Vikings, NFL may need to use the ‘M’ word

ST. PAUL, Minn. — For years, Minnesota Vikings owners Mark and Zygi Wilf have tried to be patient and work with state legislators to find a solution for replacing the outdated Metrodome.

A process that started under previous owner Red McCombs and continued when the Wilfs bought the team in 2005 has led nowhere. The Vikings still play in the Metrodome, where they rank 31st out of 32 NFL teams annually in stadium revenue, and the struggle to get a new facility has lasted so long that Minnesota’s lease in the building ended after last season.

To the Wilfs’ credit, they have resisted threatening to move the Vikings elsewhere. But maybe now is the time to threaten, even if it doesn’t come from the Wilfs.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell came to Minnesota on Friday to meet with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders. The steely Goodell walked into Dayton’s office Friday morning straight-faced and flanked by Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney, the head of the NFL’s stadium committee. It was a meeting for both sides to share the facts of the current situation, and Goodell did his part to stress the importance of getting a new stadium approved during this legislative session.

He said there were no threats made about a potential Vikings move.

“What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution that works for the team and works for the community,” Goodell said. “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.”

Perhaps threats are what are needed to advance the conversation. The Wilfs have remained resolute in wanting to keep the Vikings in Minnesota and have only been focused on a stadium solution here. Their patience hasn’t been rewarded.

Most recently, a House committee struck down the current stadium bill by a 9-6 vote on Monday, and that kicked off the recent talks between Dayton and Goodell, though, on Friday, a Senate committee revived the stadium bill with a vote of 8-6. The same old rhetoric largely continues to be offered instead of action: “Why should public money be used to build a million dollar stadium for a billionaire owner?”

That’s fair. But the more pressing question that needs to be asked is this: Does the state of Minnesota want the Vikings to stick around?

The fact is, even though the Wilfs and Goodell haven’t gotten around to threats yet, moving is an option. Goodell made clear the viability for a team to relocate to Los Angeles grows by the day.

Goodell’s meeting with Dayton and legislative leaders was a step in the right direction, but how does one showing by the NFL commissioner sway the legislature? If a single visit by Goodell was all that was needed, why has the situation reached this critical stage?
If a threat wasn’t issued in Friday’s meeting, maybe that’s the next step. With the legislative session ending in just a few weeks, the clock is ticking.

The Wilfs were noticeably absent Friday. One of their planes has reportedly landed in the L.A. area. The two have worked extensively in the past with Dayton and local legislators, but Friday was about Goodell and the league using their influence. Friday, the presence of Goodell and Rooney did the talking for the Wilfs.

If the Wilfs aren’t willing to be the tough guys, maybe Goodell is.

Goodell is no stranger to using a heavy hand. He’s been willing to rule strongly in controversial cases during his time as commissioner most recently Bountygate and saw the league through last summer’s lockout. Legislators can be assured he would have no problem playing the role of bad guy against politicians if an agreement can’t be reached.

There are alternatives for the Wilfs. Whether they decide to move or sell, L.A. is just a phone call away, and it’s hard to imagine that running a team there wouldn’t be more profitable. The Wilfs are from New Jersey, and while they’ve expressed the desire to keep Vikings in Minnesota, they don’t have any personal ties to the state.

The Vikings will move if there isn’t a solution.

“I believe they served us a reality check, and it’s very appreciated,” said Minnesota Sen. Julie Rosen, an author of the current bill.

“They were here basically to say, ‘This is it folks,'” Dayton said.

The Wilfs haven’t said those words yet. Maybe the legislators in Minnesota need to hear them, even if they come from the NFL itself.

Follow Brian Hall on Twitter