Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Vikings Are Going to Move to Los Angeles

I know, I know. For months, maybe even years, the rumors have been out there. When the lease on the Metrodome expired after the 2011-2012 season (Janaury 1, 2012, to be exact) the Vikings were going to move to LA. But every time someone has mentioned this, chances are you've simply rolled your eyes and ignored it. It's always been seen as a leverage play, something the Vikings ownership could use to get maximum state funding from for a new stadium. Nobody ever really believed that the Vikings would truly move to Los Angeles. As I write this, I think the sentiment among most Minnesotans is that there's no way the Vikings will leave, and they'll get a new stadium deal at the last minute.

I'm not among the majority. My thoughts are much more cynical. Now, it's worth mentioning I'm not a cynical person by nature; heck, I predicted the Twins to win the World Series when they were swept by the Yankees two years ago, I predicted the Vikings to go to the Super Bowl the year after they lost in the NFC Championship--clearly, I was letting my bias toward my favorite teams cloud my opinions of them. That's not a sign of a cynic. However, I've thought ever since Zygi Wilf bought the Vikings, he's been scheming to get the team to Los Angeles. Why? It's simple. Money. He'll get a brand new, state-of-the-art stadium in one of the biggest markets in the country. The Vikings are currently near the bottom of franchise value among NFL teams, and there's no doubt that moving to LA into a sparkling new stadium would turn the Vikings into one of the most valued franchises in all of sports.

Does that seem far-fetched? Maybe to some, but not to me. Zygi Wilf grew up in New York, as a Giants fan. He made his money out east. Prior to buying the Vikings, Wilf had no ties to Minnesota, and no real reason to feel inclined to stay. Of course, Wilf spent money and reenergized the fan base with a couple winning seasons, but even that played into the big picture. By getting some elite level players, like Jared Allen and Adrian Peterson, they ensured themselves that they would have two legitimate superstars on their roster in their primes for the 2012 season. Coincidentally enough, the 2012 season is the first season the Vikings could play somewhere other than Minnesota. Hmmm.

Now, simply acquiring Jared Allen as a 26-year-old and drafting Adrian Peterson are hardly signs that Zygi Wilf has been scheming to move our favorite team to Los Angeles. No, it's what the team continues to do behind the scenes in this stadium issue that has me convinced Zygi Wilf is doing everything he can to make sure a stadium deal does not get done. That seems far-fetched, right? It shouldn't. The Seattle Supersonics were purchased by Clay Bennett, and emails that have come out in the last few years have proven that Bennett had planned to move the team to Oklahoma City from the get go, even though he continued to tell Seattle he was trying to build a new stadium for them to stay. He proposed such outrageous stadium deals that the city had no choice but to reject the offers, and when the Sonics were finally able to move, they did. To Oklahoma City.

Why couldn't that have been Wilf's plan? Or why couldn't it have become Zygi's plan after a few years of owning the Vikings? Let's look at what the team is trying to get for a stadium, and how their mixed signals are creating the kinds of problems Wilf wants.

The Vikings continue to back the proposal offered by Arden Hills. The Wilfs continue to say that they prefer this proposal to the other proposals located in Minneapolis because the Arden Hills location would provide a better "fan experience" than the others. That's ridiculous. These fans have sold out the God-awful Metrodome for 14 consecutive seasons and counting, they will be happy with any new stadium. How easy it is to tailgate shouldn't even be considered when picking a location. That is ridiculous, and there's no way the Wilfs are that stupid. They have a plan.

The Wilf's also understand that the Arden Hills site is the most expensive of the four proposed sites, expected to cost slightly more than $1.1 billion. The cheapest is a renovation on the current Metrodome, which would cost about $900MM. The Wilf's continue to say they will offer $425MM to the construction of a stadium on the Arden Hills site, but considerably less for a stadium that gets built in Minneapolis. The Vikings continue to push the notion that the Wilf's are offering the most private money ever in the building of a new stadium; which is true. But what they fail to mention is that the stadium cost is so great that the Vikings are also asking for more money from the state of Minnesota than any other professional sports team in history. Think about that for a minute. As much as the Vikings want you to think Wilf is offering to pay $425MM, Wilf understands it's almost impossible for the state to come up with over $600MM to fund a stadium.

Even with the state's surprise surplus, the city of Minneapolis is willing to pay $300MM. So that would require Zygi Wilf and the NFL to pledge about $600MM, just to get the Metrodome renovation plan, which is one Wilf doesn't like anyways. Wilf is willing to $425MM of a $1.1B plan he allegedly loves; there's no way he'd pay $600MM of a $900MM plan he hates. The city of Minneapolis could also raise another $300MM or so from a sales tax, which would mean Wilf would only need to pay about $300M. That is significantly less than the $425MM they've pledged to Arden Hills.

But I don't think Wilf would be willing to pledge even that much. He wants the Arden Hills plan to be the choice because he knows that Arden Hills is going to have a lot more difficult time implementing a sales tax than Minneapolis. That's a massive amount of money. Arden Hills had planned to implement a half-cent local sales tax to raise $350MM, which would have meant they'd need about $400MM from the state. At that point, the stadium planned seemed possible. However, the sales tax was vetoed by Governor Dayton, and has no real chance of ever getting passed. That would require the state to come up with an extra $350MM, something they simply won't do. So look for the state to continue to back the Minneapolis proposals, but look for Zygi Wilf and company to continue to say they won't propose nearly as much money for those proposals.

Unless the city of Minneapolis, the NFL and the tax-payers literally give Zygi Wilf and the Vikings a free stadium in Minneapolis, one in which Wilf doesn't need to pledge a single dollar, the Vikings will move. Financially the team is better off in the LA market, and they will undoubtedly move from the league's worst stadium to one of the league's best by 2014. They'd likely play 2012 in the Rose Bowl or the LA Coliseum, but they'd move into the soon to be built state-of-the-art stadium.

When the Vikings announce in early February of 2012 that they have reached an agreement with the city of Los Angeles and the NFL to move to LA effective immediately, just remember I warned you guys. The Los Angeles Vikings. Yet another Minnesota team hijacked by LA, with a nickname that makes no sense. And, when they move, the NFL will be dead to me.