Gov. Mark Dayton is “greatly distressed” by a pair of proposals recently floated by the Minnesota Vikings, according to a strongly worded letter Dayton sent to team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf. In the letter, released Tuesday morning by Dayton’s office, the governor urges the Vikings organization to reconsider both ideas, and questions the team’s role as a faithful partner with the state, which has committed to spending $348 million to finance a new football stadium.
The first issue raised in Dayton’s letter is the team’s apparent eagerness to play games in foreign countries. In October, the Vikings announced their plan to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, England during the 2013-14 season. That contest would count as a “home” game for Minnesota. According to the team’s deal with the state, the Vikings are allowed to pursue up to three such “home” games abroad every 15 years. According to Dayton’s letter, the team hoped next year’s game would not count against that limit, and expressed interest in hosting another game outside the United States in the coming years.
“It would be far more helpful,” Dayton writes, “if the Vikings focused public attention on a desire to play home games [at the new stadium], rather than elsewhere.”
The letter also highlights the news that the Vikings were exploring the possibility of adding a “stadium builder’s license” fee to season ticket prices on high-value seats. That idea, first raised in story which ran in the Star Tribune on Sunday, could add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of season tickets. Including the current season, the Vikings have held season ticket prices steady for the last three years, with the most expensive packages selling for around $1,300. If the license fee plan were implemented, those prices could skyrocket in coming seasons.
Ticket holders learned of the “builder’s license” proposal in an emailed survey from the team, which attempted to gauge fans’ reaction to the idea. Similar schemes have generated many millions of dollars for other NFL teams, and would help relieve the team’s $477 million share of stadium construction costs.Vikings vice president Lester Bagley told the Star Tribune that the survey was just a piece of a “broader market study,” and that the team hadn’t made any decisions about adding fees.
In his letter, Dayton outlines his opposition to the license fees, which he sees as an attempt to shift the team’s share of construction costs onto its fans and a betrayal in spirit of the “People’s Stadium,” the phrase he frequently invoked during negotiations to fund the new facility. The stadium plan received support from middle- and low-income Minnesotans because, Dayton writes, “they believed the Vikings are also their team.”
“If a new stadium were to betray that trust, it would be better that it not be built,” Dayton wrote.
Dayton says he will make his position clear to the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, which would have to sign off on the license fees plan. If the Authority seems willing to go forward despite his opposition, Dayton also threatened to take the issue to the Legislature to strip the Authority of its power on the matter.
Both of the concepts that earned Dayton’s ire are explicitly allowed under the terms of the legislation to fund the stadium. The inclusion of the seat licensing fees was the focus of a statement the Vikings released later Tuesday afternoon, which said the organization was “disappointed” by Dayton’s letter.
“The stadium bill, and the prior term sheet, that was negotiated with the Vikings over the last two legislative sessions by the Governor’s own representatives and legislative leaders, includes provisions that expressly authorize the sale of stadium builder’s licenses and include the proceeds of any sale in the project budget,” read the statement. “Stadium builder’s licenses were vetted by the Legislature, testified to by Vikings and State of Minnesota negotiators, and most importantly, specifically reflected in the stadium legislation that was passed and signed by the Governor.”
Dayton did not argue that the builder’s licenses, or the team’s trips abroad to host games, were prohibited by the stadium legislation, which passed at the tail end of the 2012 legislative session after rancorous debate over the details. Instead, Dayton characterized the moves as the Vikings’ attempt to exploit aspects of the bill at the expense of the fans and the state.
“I am greatly distressed by these developments and the future they portend,” Dayton wrote, adding, “Not surprisingly, given the project’s magnitude and complexity, some details were not fully understood and some differences still remain. They must be resolved consistent with Minnesota standards and values.”