The Minnesota Vikings took another big step this week to getting a stadium of their own when team officials agreed to a deal with city and state officials. However, history may judge that the biggest decision during Minnesota’s recent stadium boom came nearly a decade ago.
It wasn’t all that long ago that Minnesota was facing significant budget deficits and was enduring a government shutdown. But on Thursday, it was announced that the state would fund $398 million of a proposed Vikings stadium, albeit without raising taxes.
The stadium deal still needs approval from the Minneapolis City Council and the Minnesota Legislature. But if it does pass, it would mark the third stadium built for a Metrodome tenant in the past decade.
As the Vikings stadium saga has dragged on, my mind wanders frequently to Pittsburgh. As one of the NFL’s smallest markets, the Steelers got a new stadium in time for the 2001 season. However, the team shares it with the University of Pittsburgh.
There were attempts to do a similar Vikings/Gophers shared stadium in Minnesota. But those attempts failed, as sides couldn’t agree to terms. All the while, University of Minnesota officials argued for an on-campus stadium, citing a lack of revenues generated at the Metrodome.
The Gophers would get their own stadium, with the state agreeing to pay for 48 percent of it. But as we in the sports world know, an on-campus site isn’t enough to generate revenue. Nothing puts people in the seats like winning, and even in TCF Bank Stadium’s first year, empty seats could be seen at home games as the Gophers struggled – and continue to struggle – on the field. On campus or not, the Gophers won’t draw fans if they don’t win.
I’m left wondering if the state would have been better off continuing to pursue a joint stadium deal. With the Vikings and Gophers football teams needing a stadium for a combined 15 or 20 home dates a year, does the Twin Cities need two football stadiums?
Of course, that isn’t a reason not to build a Vikings stadium, and that’s not what I’m arguing. But a little more foresight 10 years ago may have prevented my case of hindsight today.