By Ken Reed

After having to fork over millions (and eventually billions) in a couple of the latest taxpayer-financed stadium scams, the owners of the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Marlins are showing their gratitude by telling fans, “It’s time to get screwed again.”

Vikings owners Zigi and Mark Wilf are attempting to make their most loyal fans, season-ticket holders, pay a “personal seat license” (PSL) fee — basically, requiring a big chunk of change for the right to purchase season tickets — to help lessen the amount the Wilfs will have to pay on the new stadium.  Minnesota taxpayers are already being fleeced for $498 million to build a shiny new palace for the Wilfs to make gobs of money in.  However, that’s not enough for the Wilfs.  Now they want to tap season-ticket holders for millions more via personal seat licenses.

Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, the Wilf’s biggest cheerleader during the stadium scheming process, is now trying to reinvent himself as a fans’ advocate. In a letter to the Wilf’s, Dayton said he strongly disagrees with “shifting any part of the team’s responsibility for those [stadium] costs onto Minnesota Vikings fans. This Private Contribution is your responsibility, not theirs.”  He said he’s opposed to the new Vikings’ stadium becoming a “Rich People’s Stadium” instead of the “People’s Stadium.”

Nice sentiments Governor, and right on, but why did you sign the stadium deal earlier this year that gave the Wilfs the right to do PSLs?  Don’t you remember doing that?  Back when you were in the owners’ pocket?  The PSL issue was even covered in legislative testimony before you signed the deal.  Why were you silent then Governor?  And if you’re going to all of sudden be a fans’ advocate, why stop at the PSL issue?  How about calling out the Wilfs for forcing season-ticket holders to buy tickets to two meaningless exhibition games every year?  Or for the obscene concession prices they charge at Vikings games?

The situation is even uglier in Miami, where Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria has just completed a massive fire sale, trading virtually all the team’s best players for a group of misfits and a couple bags of balls.  In the salary dump, Loria will pocket $100 million or more in savings.  Salary dumps are a traditional slap in the face to loyal fans but this case is especially egregious because Miami taxpayers just built Loria a shiny new stadium last year (about $500 million of the $600 million stadium cost will come from taxpayers … make that about $2.4 billion out of taxpayer pockets by the time the bonds are paid off in 40 years or so, as Patrick Hruby points out in an excellent piece at Sports on Earth.

“It should not be permitted to happen,” writes Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote today.  “Loria has a moral obligation to the county, city and taxpayers who substantially built the stadium for him. He has an obligation to the fans who were promised consistent competitive spending and now feel fleeced, duped.”

Of course it shouldn’t be permitted to happen.  But there’s nothing anybody can do about it because as a country we’ve seen fit to allow pro sports leagues to operate as unregulated cartels.  Basically, the owners can do whatever they want.

In the ’70’s, Oakland A’s owner Charlie Finley tried a Loria-like fire sale with his team.  Commissioner Bowie Kuhn stepped in and disallowed a good portion of Finley’s moves, utilizing his “best interests of the game” clause.  Well, MLB owners got rid of the last real commissioner, Fay Vincent, and put an owner’s puppet in his place, Bud Selig.  Selig’s one-and-only-job is to help owners profit-at-all-costs.  You can be sure that Selig won’t be stepping in to nullify Loria’s trades.  Loria can stick it to Miami fans and taxpayers all he wants.

Loria has no shame.  Neither do the Wilfs.  Or the vast majority of their fellow pro sports barons.

There’s only one way out of this mess:  the community ownership model of the Green Bay Packers.  The Packers are owned by the fans, the local community.  What a great concept….

Unfortunately, the NFL has formally banned any additional ownership models like the Packers’.  MLB and the NBA have informally followed suit.

As fans, we’re all screwed … unless we collectively fight to change the very structure of pro sports in this country.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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