Thursday, May 10, 2012

Pay Now or Later

Vox Day offers up the most realistic argument in favor of state funding of a Vikings stadium that I've yet to come across:

This may sound wildly, even ludicrously hypocritical. No doubt people will assume it is because I am a diehard Vikings fan who wants the team to remain in Minnesota. But that actually has nothing to do with it. I readily concede the following:

1. It is ridiculous for an indebted state to give millions of dollars to a billionaire.

2. The new stadium will not boost the state's economy in the slightest

3. The new stadium will not save any jobs or maintain the tax base in any significant manner

4. It is not fair for non-NFL fans to subsidize the entertainment preferences of others

5. The stadium will cost more than is estimated and the state will be saddled with the cost overruns

So, why should they do it anyhow? Because I know Minnesota. If they stand firm and let the Vikings leave for Los Angeles - a profoundly stupid move on the NFL's part, since no matter what team goes there will end up moving eventually - they will end up spend three to five times more to lure a new team to the area. See: Lakers-Timberwolves and North Stars-Wild. Moreover, the new team will contribute nothing to the stadium cost because the stadium will have to be built before the team is courted. So it's not a choice between stupidly spending $400-$750 million now or not spending that money, it's a choice between stupidly spending $400-$750 million now and stupidly spending $1.5-$4 billion a few years from now. This doesn't mean I support public expenditure on team stadiums. I don't. I think the NFL ownership restrictions are a shameless scam and the Green Bay Packers have an ideal ownership model that is a proven success both on and off the field.

But I'm also cognizant of the reality that there is no chance that the same politicians who have been talking bravely about standing up the NFL will not turn around and be shamelessly kowtowing before it if they lose the team. They've done it before and they will do it again. They've already built stadiums for the Timberwolves, the Wild, the Twins, and the football Gophers, none of whom enjoy the support that the Vikings do. So, it's vastly preferable that they just get it over with now, when it's going to cost less and the team will pay some of the expense.

I agree with Vox's five points of contention against public financing of a stadium. But I also grant the legitimacy of his argument for paying less for a stadium today to preserve the legacy of a team we know versus paying more later for a franchise without a similar tradition. The North Stars-Wild example is especially relevant here. Even ignoring the significant costs differences between what it would have taken to keep the North Stars in town versus launching the Wild as a new franchise is the psychic toll that such an abandonment incurs. It took may years for me to really accept the Wild as Minnesota’s NHL team. And even then, the level of passion and commitment is simply not what it was in the days of the North Stars. Now, I recognize that this sentiment is not necessarily true for many or even most Wild fans today, but as evidenced by the continued popularity of North Stars apparel, there is still a longing in Minnesota for the good old days at Met Center.

I have no doubt that if the Vikings were to leave and Minnesota we were to receive a new NFL franchise at some point in the future, the feelings would be the same. Yes, it would be nice to have the NFL back in town again, but it wouldn’t be the same as the Vikings. I’m still ardently anti any state funding of a Vikings stadium. But of all the arguments in favor of the proposition that I’ve seen, Vox’s is by far the best.