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Vikings and Gophers at stadium impasse
Plans for a football stadium to be shared by the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota Vikings hit a snag when Vikings officials rejected a proposed on-campus site. The setback comes just as a design study is due to the state Legislature and has put on hold the partnership between the university and the Vikings. The plan for a joint-facility would have been unique in the NFL and some say for a good reason: professional and collegiate sports don't necessarily mix.

St. Paul, Minn. — On the field, and to the casual observer, there might seem little to distinguish the needs of the Minnesota Vikings and the University's Golden Gophers. After all, a touchdown is a touchdown.

But sports economist Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Massachusetts says one should keep in mind that pro-sports is big business. Zimbalist says Vikings owner Red McCombs is, no doubt, interested in maximizing revenues from any new stadium and has little incentive to compromise to meet the needs of the university.

"Given the opportunity that Mr. McCombs would have to sell the team to an individual who would place it in another city or the opportunity that Mr. McCombs himself would have to take it to another city such as Los Angeles, he is probably going to hold out for what he thinks he ought to deserve," Zimbalist says. "So I think it's an inherently problematic proposition."

Vikings officials declined to comment for this story, but last week they sent a letter to the university rejecting a proposed on-campus site and leaving their partnership in question. University vice-president Richard Pfutzenreuter says the team was concerned about, among other things, transportation infrastructure around the site. But he says he was also surprised to hear the team's expectations for generating revenue.

"They wanted this facility to be used, if possible, seven days a week for everything from World Cup soccer to boat shows to auto shows to convention centers to rock concerts to truck pulls," Pfutzenreuter says. "They were interested in having this facility leveraged a great deal."

The Arizona Cardinals are the only NFL team to play in an on-campus, collegiate facility. But a team spokesman says their partnership with the Arizona State Sun Devils has been problematic. The facility was built in the 1950's for college football. It lacks the modern amenities NFL fans are accustomed to and the Cardinals are actively seeking a field of their own. Still, the situation in Arizona is different.

If the University of Minnesota and the Vikings come to agreement, a new stadium could be designed to fit both their needs. And state lawmakers say the two should keep at it.

"They better work out their differences," House Speaker Steve Sviggum says. "It's not high on our agenda, but if and when we talk about stadiums, there's no way that the Legislature would look at building two stadiums. They better get together."

Despite the warning from Sviggum, and similar thoughts from governor-elect Tim Pawlenty, university officials say they have limited control over the situation.

"Maybe I'm missing something, but I'm not sure what leverage the university has on this," Pfutzenreuter says. "If the university had any leverage on this, why did the Vikings walk away? If we had any leverage on them, they wouldn't have walked away. They walked away. They decided this site didn't work."

Zimbalist says Minnesotans shouldn't be surprised if the Vikings hint they'll move the team out-of-state if their needs aren't met. And McCombs has, since last May, been exploring options to sell or relocate the franchise. But Zimbalist says McCombs would need league approval. He says it's not obvious the NFL would support a relocation.

"I think that ultimately it's a problematic move if the NFL allows Minneapolis-St. Paul to be without an NFL team," Zimbalist says.

But Zimbalist says that doesn't mean the league won't encourage talk of relocation in hopes of securing a better deal in Minnesota. Zimbalist says he would advise Minnesota policy-makers to treat with suspicion any talk of moving the team out of the Twin Cities.

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