Thursday, February 16, 2012

Stadium Beating: NFL Rules Lead To Taxpayer-Funded Stadiums

Originally posted at Oakdale Patch.

Feeding on fans’ fears that the Vikings will leave Minnesota, the quest to build a new taxpayer-funded stadium for a team that has only been to the playoffs three times in the past 10 years has been rocky at best. One does not have to do much digging to absorb the scope of the silly back-and-forth between Vikings owner Zygi Wilf and our state representatives. Talks recently came full circle to a plan that would build upon a site located a stone’s throw away from the Metrodome and, although a complete deal still has not been finalized, the latest word is that the Vikings will play the 2012 season in Minnesota.

Both major parties do not want to be known as the party that lost the Vikings and, as a result, working toward a new taxpayer-funded Vikings stadium has basically been a bipartisanship effort (outside of some occasional petty bickering between the GOP Legislature and the DFL governor). This stadium deal has been in the news for years, but hardly anyone has mentioned the best case scenario for this Vikings problem, originating from our cheeseheaded neighbors to the east—save for the Libertarian Party of Minnesota (LPMN) and DFL State Representative Phyllis Kahn.

Since a majority of Minnesotans think that the Vikings are important to the state, this stadium issue has always been more about keeping the Vikings in Minnesota than simply acting on a desire to build a new stadium. The plans of Representative Kahn and the LPMN would be the best options to fund a new Vikings stadium and keep the team in Minnesota for good. Basically, the plans are revamped versions of the Green Bay Packers model. The Packers are the only publicly owned professional sports team in the Union, a fact that I find strange seeing as how well the ownership structure has worked for the success of the team. Far be it from a Vikings fan to heap praise upon the Green Bay Packers, but one must give credit where credit is due: the Green Bay Packers model is the best way to keep a team’s future in the hands of the fans.

While many states and cities have seen their favorite professional teams come and go, the Packers have stayed in Green Bay since the team’s stock went up for sale in 1923, winning four Super Bowls and nine pre-Super Bowl championships. Many Packers fans own shares of the team’s stock, no one person being allowed more than 200,000 shares to balance ownership control, and because the team is nonprofit, all profits are reinvested back into the team. Rep. Kahn submitted a plan that called for 70 percent of Vikings stocks to be sold to the public and the Libertarians feel their plan improves upon the Packers model by creating a for profit instead of a nonprofit team structure. Both plans secure fan control of the team and the Vikings would specifically become an investment opportunity for the fans, in effect giving back to the community, under the LPMN plan.

Although the best way to keep the Vikings in Minnesota with a new stadium would be to follow this Green Bay model, the option is inexorably un-viable due to NFL rules. The reason why so many sports teams come begging to governments for taxpayer-funded stadiums, and why governments usually comply, is because the system is set up that way. The National Football League prohibits publicly owned teams (except for the Packers organization, which was grandfathered into the League), creating a system that directly benefits the billionaire owners. Private owners, acting on business decisions that turn the biggest profit for their investment, will look to other markets when a location becomes less profitable compared to another. Politicians fear the loss of revenue generated by the team and proceed to bend over backwards with such enticements as new taxpayer-funded stadiums. The owners love this because they do not have to invest as much capital into a stadium of their own. The fans, in turn, allow the politicians to get away with this because they simply want to hold onto their team.

Vikings fans are undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief at the news that the Vikings are not relocating next year and are looking forward to seeing a final stadium deal, but how many realize that their team is forever held hostage by a system of ownership that leads to corporate welfare sanctioned by the NFL itself? If the fans want to end this exchange cycle of threats for taxpayer-funded stadiums and actually take control of their team, the NFL’s rules will have to be changed to simply allow for the public ownership of teams.

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