One of the debates I’m glad I won’t be around to hear over the next couple of years is the predictable, dreary argument about whether the Vikings should get a new stadium.
That debate would have heated up soon anyway, since the Vikes’ lease with the Metrodome is in its last year or so. But the recent, rather spectacular collapse of the dome’s inflatable roof is going to bring the debate on even earlier. And the team, which will want the nicest stadium, with the maximum part of the bill footed by the state, will keep pointing to the collapse as empirical evidence that the Metrodome is totally useless and they won’t play there and if you don’t give us a better house, we’re going to move.
One of two things will happen: Either the taxpayers of Minnesota will foot the majority of the cost of a new place or the Vikings will move to Los Angeles (and probably change the team name to the “Surfer Dudes”). Here’s what most assuredly won’t happen: That the Vikings will pony up the full cost of a stadium. That just isn’t done any more.
Having gone through that in the last few years with a new stadium for the Twins, you’d think people would have learned something. It’s a pretty safe bet nobody did, though. The arguments will be virtually the same. Here’s a fun little experiment for you: Go back and find some old news stories about Target Field, cut and past them into a Word document, do a search and replace “Twins” with “Vikings” and see how much difference it makes. Won’t be much.
Folks here will be told over and over again how important the Vikings are to Minnesota’s identity, how you can’t be a “big league city” without a major pro sports franchise, how they’re part of Minnesota’s history, on and on, ad nauseum. There will be plenty of political posturing from both sides, although the majority of that will be from the pro-stadium folks who don’t want to look too eager to raid the public cookie jar.
The only real difference this time is the multi-billion-dollar budget deficit Tim Pawlenty is leaving the state in so he can tilt at his presidential windmill. But that’ll probably be under control by the time the cookie-jar raid begins, so it won’t be the biggest part of the issue.
In the end, the debate is going to be like mating elephants. It’s going to be done at a very high level with a lot of bellowing.
Now, I’m actually a Vikings fan. They’ve been breaking my heart for more than 40 years. When they finally win the Super Bowl, just before the world ends I’ll be a happy man.
But let me be among the first to say something nearly identical to what I’ve said before: If you don’t live in the Twin Cities and you don’t watch the Vikings, there is absolutely no good argument why you, as a taxpayer, should put one red penny toward a new pro football stadium. You will not benefit from it in the least. You won’t get any of the economic benefits of having the Vikings stay. And you won’t be entertained by watching the games in person (nor, it should be said, will you see an increase in your stomach acid, given how the Vikes have been playing lately).
The problem with these kinds of political debates is that it’s hard to talk about them without sounding like you’re a member of the tinfoil-hat club. But the debate over things like public stadiums raise larger issues, things that really speak more to what one believes the purpose of government should be, how one would like to be governed.
For example – and this is going to make me sound like a Marxist, which I’m not, unless you count a fondness for Groucho – the stadium discussion will be very much a class issue. You won’t hear that talked about much, but it is.
The cheapest single-game ticket in the Metrodome starts at $39. Given that plus the price of food, parking, gas, the absolute minimal game experience for two people probably is going to cost at least $100. (By the way, I’ve watched a game from those seats and you’re far enough away that if you can rent the Hubble Telescope for a few hours, you might be able to make out the numbers on the jerseys.)
Obviously, enough people can afford that much for three or four hours of entertainment that they can fill the dome for every game. But there are more people who cannot afford that kind of expense. You just don’t see a lot of lower-middle-class folks in the stands on Sunday afternoons. For them, the talk about how much the Vikings mean to the Soul of Minnesota will be worse than useless; it’ll be an insult.
There’s just a whiff of ancient Rome in the whole idea of using public money to build the workplace for 100 or so very wealthy guys who beat each other up once a week. When children anywhere in this country are going to bed hungry – and trust me, it happens in Minnesota – use of public money for professional sports is completely and utterly morally indefensible.
But even if you hear that argument made, it’ll be ignored. The pro-stadium folks won’t even deign to answer it because they really have no answer.
So get ready for that posturing, for stiff doses of hot, crapola-scented air. You folks are going to have to put up with that for probably the next four to five years.
In the end, the rich folks will be happy. That’s what matters in America these days, isn’t it?