LOS ANGELES -- It looks as if the NFL once again pulled out its favorite trump card Friday while talking to Minnesota lawmakers about passing a financial package to build the Minnesota Vikings a new stadium.
“There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about L.A. We did clearly talk about that [being] an open market," Minnesota Sen. Julie Rosen said. "I do believe there is a feeling in some legislators and even in some folks throughout the state that they would never leave. So it was good to hear from the NFL, and from a very prominent owner, that they do have the right to move or be sold.”
With all due respect to Sen. Rosen, the NFL has used the “L.A. is an open market” line for the past 17 years since the Raiders and Rams left the No. 2 media market in the country in 1995 for Oakland and St. Louis, respectively. To their credit, the line has worked remarkably well. Since 1995, 21 new stadiums have been built for 22 teams in the NFL with most of them largely funded by a public sector fearful of losing its team if the local government doesn't chip in to build a new stadium.
Minnesota lawmakers wasted little time jumping at the NFL's threat Friday as a Minnesota Senate committee narrowly approved a public subsidy to help the Vikings build a new football stadium mere hours after after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell visited the state capital. The stadium bill still faces a long road in the final 10 days of Minnesota's legislative session but there is at least some hope now.
There is still, however, the very real possibility that a majority of Minnesota lawmakers could scoff at the idea of the public sector largely funding a new Vikings stadium during a recession. If that happens, could that decision ultimately lead to the NFL returning to Los Angeles? The answers, or at least some educated guesses, can be found below.
Could the Minnesota Vikings really move to Los Angeles?
If you ask those who have been working toward getting the Vikings a new stadium in Minnesota for the past decade, the answer to that question will likely be answered by Minnesota’s political leaders over the next 10 days. After plans for a $975 million proposed stadium failed in committee a few days ago, the Vikings and the NFL urged Minnesota to raise the stadium issue again before the Minnesota state legislature finishes its current session at the end of the month, which seems likely at this point after Friday's news.
Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II flew to St. Paul, Minn. on Friday to meet with Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to let them know the importance of getting the stadium proposal to a full floor vote and not having the issue die in committee as it did earlier this session. In their eyes, a failure to vote will be viewed as a no vote and the Vikings and the league would be forced to explore other options at that time. Either way, this is an issue that simply cannot be pushed aside until 2013. If it drags into next year, the Vikings could very well look to move to Los Angeles rather than play another year at the Metrodome and go through another round of political hurdles and hallow promises.
Why do the Vikings want to leave Minnesota?
It’s not so much Minnesota as it is the Metrodome. The Vikings' lease with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission to play in the Metrodome expired after the 2011 season, leaving the Vikings as the lone team in the NFL without a current home. They will play the upcoming season in the Metrodome, but the Vikings don’t want to commit to anything past this season without a new stadium plan in place.
Long before the roof of the Metrodome collapsed in 2010, forcing the Vikings to play two home games at Detroit’s Ford Field and then the University of Minnesota, the team’s ownership has considered the venue inadequate. It is one of the 10 oldest stadiums in the NFL, and under the Vikings’ lease with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, which was signed in 1979, the commission owns the stadium and the Vikings simply rent it.
“It’s challenging from both a fan experience and from a revenue and competiveness experience,” said Lester Bagley, Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development. “Right now we’re significantly subsidized by other NFL teams because of the Metrodome and the lack of revenue. The Metrodome is no longer an NFL facility and it can no longer sustain a team and is not a viable long-term solution.”
Would Zygi Wilf be the one to move the Vikings or would someone else do it?
New Jersey real estate magnate Zygi Wilf, 63, and a group of investors bought the Vikings from Red McCombs in 2005 for $600 million. At the time McCombs had unsuccessfully tried to get a new stadium for the Vikings for years and now Wilf is in the same boat. Wilf isn't currently looking to sell the team, but has met with AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke, who is the former CEO of the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“We’ve followed the situation in Los Angeles through the NFL and we know Tim Leiweke, who is a former sports executive in Minneapolis,” Bagley told ESPNLosAngeles.com last year. “We’ve been in contact with Tim and he provides us with updates but our focus is on getting a new stadium in Minnesota. That’s our plan A and we don’t have a plan B.”
If the Vikings are unable to get a new stadium plan in place by 2012, Wilf could very well look to sell the team to someone who could move the Vikings to Los Angeles. With no new stadium plan in place, it would be hard for Wilf to sell to someone wanting to keep the team in Minnesota and at the Metrodome. And while the league normally doesn’t allow teams to be sold to owners looking to relocate, NFL executive vice president Eric Grubman said if the new owners of the Vikings filed for relocation after purchasing the team, the league would certainly be open to that possibility in light of the stadium situation in Minnesota and the league’s failed efforts to get a new stadium in the area.
Who could potentially buy the Vikings and move them to Los Angeles?
There are currently two stadium and ownership options in Los Angeles and both groups have already reached out to the Vikings. Real estate magnate Ed Roski, 74, wants to buy a team and build a 75,000-seat stadium to be the centerpiece of a 600-acre site on the northern side of the 57 and 60 freeway interchange in Industry, Calif. The site is currently vacant but following the construction of the stadium would be revamped into an entertainment and retail complex. His old friend and billionaire, Philip Anschutz, 72, is the principal financial backer of the other proposal. Anschutz wants to buy a team and build a 75,000-seat stadium in downtown Los Angeles that would be connected and serve as an extension to a remodeled Los Angeles Convention Center next to Staples Center. Roski’s project is currently “shovel ready” while Anschutz’s project will likely be in position to push dirt in March 2013 once it has an approved environmental impact report, which is expected early next year.
What would the timeline be for relocation if that were the plan?
NFL bylaws state that the NFL commissioner must receive written notice from a team wishing to relocate no later than Feb. 15 of the year in which the move is scheduled to occur. So the Vikings have until Feb. 15, 2013 to decide if they want to relocate. Chances are something will happen well before then, especially if Wilf wants to sell the team and give the new owners enough time to file for relocation. Once a team files for relocation, NFL owners would vote on it at their March meetings and if it were approved, construction would then begin on the new stadium and the Vikings would likely play in either the Coliseum or the Rose Bowl temporarily until their new stadium was ready, which would most likely be in 2017.
If the Vikings moved would Minnesota get to keep the Vikings’ name, colors and history?
That’s a decision that would be up to the owners and the league but it’s very likely that if the Vikings moved to Los Angeles they would be rebranded and renamed and Minnesota would be allowed to keep their name, colors and history, much like in Cleveland with the Browns. Los Angeles wants a new team of their own while the NFL wants to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and wants to have a presence in the Twin Cities. If for whatever reason that isn’t possible now and the Vikings are forced to relocate, the city would remain in the mix to get a franchise as soon as it had a new stadium plan in place. As Los Angeles football fans can tell you, however, that wait can last a generation if you lose a team.