ST. PAUL, Minn. — NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II met with Minnesota governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders Friday, providing a “reality check” on the Minnesota Vikings’ struggle to get a new stadium built with help from public funding.
A House committee voted 9-6 on Monday against a $975 million stadium bill that seemed to have bipartisan support less than a month ago. The vote dealt a major blow to the Vikings’ decade-long quest to replace the outdated Metrodome.
“I believe they served us a reality check, and it’s very appreciated,” said Sen. Julie Rosen, an author of the current bill. “It’s time now to get this bill done.”
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There is concern about the recent setback — not just on the part of Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf but also the league, which has seen the Vikings rank 31st among 32 teams annually in stadium revenue.
With the growing viability the NFL will place a team in Los Angeles, the Vikings and Goodell have reiterated the need to get approval on a bill during the current legislative session. That session is scheduled to end April 30 but could be extended through May 21.
Goodell said his appearance wasn’t about threatening local legislative leaders but about sharing the concern the league has regarding the Vikings in Minnesota.
“There were no implied threats or any threats at all,” Goodell said. “What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution that works for the team and works for the community. This has been discussed here for several years, and I think the legislative leaders and the governor understand that the time is now. Let’s get this addressed.”
Goodell and Rooney, the chairman of the league’s stadium committee, met with Dayton and six legislative leaders for nearly an hour in Dayton’s office at the state capitol. Dayton and Goodell had spoken by phone on Thursday, but Friday’s meeting demonstrated the increased importance to both Dayton and the NFL.
The Vikings’ lease at the Metrodome ran out last year. In hopes of getting a new stadium during this legislative session, the Wilfs agreed to play the 2012 season in the Metrodome, creating a situation that keeps the team in town on a year-to-year basis. The Wilfs did not attend Friday’s meeting, nor did the Vikings have representation.
On Tuesday, Vikings spokesman Lester Bagley told reporters, “there is no next year” for a stadium bill.
“Well, they are frustrated,” Goodell said of the Wilfs. “But they are committed to this community. They want to be here. They recognize for them to continue to operate here successfully and field a competitive team, they need a new stadium. And I think there’s recognition by everyone in this community that a new stadium is needed.”
The Wilfs have maintained that they don’t want to move the team and have worked extensively with the legislature to get a deal done in Minnesota. But the presence of Goodell and Rooney should get the point across that the matter is gaining urgency.
“It seems like it was a productive meeting,” Rooney said. “When I got a call from the commissioner asking if I could come up here, I said, ‘Sure, we can do it after the draft.’ He said it was urgent and ‘You need to come right away.’ We came to express our concern about where the situation is and do everything we can to encourage that action needs to be taken now.”
The prospect of the team moving to Los Angeles was certainly a subject in the meeting, first broached by Minnesota legislators. Approval of league owners is required for both the sale and relocation of a franchise, along with other necessary requirements. But Dayton said that he was informed most of those commitments have been met. A move can’t be made now, but one could be approved before the 2013 season.
“There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about LA,” Rosen said. “We did thoroughly talk that, that is an open market. There is a feeling amongst some legislators and some in the state that they would never leave. I think it was good to hear from the NFL and from a very prominent team owner that they do have the right to move or to be sold. For us it was good to have everyone at the same table.”
Dayton has been in support of a stadium deal for months, and surprisingly the House committee vote Monday was largely struck down by Democratic leaders who went against the wishes of a Democratic governor.
The bill calls for the state to cover $398 million of the costs, with $150 million coming from the City of Minneapolis and $427 million covered by the Vikings, with the new stadium being built largely on the current Metrodome site. The bill was set for action later Friday in a Senate committee. If the bill were to get through the Senate, it could be revived in some way for a House vote.
“The fact that they came here today, very short notice and cleared their schedules, is something that indicates the importance that they attach to this decision, and the gravity of the situation and immediacy of the situation that faces the decision-makers here at the legislature in the next few days,” Dayton said.