Zygi Wilf

Wants a new stadium now.

About 50 Minnesota Vikings’ fans and former players continued their push Thursday for a new Vikings’ stadium with a rally outside the state capitol in St. Paul.

What the backers lacked in numbers they apparently made up for with enthusiasm. But their latest whines – er, pleas – for state funding couldn’t have come at a worse time.

Just 24 hours earlier, state lawmakers received a new budget forecast projecting a $1.2 billion shortfall through mid-2011 and an even bigger gap after that. Even Gov. Tim Pawlenty is signaling a possible delay of game on the issue.

“Their advocates, I’m sure, will say this doesn’t change anything,” said Pawlenty, a Republican, after the dire budget figures were made public.

“They want to go forward with it. But it certainly will make their case that much more difficult,” he said.

But Vikings’ fans aren’t giving up. They want the stadium bill to be the first introduced in next year’s legislative session, emphasizing the jobs such a project would create and saying the team’s future may be at stake.

“I want the Vikings to stay in Minnesota,” explained Dave Gunderson of Brooklyn Center, dressed in Vikings purple and gold. “I want a new stadium. I don’t care who pays for it.”

Well, Dave Gunderson (who may or may not be related to Marge), you might not care who pays for it, but it’s fair to say many state lawmakers are, at the very least, ambivalent about the issue. One state representative wore a Vikings’ jersey to a committee hearing on Thursday. When asked if he’d support a tax hike, he pretended his microphone didn’t work.

And when TPaw – a huge Vikings fan – is backing off, you know the odds are stacked against you.

The Vikings’ lease for their current home – the Metrodome – is coming to an end in 2011 and debate over what the team will do after that has spun out of control in recent weeks. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the agency that operates the MetroBarn, passed a resolution recently despite Vikings’ opposition meant to encourage the team to extend their lease by two years. Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, who want a new stadium, responded with an angry letter essentially cutting all ties with the commission and setting up a volatile pissing match that could end with the team uprooting to another market.

The price tag for the new stadium is about $1 billion. You’d think stadium supporters would realize there may be bigger priorities in the state at a time when school districts are cutting programs and teachers and cities are paring back on police officers and other necessities to make ends meet.

Apparently not. Former Vikings players Bob Lurtsema and Matt Blair were among the supporters attending Thursday’s stadium rally. Blair said the stadium would benefit not just the team but the entire community, and Lurtesma essentially promised backers a new facility, telling them “we are going to get a stadium for the state of Minnesota.”

College student Dan Henrichs of St. Paul said he’d be willing to pay “just about anything” to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, and suggested taxing items such as gas, football tickets and fast food. Bob Bukovich of Inver Grove Heights, who’s been following the Vikings for 43 years and makes it to every home game, asked “What would Minnesota be without a football team?”

Well, Bob, good question. Probably a hell of a lot better place to live, but here’s the real question. What would the state of Minnesota be WITH a new stadium? The Wilfs hope a new stadium and the luxury boxes that come with one would inject some much needed cash into their operation, considering the Vikings are the NFL’s lowest revenue-generating team.

But whether a new stadium would solve that problem is questionable. We all know the Vikings have a fickle fan base – this is an organization that couldn’t sell out their season tickets even after Brett Favre joined the team and almost had their lone playoff game blacked out last season. Once Favre retires and the Vikings are back in NFC North mediocrity, ticket and merchandise sales are bound to plummet, new stadium or not.

The team may be doing great this season, hell they may go to the Super Bowl, but the numbers that matter the most – the dollars and cents, both in revenue or state funding – aren’t there to justify a new stadium anytime soon.

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