute to their stadium; in 2003, the committed public funding for the new Guthrie Theater was $25 million (MPR).

Does it matter if more people will benefit from and receive enjoyment from a new Viking stadium than there are people who benefit from and receive enjoyment from the Guthrie Theater? Yes. But how much does it matter? That we are willing as a public to pay for quality of life is a given (at this point in time, anyway, and I hope for a very long time). But obviously the amount we are willing to pay has its limits. How much are we willing to sacrifice? Who is going to pay, and how are they going to pay it? These are not small questions. And I don't blame you if you think we the public should not pay as much as the Vikings want us to pay.

What compromises are we willing to make?
Of course there is the public/private problem: this stadium will make exceedingly rich people richer. In a time of great inequality, and the game rigged to preserve and expand that inequality, public money for a privately owned team's stadium is obscene. In fact the heavy influence (or control) of private interests over matters of public concern is a major problem in America (whatever your political persuasion or special interest, it isn’t hard to find examples).

But…that is the way the game is played. I wish it weren’t. I certainly support those trying to change the game, who are striving and protesting and working to make a more just and fair society, which in part means (in my view) removing or limiting the corporate influence over government. But we’re not there yet.

So, is this a compromise you’re willing to make? Is it a compromise you think the state of Minnesota should make? Should we hold our noses, help the very rich Zygi Wilf build a stadium for his privately owned business, because we want to ensure that the Minnesota Vikings contribute to our quality of life? What would make you sicker to your stomach: seeing public funds extracted and given to the Minnesota Vikings, or seeing the Los Angeles Vikings? And what matters more, what would make you sicker to your conscience? And would you be sicker if we paid for a new stadium for a new or different NFL team a decade from now?

I don't know. I'm not offering an answer, because I don't know myself.

I know I don't want the Vikings to leave Minnesota, and I'll be heart-broken if they do. But I don't know what that means should be done about it.

But one plea
If the Minnesota legislature is unwilling to contribute state money toward a stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, please, do not in five years contribute state money toward a stadium for the Minnesota Jaguars or Minnesota Chargers or whatever. It is not about having Generic NFL Franchise X. If we can't find a way to keep a team that has had five decades to infuse itself into Minnesota culture, we should learn to live without having an NFL team. If there is any chance we are building a stadium in the next decade, just do it now for the team we already love. Otherwise, we should find something else to do.

Card Blurbs: Nick Mangold's 2011 Topps card (#329)

"Nick's Twitter biography - complete with a picture of an ewok instead of his face - sums up his philosophy on life: 'I try to find the humor in everything while promoting the virtues of being manly.' There's nothing funny about facing him in the trenches. Mangold's masculinity is on full display there, where he put enough opponents on their backs in 2010 to earn First Team All-Pro honors."

I appreciate the blurb writers for Topps: they often try to say something interesting or amusing that isn't already obvious on the stats, and with offensive linemen (no stats to cite, larger card space for blurbs) they can really let it fly. But I have reason to believe John Madden wrote that last sentence.

Kick Ass Links
Do you realize there is a Native American tribe willing to pay the entire state portion of the Viking stadium for the right to build a casino near the Twin Cities (MPR, MPR)? And that this option, whereby the state's share of the Viking stadium (though not the local share, if I understand correctly) is taken care of, is barely being taken seriously? I realize there are a lot of vested interests with a conflict here, but let's repeat: somebody is offering to pay the entire state portion of the Viking stadium. And they're not saying "We'll give you four hundred million dollars if you let us release alligators, lions, and grizzly bears to roam the Twin Cities streets." They want to build something that Minnesota is already full of, that we seem to get along just fine having around, that shouldn't really affect most of us one little bit. I know what Mayor Quimby would do.

When the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce lobbies for the stadium (MPR), I think "What, Chamber, you got no money? Your member businesses got no money?" If it is important to the local businesses that the Vikings get a new stadium, maybe they need to find a way to provide the money (directly? through taxes?) for the stadium. Somebody told me there's a Native American tribe willing to pay a bunch of money directly.

And there are other ideas (MinnPost).

Misleading reporting? Stupidity from Jim Souhan? Really? Really? (MinnPost).

The City Pages knows the score: Jared Allen is the best Viking.

Uff da. The playoff drought for Minnesota sports (Pioneer Press). I did literally lay my finger on the Lynx's championship trophy, though.

The Vikes will get the first non-quarterback available in the draft. Evidently the choice is between Matt Kalil, Justin Blackmon, and Morris Claiborne (PFT). I don't know about ceiling, but doesn't it seem like a top-10 pick left tackle has a higher floor?

Magic/Bird, and why plays about sports are hard (The New Yorker).

Little brother will be on Saturday Night Live (New York). Until I watched Jason Segel host this fall, I hadn't watched SNL in years. And you know what I discovered? It's terrific! Really, really funny. I look forward to watching it now.

You can't celebrate the Olympics in England without...poets (BBC, via The New Yorker).

Carmelo Anthony's interior decorating (Pro Basketball Talk). If I could afford to commission a painting of myself, I absolutely would do it. Of course affording to commission a painting of oneself means having enough money to get a whole bunch of other awesome stuff before you actually get down to having that painting commissioned.

Sometimes you hit the iceberg, and sometimes, well, the iceberg, she hits you. But either way your boat is going to sink, so don't spend too much time worrying about that part of it.

Have a good weekend, suckers.


  1. Nice work, PV.

    I don't live in Minny. But if I did, your post would put things in their proper order, mentally, for me as weighed whether I agreed with subsidizing (or not) the Zygidome or Zygi Center or whatever they would call it.

    God love the crew at the Daily Norseman, but they should probably read this post. They want a stadium deal at any cost, it seems.

  2. Thanks for keeping a level head, PV. It's a welcome break from the repetitive whinging and neverending mock drafts found elsewhere in the Vikeosphere. (Yes, DN, I'm looking firmly at you).

    I think your comparison to the Guthrie is spot on. Normally, I'm pretty laissez-faire toward public funding of for-profit companies, but pro sports isn't exactly a free market. OK, it's very, very far from a free market. As you say, there's an additional worth to having the Vikings (and not just any NFL team), that's extremely hard to quantify.

    I wonder how the public cost of a new stadium compares to other state expenditures, state parks, highways, farming subsidies, corporate tax incentives, etc. $400 million works out to roughly $7.50 per MN resident, which is certainly worth it for me. But I'm not sure how it would stack up if you asked me to prioritize state funding items.

  3. Roger will save us! He is the commish and he has all the power.

  4. He certainly seemed to rouse the Minnesota state senate into action on Friday.

  5. In terms of me being a Vikings fan, it doesn't much matter to me any longer if they get a stadium. I've reached my choking point after years of stadium debate, and if they leave for LA, I'll detest them for it, and if they receive more than a half billion (!) in taxpayer subsidies, I'll detest them for it. I'm still an NFL fan, but I'll not be consistently rooting for any team any longer.

    Frankly, I think the game is more interesting when you don't much care who wins, so in some ways this will be an improvement.

  6. Anon 11:01:

    It's much less painful when you don't care who wins the games. But I find the passion isn't quite there, either. My Sunday's from September until January wouldn't be quite as good if I didn't have the Vikings to watch and enjoy their wins. But I also think those Sunday's could be occupied doing more important things some times.