Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton (Saul Loeb/Getty)
With the stadium saga taking another negative turn Tuesday, it seems Minnesota doesn’t want to work hard enough to save a profitable business from finding a better offer outside the state borders.
There comes a time in an abusive relationship that the abused checks out and gets on with life.
Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Mark Dayton, who I think of as a feckless political puppet dancing to the tune of his string-pulling masters, gave the Vikings a “take it or leave it” scenario on the Metrodome site if the Wilf family wants to get a stadium deal done in 2012 (an election year, by the way).
Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same Mark Dayton, the heir to a moneyed Minnesota family department store throne that came into office as governor pledging he would get a stadium deal done? Didn’t he even bring a Mondale into the mix for name recognition value? It’s unclear if Biff Humphrey had previous commitments. Yet, just as he did post-9/11 when he fled Washington because, to his credit, the sky was literally falling nearby, it would seem that Dayton has once again folded like a card table to the people that truly run the day-to-day operations of Minnesota.
There’s only one problem with Dayton’s “take it or leave it” Metrodome proposition. It’s really too easy to take the “leave it” option. We’re Minnesota. Our bridges collapse. Our stadiums collapse. And we don’t have earthquakes.
Red McCombs was a slick operator back in the day. A former used car salesman, Red (pronounced “RAY-ed” in proper Texas company) could sell a dead man a suit with two pair of pants. Yet he couldn’t get a stadium deal done. He did his best blackjack dealer clap, made nine figures in profit and rode off into the sunset, weighed down by bags of cash. Why? Because the NFL is a profitable business and he made his.
Zygi Wilf is markedly more low-key in terms of McCombsian-style showmanship. He has consistently promised he would keep the Vikings in Minnesota, but, given the immediate state of the State, even those fans who fervently want the Vikings to stay have a hard time blaming them if they say “leave it” (or other random two-word phrases ending in “it”) and putting themselves on the open market.
The problem with invertebrates like Dayton is that, thanks to the direction of the wind this week, they believe that they have the upper hand. They brought a dull, rusty weapon to the fight.
What seems to be lost in the recent turn of stadium-related events is the pomposity, arrogance and hubris of Minnesota’s political industrial complex. They seem to miss the bigger picture. In hard economic times, a state like Minnesota should be happy to be suckling at the financial teat of a “recession-proof” corporation like the NFL. In one of the most noteworthy economic recessions in our nation’s history, the NFL is printing money. The Wilfs should be wined, dined and fanny-kissed by Minnesota’s political elite. Instead, they have been given short shrift and have been made to feel like the creepy uncle at the Thanksgiving table that nobody wants too close.
The longstanding and underlying roadblock to get a new stadium built has always been the “Minneapolis-or-bust” attitude toward stadium development. Remember Anoka County? What seems like a decade ago, the Wilfs worked out a deal with Anoka County when progress stagnated for a downtown Minneapolis site – for a time in the footprint of Target Field. When a deal was made to find a “local partner,” suddenly offers from Minneapolis came in. Ironically, the open site proposed was the same site used to park heavy equipment that removed the wreckage of the I-35 bridge collapse. One can only imagine if the stadium construction had begun back then, the Wilfs would have been blamed for the bridge collapse. Minnesota nice? Not so much.
Almost from the day the “Mission Accomplished” banner was put up and Tony Bennett crooned “I left my heart in Arden Hills,” the forces out to shoot down a Ramsey County proposal for a stadium opened fire. Tony Montana came out of the hail of gunfire in better shape than the Ramsey County Board. “Minneapolis or Bust” played the hammer. In the short term, Minneapolis has won. But, unlike Anoka County and Ramsey County, “Bust” hasn’t thrown in the towel.
The NBA left Minnesota when air travel made coast-to-coast basketball realistic. The NHL left Minnesota when a “hands on” owner got basted in the local media and didn’t let the door hit him on the way out. Major League Baseball would have left Minnesota if the Pohlad family had its way and Minnesota and Montreal were erased from the history of The Artist Formerly Known As America’s Pastime.
The NBA eventually came back to Minnesota. So did the NHL. Neither came back because of a fan base. They came back because both leagues were desperate to bring in “new money” for their financially-strapped leagues and expanded into markets that had a track record of building a fan following. The Twins were saved by the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. Thanks to league greed and baseball fans in a position to make things happen, Minnesota is still a four-sport state. But, for how long?
Remember the Gang of Ten? They were a collection of rich, politically connected Minnesotans that owned the Vikings. They nearly drove the franchise into the ground. Almost desperate to end Minnesota ownership ties to the team, they sold out to the first guy who came up with enough cash to meet their price. That guy was McCombs.
At the time, they were vilified for selling to “an outsider.” Now they’re vilified for being the village idiots, shortsighted Minnesotans getting out right before the business they’re in explodes in unprecedented financial numbers. Wilf still plays in the building those dolts once owned and sold on the cheap.
When the Gang of Ten owned the Vikings, fans who wanted to watch non-division home games had to find a TV outside the local blackout area. Since McCombs bought the team in 1998, the Vikings have sold out every game played at the Metrodump – under the stewardship of owners from Texas and New Jersey. Coincidence? Nah. They’re businessmen. Not rubes. Against all odds, they’ve turned a stagnant franchise into something profitable … and marketable to other cities looking for an NFL team.
Dayton’s decision to curl up into a political ball and play dead Tuesday won’t be the final chapter in the Vikings’ stadium saga. It will, however, be a telling chapter. The biggest obstacle McCombs and the Wilfs have had to deal with as “outsiders” owning the Vikings was that they didn’t know how business is done in Minnesota. Perhaps, in the final analysis, Minnesota doesn’t deserve to have an NFL team.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.