On the heels of the controversial, but increasingly popular signing of a future hall of fame quarterback, two consecutive dramatic home victories, and an undefeated 4-0 start to the 2009 season, St. Paul is buzzing again with talk of a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.
But will all the good will the Vikings franchise is currently generating among die-hard and casual fans translate into hard currency for a new stadium that Vikings officials want the public to fund to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars?
GOP State Representative Tom Hackbarth (Cedar, District 48A), announced a plan this week that would use revenues from slot machines at existing horse racing facilities to fund the new stadium via constitutional amendment.
In his press release Hackbarth noted, “The Vikings are showing their commitment to building a winning franchise,” which may or may not be a nod to the recent signing of once-hated (by Minnesotans) but now celebrated quarterback Brett Favre.
The problems facing a new Vikings stadium in the near future are multifold – even if the state was not facing continued massive deficits that are projected in the coming budget cycles.
The “It’s our turn now” mantra put forth by the Vikings organization is an outgrowth of the always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride legislative outcomes over the past decade which saw the Vikings on the sidelines as the Minnesota Twins and University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team saw their stadium deals signed, sealed, and delivered.
But the truth is that while the Vikings may be the most popular franchise in the state, they have had the least public support for a new stadium between the three organizations in the current exodus-from-the-Metrodome era.
For example, back in January 2004, a Pioneer Press / MPR poll found only 33 percent of Minnesotans believed it was “very” or “somewhat” important to come up with a public-private financing plan for a Minnesota Vikings stadium, compared to 37 percent for the Twins and 43 percent for the Gophers. That poll was taken right after a 9-7 season in which the Vikings had improved three games from the prior year.
In May 2006, a Star Tribune poll asked 725 Minnesotans which team needed a new stadium the most, and while a plurality 29 percent volunteered ‘none,’ the Vikings had the least support at 13 percent, with the Twins at 23 percent and the Gophers at 21 percent. That poll also followed a 9-7 Vikings season.
The second major hurdle – in or out of an economic recession – has been the failure of the Vikings organization to drum up public support for state financing of a new stadium, even with semi-veiled threats that the team might one day leave the state. Over the past several years the public financing option has been D.O.A. as far as the views of Gopher State residents are concerned. In fact, support seems to be declining:
· Back in May 2006, a Star Tribune poll found 73 percent of Minnesotans opposed to using any public money for a new Vikings stadium. Only 25 percent supported the measure.
· An April 2007 SurveyUSA poll also found 73 percent of Gopher State residents in opposition for the use of state tax money to pay for a new Vikings stadium. Just 24 percent were in favor of tax money being used.
· Later that fall, in September 2007, 79 percent opposed the use of state funding to help pay for a $954 million stadium complex on the current Metrodome site. Only 15 percent thought state funding should be used.
· In May 2009, a Rasmussen poll found 75 percent of Minnesotans against using taxpayer money to build a Vikings stadium, with just 12 percent in favor of such a measure.
Interestingly, back in May, the Rasmussen survey also found Minnesota residents by more than a 6:1 margin to be less likely to support the use of tax dollars to build a Vikings stadium if the team signed Brett Favre (44 percent) rather than more likely to support such a measure (7 percent).
Favre’s blazing start for the Vikings may have changed some minds – the question is how much do Minnesotans truly bleed purple?
When the team is losing – not so much.
Back in 2001, when the Vikings were en route to their worst record (5-11) since 1984, a Star Tribune poll found only 42 percent of Gopher State residents described themselves to be a “real fan” of the team.
That number is likely on the rise…so long as the Vikes don’t lose at St. Louis this Sunday.
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