THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
There is nothing lovable about the National Football League. It is just a business, a cold, austere organization that somehow has captured the attention of Americans with smoke, mirrors and on field action every minute and a half or so. The television production aspect of the National Football League is impressive, the pre-game shows loaded with laughter and exciting video, halftime shows loaded with laughter and exciting video, post game shows loaded with laughter and exciting video. The hype of games just played with analysis of play after play after play in slow motion with circles around the point of attack and the buildup of the next game.
The radio talk show hosts chirping about what might have been and what could be and the football scribes being stenographers with the words of wisdom coming from some coach or some general manager or some player as if it was inscribed on a tablet that just came down the mountain and had life changing importance.
The package is sold to the consumer who the NFL hopes devours all the information and sits in front of a TV on Sunday in a coma-like trance. The in-stadium production includes dancing girls and rock 'em-sock 'em videos complete with music for people who can afford the pricey tickets.
But the real NFL is a cold, calculating business and New Jersey's Zygi Wilf will be front and center as example No. 1 in the next month. Wilf's Minnesota Vikings on the field team is not very good this year. But that doesn't matter much. Wilf is headed to the "big game" on November 21 complete with the NFL's backing.
The "big game" will take place in the legislative chambers in St. Paul as Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has called a three-day session of the state legislature to once and for all find a funding mechanism so Wilf can secure a new stadium for his Vikings near the capital in Arden Hills, Minn.
On Tuesday the NFL told Dayton and the legislators to get it done or else Wilf may have to seek a solution to his woes outside the state. The estimated cost for the Arden Hills facility is $1.1 billion. Wilf and his Vikings partners apparently will put up $407 million for the construction and the NFL could lend Wilf another $150 million. The state and Ramsey County would raise the rest through a variety of options including proceeds from a "racino", a combination of a horse racing track with a casino.
The "or else" part could be that Wilf might move the franchise to Los Angeles if the legislators don't heed to the NFL's wishes.
People who put up money to support any sports team are always played for suckers.
In Minneapolis-St. Paul, taxpayers since 1956 have paid for two multi-purpose stadiums for baseball and football, a baseball stadium, a college football stadium, an indoor arena in Bloomington which no longer exists as the original multi-purpose stadium and the arena were bulldozed for a mall and two indoor arenas in St. Paul. The city of Minneapolis now owns a privately built arena for the NBA Timberwolves.
Taxpayers have put up more than a billion dollars for privately owned businesses and probably have not gotten back much on the investment except two Minnesota Twins World Series titles.
The area lost a hockey team (the NHL's North Stars) and a basketball team (the Lakers). The baseball team almost moved to the Tampa area and Greensboro, NC. The owners of the football team looked at moving to LA in the late 1970s.
Los Angeles is looming in the background if the legislatures don't say yes to the NFL.
But the NFL is not happy with the present Los Angeles option. Phil Anschutz's AEG unit is proposing to build a stadium allegedly with AEG backed funding but the deal doesn't make any sense for an NFL owner who would be a renter and not get the revenue streams from luxury boxes and club seats that municipalities or taxpayers can offer. AEG has to pay off the debt and while the NFL has not blasted Ed Roski's City of Industry stadium proposal east of LA, the same problem exists in that plan.
The NFL just a couple months ago locked out the league's employees---the players---because they wanted to control players’ salaries. Part of the lockout strategy was to get money from the players and use it to fund stadiums. The NFL told the San Francisco 49ers ownership not to seek funding from banks for a proposed Santa Clara, CA stadium until the lockout was over. During the lockout, the NFL was playing both ends. While dissuading the 49ers ownership from getting dollars for the Santa Clara building, the league was lobbying St. Paul lawmakers for money for a Vikings facility.
The entire sports industry is not every lovable and there is not a better illustration of that than looking at the Twin-Cities, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Los Angeles.
In the vagabond days of the National Basketball Association, Minneapolis was co-opted into the Basketball Association of America from the National Basketball League in 1948 because the team featured George Mikan. Minneapolis had won the 1947-48 National Basketball League title with Mikan but you won't find any existence of that fact in NBA annuals. The Basketball Association of America absorbed most of the NBL teams by 1949 and changed the league's name to the National Basketball Association. Minneapolis was the best team in the league and won a number of titles but when Mikan retired after 1954, the team went downhill on the court and attendance fell off. By 1957 it became clear Minneapolis was no longer going to support the Lakers and no new arena was on the horizon like the taxpayers subsidized multiple use stadium in Bloomington. The team owners looked at places like Kansas City and Houston but sold the team to Bob Short.