Saturday, January 24, 2009

How Not to Sell a Stadium to the Public

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we never lose to an unranked opponent in a Grand Slam tournament.

Of all the angles used by pro sports teams to secure local funding for a new stadium, we here in the Twin Cities are hearing a new one: it's a huge economic stimulus/public works project. Yep, no lie.

You may be aware that the Minnesota Vikings are in a desperate stadium situation. Their lease in the Metrodome ends in a few short years, and they're the NFL team worth the least amount of money - due in large part to their lack of revenue opportunities in their current digs. Current ownership, of course, would love to see that change, and of course, they're not going to shell out all of the money it would take to rectify the situation. So public assistance is needed.

For a few years now, the Vikings and owner Zygi Wilf have attempted to push a stadium bill through the Minnesota Legislature. Unfortunately for them, the state has had other priorities, and now with a $5.2 billion budget deficit, the state is hardly in a financial place where it can contribute a half a billion dollars of public/tax money to such an effort. This is not pleasing to current ownership.

Enter the Vikings' PR/community relations folks. Of course, these are tough economic times. So the Vikings are trying to sell a stadium bill with the angle that it's going to create thousands of local jobs and stimulate the economy, helping our area weather the storm and emerge stronger.

To be honest, this isn't a completely stupid idea...it's timely, and it's somewhat true. But the first time I heard this, I shook my head in disappointment. They've stepped up to the plate with the tried-and-true sales angles several times already, in better economic times, and struck out every time. So this strikes me as a desperate, reaching, last-ditch effort to sell the stadium.

But what really bugs me - personally and professionally - is that this angle is built upon the concept of the terrible economy. It's going to be awful hard for the Vikings to win public support and several hundred million dollars to finance the project when they base their sales pitch on a beast that has caused such negative images and experiences among their fan base and the taxpayers they expect to finance it. By bringing up all that negative, it makes your job to persuade and achieve a positive so much more difficult. Plus, they're walking a very fine line between asking for public money and giving the impression that their financial woes are more important than those of their fans and the taxpayers, at a time when millions of Minnesotans have it much tougher right now than the few folks asking for the assistance. You better believe that the second they encounter resistance to this plan, they'll start complaining/whining about how desperate their situation is and threatening to move the team if they don't get their way. Doing that, I think, would make an awful lot of people very angry, and could quite possibly shut the door altogether on the Vikings and their stadium wishes in Minnesota.

Don't get me wrong - I don't want to see the Vikings leave Minnesota. But I don't believe in these dire straits that the People of Minnesota should have to cough up almost $1 billion scarce and hard-earned tax dollars so a New Jersey-based real estate mogul and his fellow suits can profit from a new stadium and the other commercial developments that would go around it. And I don't see this angle faring any better in the court of public opinion and the Legislature than the tried-and-true methods that landed the Twins a new ballpark, the Gopher football team a new stadium and any other pro team around the nation their new arenas. Instead, I think this angle could very well backfire on the Vikings and seal their fate in this marketplace.

I'm out like Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic.

1 comment:

Luke Rasmussen said...

I'm not sure how to think about this one. Football stadium construction certainly would create jobs - but temporary. After the place is done, then what? I don't know about the economic boost they claim it would bring, and even if it did bring a boost, it would be some time before we reap those benefits.
The Vikings are entering a whole different world this fall, when they will be the only tenants. And, they now need to find something to fill the 90 nights or so that have been guaranteed income, for the Vikings, because of the Twins and the Gophers. The Vikings are empty-nesters now. A new stadium would be great, but if they can't find things to fill those other nights in a new stadium, it could be a bust.