Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Stadium and Jimmy Lileks

StarTribune Columnist James Lileks is a far better writer than Katherine Kersten. He's actually funny, and seems to be pretty smart besides.

Now, understand his writing isn't terribly deep, in fact it's normally on par with Entertainment Tonight - and perhaps his role at the Strib is to simply fill column inches. If so, he does an excellent job.

On the other hand, if he's actually trying to say something meaningful, I am afraid poor Jimmy (as he calls his alter ego) and James could both stand a lesson in writing about something meaningful. Namely, say something with guts. Take a real stand, stick your neck out, and then support it.

Today James commented on the new Viking Stadium initiative. Lilek's "gutty" commentary (synthesized down) was "Ok, I want a stadium too, but how are you going to pay for it?" Wow, Jim, I mean, wow - rough question, tough, bold position. Wow. Bluntly, your question is no better than the question the guy emptying garbage in your building could have thought of in 5 seconds, but, hey, I mean, it's a job - go milk it and all.

Now there are about a dozen things someone could say which would be actually taking a stand - and to try to help, I'll list a couple below:

1. Timmy P (as I like to think of our Governor) - where the hell is your leadership on this point? You were Puhlenty happy to piss away tax dollars on a stadium for the Twins when the state was in a budget crisis. We're in a worse one now, but considering the threat of the team moving is so much more real, why are you so absent? I mean, you're "Mr. Business", and if it was good business to build a stadium for the Twins, why not the Vikes who generate more tax dollars? Maybe it's because it's not politically convenient? I mean, you'd NEVER chose to duck an issue which you were willing to throw tax money at before would you, just because it would look bad? I am sure it's not that you're just a political opportunist - no, no, that can't be it. Oh, that's right, you're busy running for President based on your sterling record of ash-canning state social services because you hamstrung the state for 8 years with a tax system designed during high-flying economic times when costs were low and receipts were high - a tax system designed by YOU.

2. Ziggy Wilf - you bought the team knowing this was the situation, knowing you could hold the state hostage in 2010, and you clearly planned to do so. My comment to you, in the midst of a terrible economic downturn is simply this, "Have you no shame, sir?" Really, the Vikings already make you a TON of money. With revenue sharing you're probably making (conservatively) $30M a year, maybe more. Certainly in this time of extraordinary privation, the thing to do, the class move, is to demand the people of this state shell out more in taxes for you. Now don't get me wrong, that's how gov'mint works in the land of Republimania - government is a spigot for business, but right now Ziggy, honestly, we're broke - you're gonna have to wait. A person I respect a lot made a wonderful observation, Zig, specifically, you are the Marie Antionette of our age, (insert crappy french accent here) "if Zey have no homes, let them go to de Football Stadiums, no?!"

I support building you a stadium if you are willing to include in the building: a homeless shelter, a school, a soup kitchen, and offer to allow any high school team which chooses to, the FREE access to play in your little playground on any Friday or Saturday, without restriction, all facilities to be maintained by YOU for the life of the stadium which itself shall not be less than 40 years. You see, Zig, that's the choice you are asking us to make - drop band, football, soup kitchens and homeless shelters, so that you can make more money personally off of luxury suites.

3. On a more serious note - if the Vikings leave, and they darned well might, Los Angeles is a better market than Minnesota, we will become the instant poster-child of cities where OTHER teams will move. Teams like the Chiefs, the Saints, and even the Cardinals will threaten to leave to go to far bigger revenue markets (for the former) and a big fat payout (for the latter). The city will have to pay a huge bill - which even adjusted for inflation will exceed the cost of a new stadium. And the thing of it is is - the people of Minnesota are likely (read almost certain) to NOT agree to let this happen.

Instead they are going to agree to "bail-out" multi-millionaire football players and multi-billionaire owners. The NFL makes FAR more than enough to build this and every other stadium it "needs" 10 times over and then some. It is 'King of the Hill' in sports, raking in billions annually in profits alone. Why Wilf (and the NFL) want this stadium is pretty simple, for Wilf it's because (iirc) he doesn't have to share revenue on luxury box receipts, so he PERSONALLY will make a LOT more money. His comment about how he can't compete because of lower revenue is crap - the NFL has a salary cap which makes up the vast majority of his costs (he gets use of the stadium for nearly free), and revenue sharing alone nearly ensures he has enough money to cover the cap. He is making money, he's just not making as much as he wants to. The NFL wants shiny new stadiums paid for by the public because it makes it's ownership more wealthy (and after all, it is just a collection of good ole' boys). These guys need a bail-out about as much as Goldman Sachs needed TARP money to pay bonuses. Besides that, when a team moves, the NFL - ALL the teams in the NFL - get typically tens of millions each in payments by the city that pays the NFL license fee to get the team to move there.

