Minnesota Gov. Dayton Wakes From Long Nap, Asks “Whatever Happened to That Vikings Stadium Deal?”

Nov 14

The governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton, apparently was snoozing last May when he signed into law the legislation approving a publicly-financed $1 Billion stadium for the Minnesota Vikings and its billionaire owner Zygi Wilf. Either Dayton was unconscious or we now have a text-book case of the perils of letting corporate lobbyists prepare “public” legislation for your signature.

You really ought to read the frickin’ bill before you sign it.

Dayton surprised everyone Tuesday when he issued a blast from his Capitol Man Cave ripping the Vikings for raising the prospect of imposing “personal seat license” fees on Vikings ticket holders, an increasingly common tactic among NFL owners to raise large sums of cash by soaking their fans, making them pay $20,000 per seat, or more just for the right to buy game tickets. It’s an odious practice, a naked and transparent bit of blood-sucking. And Dayton was right to denounce it.

But he was a little late. Six months, really.

Dayton, like his late mentor and role model, Gov. Rudy Perpich, has a penchant for getting wild hairs, and for going off on something without warning. But this explosion over seat licenses has to be filed under I, for Inexplicable. The only explanation I can think of is that Mark Dayton was not paying attention during all those closed-door meetings and high-powered strategy sessions last spring when he was leaning heavily on his staff, the Vikings and the Legislature to get a stadium deal done.

He succeeded. But maybe he just now is tumbling to what he actually accomplished. This is no “People’s Stadium.” It is, in fact, the “Rich People’s Stadium” that he said Tuesday he did not want to build. The stadium deal, shamefully cobbled together in secret despite the clear requirements of Minnesota’s Open Meeting laws, will not require the Minnesota Vikings to put up one penny of money they already have: All the team costs associated with the project will come from new revenues brought in by the deal — naming rights, private suites, advertising and, yes, seat licenses.

Dayton acts as if he never heard of the seat-license part of the stadium deal until a Sunday story in the StarTribune mentioned fan opposition to being shaken down by the richest pro sports league in the world and forced to pay through the nose for their seats just to pay more for actual tickets.

“I strongly oppose shifting any part of the team’s responsibility for those costs onto Minnesota Vikings fans,” Dayton thundered in a letter to the Vikings. “I said this new stadium would be a ‘People’s Stadium,’ not a ‘Rich People’s Stadium.’ ”

Bully!, as Teddy Roosevelt would have said. But, again, way late. If Dayton had stood tough for that principle last spring, the stadium deal he signed would not now be stinking in his nose.

That outrageous seat-license deal did not just pop up, Mr. Governor. It was being discussed in preliminary stadium talks a year ago. I wrote about it on this blog before Dayton signed the deal, including it in an analysis of what an obvious Give-to-the-Rich boondoggle the stadium bill had become. Other comment was rare from a compliant media that was pushing more for the NFL than for the truth. But Legislators understood that the bill included seat licenses, and some — notably Sen. John Marty – tried to stop the bandwagon.

Marty, a DFLer, said this about the provision allowing the Vikings to sell seat licenses in the publicly financed football stadium: “It’s like asking the public to build a municipal golf course, then letting someone turn it into an exclusive country club.”

Exactly. Where was the governor of Minnesota? Hellooooooo?

The bottom line is that Mark Dayton’s righteous anger is six months late and a billion dollars short, and so is his sudden crusade on behalf of the Little Guy. The Vikings are understandably baffled. The man who held their hand last spring has now given it a slap, and pretended he knew nothing about his own deal.

Like the Vichy cop in Casablanca, Mark Dayton is shocked! Shocked to find gambling going on in here.

Mark and Zygi: Bosom buddies, in better days.