Minnesota governor Mark Dayton just signed the midnight deal that state lawmakers struck with the owners of the Minnesota Vikings to build the team a new stadium. Players and management shook hands. Fans breathed a sigh of relief that their beloved football team would remain in the Gopher State. But some important parties were missing from the celebration: the taxpayers who are stuck with the check.
Both of us are sports fans — one a born-and-bred Vikings supporter, the other a Washington Capitals season-ticket holder who wrote his master’s thesis on the Olympics — but we recognize that most fans are hurt by such deals. That’s because they lead to increased taxes and higher prices, squeezing the average fan for the benefit of owners and sponsors. And that’s not even counting the overwhelming majority of taxpayers, regardless of fandom, who never set foot in these gladiatorial arenas.
Let’s look at this particular deal. The stadium costs $975 million on paper, with over half coming from public funds, $348 million from the state and $150 million from Minneapolis — not through parking taxes or other stadium-related user fees, but with a new city sales tax. In return, the public gets an annual $13 million fee and the right to rent out the stadium on non-game-days….
The reality of the Vikings deal is that the owners will gain the most, not taxpayers or fans. Taxpayers will bear most of the risk, while the expected increase in the franchise’s value will accrue wholly to the owners — who will also be free from facility-financing costs. The owners will also have new revenue opportunities in the form of higher ticket prices, club seats, stadium-naming rights, and advertising. With all these luxury goodies, the only fans who will be able to actually attend the games are those with luxury incomes, many of whom will surely be writing the cost off their taxes as a business expense.