The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 15, 2012

Our View: Dayton veers on Vikings seat licenses

The Free Press

— While it is not surprising to find a populist politician criticizing the billionaires who own major sports franchises, Gov. Mark Dayton's recent shotgun blast at the Vikings for exploring seat license fees seems odd and out of place at best.

When the Vikings sent a survey to some season ticket holders asking their opinion of the seat license fees, Dayton fired off a letter to owners Mark and Zygi Wilf laced with populist points one might expect of a Democratic governor.

He excoriated the Vikings for abandoning the idea of building a "People's Stadium" and now reaching for a "Rich People's Stadium." Seat licenses can cost thousands of dollars and only then give fans the right to buy season tickets. Selling seat licenses is a common practice in pro sports.

Dayton's criticism loses its punch when the facts become involved in this fight. Selling seat licenses were clearly an option for the Vikings in the $1 billion stadium deal struck last year, a deal Dayton pushed for aggressively.

So his opposition to such a provision is now puzzling. He apparently told the Star Tribune he was not aware of the provision for seat licenses. But a Dayton spokesperson said the governor mainly objected to the high prices and presumably not the seat licenses themselves. Still, seat licenses were discussed openly during the negotiations and, at one point, the state negotiators were using an estimate of revenue from seat licenses when putting together the deal. Such user fees were even a desirable way to finance the stadium.

We all understand major pro sports has become major big business. That the Vikings are looking to maximize revenue and profit where the market will bear it can hardly be a surprise. About half of all NFL teams uses seat licenses as revenue generators. And while fans can see them as an onerous expense, they actually have resale value and that may increase depending on team success or other factors.

Still, charging average fans upwards of $20,000 to gain seat licenses would be out of bounds and outside the spirit of the Vikings stadium deal. The Vikings say they realize they could not charge those kind of prices.

Dayton said he may block the sale of seat licenses, presumably through the state's influence over the sports authority that will manage the stadium. Such restrictions would be unnecessary and counterproductive.

The Vikings should also understand that outrageous license fees that prohibit average middle class, loyal fans from buying season tickets would not be good business.