But, we'll be sold a bill of goods by the likes of the StarTribune, that this will create jobs, or increase tax revenue (which in flat terms, revenues are higher of course, but then again they go to PAY for things like, oh, stadiums). There won't be hard questions like - "So Ziggy, isn't there a salary cap, and don't you get plenty of money from revenue sharing that in fact you're MORE than turning a profit?" We won't because the "Strib" isn't interested in meaningful journalism on this subject, they hold pretty sizable chunks of land downtown on which any new stadium development will drive up the value, and we won't because supposed "Conservatives" like Lileks, the ones who ought to be hawks about gov'mint spending, will once again show they have no balls other than baseballs or footballs, and will use their columns to poke a little at politicians all the while hoping no one notices the vast hypocrisy of questioning the politicians while hoping like hell they (the Politicians) bite the bullet and in fact DO pony up the cash.

We as a state need to decide whether aiding the indigent elderly, the Downs syndrome kids, or even just keeping our state college tuition within reach of the average middle class family, is more or less important than our very cathartic release brought to us each Sunday by the Vikings (or any other team we'd be held hostage to bring here). It's time we to take a 'gut check' and make the right call. Clearly our political leaders won't, and equally clearly, neither will our journalistic conscience's like Lileks. Sports is the vast pablum of the masses, but that doesn't mean we get to sleep ALL the time - we as a nation (and state) face a vast problem of dwindling paychecks and soaring costs - shall we add yet another to make a set of wealthy old men a little more wealthy? If James Lileks wants to know how to pay for this, there is a simple answer, start a trend that MAYBE the rest of the country will learn from. Show some guts, gets some literary cojones (sic) and tell em' to do it with their "own" money! Consider it your DIY project for the 2010's. After all, between paying the gate receipts, parking, for NFL merchandise and advertising portions of the products we buy, we've already paid you more than enough money to freaking build it yourself!


  1. I would have been happier if my esteemed colleague hadn't referred to our governor as "Timmy", out of respect for the office even if he might despise the office holder.

    That minor criticism aside, I would have no problem with a publicly funded stadium that belonged to the public, if it were demonstrated that the public money could build it and run it primarily for the benefit of the public. And if the public could afford to make the investment necessary. Big big big IFs.

    I have a problem believing the Vikings would be willing to pay a fair going rate that would give a public stadium even a reasonable, modest profit.

    SHOULD the government be in the 'stadium business'? Maybe, maybe not. If there is a multi-use facility that benefits a broad spectrum of the public, arguably yes. Quality of life, including the quality of schools, theaters, and yes - sports teams - are a consideration both to businesses and individuals in locating or re-locating somewhere. IF this were a facility that could promote and attract conventions, concerts, other sports activities, etc. such that it made our metro competitive with other cities, this is a legitimate consideration.

    Naturally the Vikings are interested in what benefits them.

    And the public, both of the city where a stadium would be located AND the surrounding state, should likewise have a healthy and enlightened self-interest as well.

    I agree with Pen that the current proposal is too beneficial to the Vikes, and not nearly beneficial enough to the public.

  2. We call the office holder whatever we like. People who TRULY get bothered by it, as you well know, have far too thin skins.

  3. Well after a quick google on profits for NFL teams I found that for 2008 (might be 2007, article said it was 2008 profits but was written in sept 2008) only Detroit lost money. All the other teams ranged from 4.1 million to 58 million (Redskins). Cowboys were most valuable and about 3rd on the profit list, probably because of the money being dumped into the new stadium, Jerry Jones did at least pay half.

    Sometimes there is a need for a new stadium. The whole reason there has never been a super bowl in Dallas is the NFL rules say the stadium has to hold 75k and Texas stadium held 69k. That said I agree with Penn that they can pay for it themselves.

    The more I see teams threaten to move if they do not get a new stadium the more I think Green Bay has the right idea. The city of Green Bay owns the team (not sure if they own 100% or just a controlling interest). When Green Bay threatened to move the city said no and that was that. They did get a new stadium but not until the city was ready to build it. Also any money they make goes to the city so a new stadium to increase that was a decent investment. There is one other team owned by the city but I cannot recall which one, I think Cleveland or Cinncinatti.