The stadium battle between the Minnesota Vikings and the agency that operates the MetroBarn just got a whole lot stickier.
Team owners Zygi and Mark Wilf sent the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission an angry letter Wednesday, telling the chairman of its finance committee the team is cutting all ties with the agency after it passed a resolution meant to encourage the Vikings to extend their lease by two years.
Despite strong opposition from the Wilfs, the full commission passed the resolution in a meeting Thursday morning.
The current lease expires in 2011, but the Vikings want a new stadium instead of another term in the Barn, which is easily one of the worst facilities in the NFL. Team officials have been working for the last few months to lay the groundwork for a successful public financing plan during the 2010 state legislative session.
According to the Star-Tribune, the resolution, which will be on the full commission’s agenda Thursday, proposes awarding the team all post-season stadium revenues if they agree to a lease extension. If the team refuses, the resolution proposes to start collecting $4 million a year from the Vikings – rent it has forgiven since 2002 in an effort to help the team stay competitive with better-positioned NFL teams.
In the blistering letter to committee Chairman Paul Thatcher, the Wilfs said they were “shocked, exasperated and extremely disappointed” by the committee’s proposal.
They also touted their efforts to invest in the team without guarantee of a revenue-enhancing new stadium. The Vikings are 8-1 for the first time since 1998 behind quarterback Brett Favre.
“As the last tenant in the Metrodome, we would expect to be treated fairly and with some minimum level of respect. Your actions yesterday leave us confused and questioning the future of this franchise,” the letter read.
“As a result, we have instructed our management team to suspend any further engagement with the MSFC unless and until the Commission gets serious about resolving the near-term revenue issues and acting like a partner with us to retain this valued franchise in the Minnesota for the next generation of fans. The time for more political games on this issue has expired.”
So what does this mean? It puts the Vikings one step closer to leaving Minnesota for a market with a better stadium or that is open to building a new venue for the team. A new stadium being built in Los Angeles, which is designed to draw an NFL team to the nation’s second largest television market, has already sparked rumors the Vikings may be looking to move. But it’s more likely team officials are hoping to use the situation in Los Angeles to pressure Minnesota politicians into using taxpayer dollars for a new stadium in the Twin Cities during the 2010 legislative session.
However, Minnesota is in tough financial shape, and using public money for a football stadium will be a tough sell when schools are laying off teachers and the state is facing a multibillion-dollar budget deficit.
To his credit, Zygi Wilf told state lawmakers he plans to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, whether they get a new stadium or not, going so far as to say he’ll play “on the Pop Warner fields” and stay in the Gopher State. With this latest feud with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission it’s anyone’s guess if those warm and fuzzy feelings still apply.
Blindsiding the team with a resolution that reads like blackmail isn’t the best way to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. The facilities commission has shot itself in the foot, and even if the full commission had rejected the resolution Thursday, the intent was there and the bad feelings are sure to linger and fester.
Some fans want the facilities commission to stop the ongoing game of chicken and call the team’s bluff. The Wilfs would probably sell the team before moving it, but then again, did anyone really think Norman Green would move the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas in 1993?
The pissing match is starting to get pretty volatile, and if the right egos aren’t massaged and apologies made, something drastic could very well happen. Expected or not.