ST. PAUL, Minn. – Minnesota's latest stadium snag has the NFL publicly questioning the state's interest in keeping the Vikings and league Commissioner Roger Goodell is concerned enough that he's coming for another visit.
Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney will meet with legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton at the Minnesota Capitol on Friday to urge progress on the struggling effort to build a new home for the Vikings. By a 9-6 vote, a House committee struck down a $975 million stadium bill on Monday, dealing a major blow to the team's decade-long effort to get taxpayer help for a Metrodome replacement.
"A failure to bring this to the floor is going to be perceived by the ownership and other cities as if it came to the floor and it were voted no," Eric Grubman, the league's vice president for operations, said Thursday.
The group will meet in Dayton's office.
"If it isn't passed this session, the league itself — beyond the Vikings — the league itself has serious concerns about the viability of the franchise here and the future of it here," Dayton said after a 20-minute phone conversation with Goodell and Rooney on Thursday.
So what's the harm in waiting another year, after elections are over this fall? Grubman declined to directly answer that.
"It's easier to answer why it must happen this year. It's because the Vikings ownership has waited and waited for years. Because if there's no action taken this year then there's no confidence it's worth waiting any longer," he said. "If that's where this gets to then Minnesota loses control of the Vikings' destiny. That doesn't mean it's going to go to one city or another, it just means that you can't count on it."
Legislative leaders said they were open to meeting with Dayton and the NFL officials on Friday, but Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem questioned how seriously lawmakers should take the suggestion that failure to pass a bill this year could cost Minnesota the Vikings.
"I think we've had this so-called warning around here for five or 10 years, so I'm not sure it's a threat," said Senjem, R-Rochester. He later added: "I think the Vikings are probably going to be around another year or so."
The Vikings have declined to make lead owner Zygi Wilf or team president Mark Wilf available for comment this week.
"In order to buy, there has to be a willing seller. It's very hard to find owners who are willing to sell," Grubman said. "The Wilfs, I don't believe they've ever been open-minded to selling. If this fails to get out of committee, then I think they'd be open-minded."
To becoming the Los Angeles Vikings?
Approval of three-fourths — 24 of 32 — of the league's owners is required for both the sale and relocation of a franchise. The league's rules say the NFL doesn't favor relocation for well-supported clubs, but relocation "may be available, however, if a club's viability in its home territory is threatened by circumstances that cannot be remedied by diligent efforts" of the team and the league.
The Vikings are the most popular team in a crowded market and haven't had a home game blacked out in 15 years. But putting a team back in Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest market, would be a financial boost to the league. Other NFL owners have expressed frustration over the years about the lack of stadium action here.
No move is permissible or practical this year, but there's always 2013. The Vikings are no longer legally bound by a lease to stay here. They've been contacted before by two separate groups trying to lure a team and build a stadium in Los Angeles but have said, for now, they're not interested in selling.
"But a purchase could happen at any time," Grubman said.
Relocation notice for a given year must be given by Feb. 15. Grubman said the Toronto market is also considered a viable option for an NFL team along with Los Angeles.
Senjem said he still considered it realistic the stadium bill could get a vote in a legislative session that's likely to wrap up within weeks or less, perhaps even as early as Friday in that chamber's Local Government Committee. Senate Democratic Leader Tom Bakk — a stadium backer — said Democratic members of the committee were willing to give it the votes necessary to keep it alive and moving at the Capitol.
Bakk said the league had a right to come out in support of the stadium bill.
"The only reason we have a competitive team on the field in Minnesota is because of the league's revenue-sharing that comes to the Vikings' owner," Bakk said. "The other owners probably aren't very happy about sending a bunch of money to Minnesota to pump up the salary structure of our team."
Working against the Vikings is sports facility fatigue and the economic downturn. They're the last team in line after stadiums have been built recently for baseball's Twins and the University of Minnesota football team. Twelve years ago, a new hockey arena opened.
The morning after the House committee vote, Dayton said the stadium issue might have to wait until next year. But he changed his tune Thursday, saying he had been convinced by new notes of urgency expressed by both Vikings executives and NFL officials. The day after the vote, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley said that "there is no next year" for a stadium bill.
He wouldn't elaborate on what that meant.
Dayton said the Wilfs have been careful not to make any threats.
Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant, said the Vikings would be wise to stay on that road. In Houston and Cleveland in the 1990s, threats were made and the Oilers and the Browns moved to other cities after backlash toward team owners soured those relationships.
Ganis said he doesn't think Goodell will make threats either, but rather caution Minnesota leaders not to "look to the NFL to backstop you."
"One would hope that the leaders of Minnesota are savvy enough to understand that the revocation of comfort is one step removed from action, so that a threat does not need to be and ought not to be conveyed," Ganis said.
Campbell reported from Minneapolis.