Stadium backers try to decipher Dayton's objections to seat licensesby Tim Nelson, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn. — You might call it builder's remorse.
Six months after he led the state to a stadium deal with the Minnesota Vikings, Gov. Mark Dayton is thinking about changing the terms and potentially rebooting the process of replacing the Vikings home.
The problem is so-called Personal Seat Licenses, a one-time fee charged to ticket holders. Licenses let fans claim a specific seat in a stadium and work like football-based real estate. They've been sold in more than a dozen other NFL markets, mostly to finance new or renovated stadiums.
In places like Dallas, a license might cost as much as $100,000 per seat — a figure that is causing sticker shock, and even outrage for fans in Minnesota. Seat licenses have raised hundreds of millions of dollars for stadiums in places like San Francisco, although many of those sell for a couple of thousand dollars each, and not for the price of a second mortgage.
Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle say the prospect of selling personal seat licenses to Vikings fans should be no surprise, despite Dayton's concerns.
Officials say the controversial financing plan was discussed repeatedly during the stadium debate. Stadium backers say the seat licenses may be better deal.
"PSLs were always in the mix. There was never a question; never an amendment to take them out," said state Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont. "That was part of their funding mechanism."
Rosen was chief author of the stadium bill in the state Senate this spring. Personal seat licenses were discussed at length in the Senate tax committee, as well as in the House, before the stadium bill won final passage in May.
Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen said a survey of ticket holders by the Vikings included some of those five-figure numbers in questions about the new stadium.
"Apparently there were a lot of different examples, and some of them were $20,000 a seat, $30,000 a seat. I don't think the market in Minnesota probably could bear that anyway," Kelm-Helgen said. "I don't think realistically that's something we're looking at, but those are the kind of numbers people are concerned about."
But unlike the governor, Kelm-Helgen would not rule out the idea altogether. In state law, her agency is responsible for actually selling the licenses — the proceeds of which are to go to stadium construction. Kelm-Helgen said she does not want to price fans out of the market.
"Something that's in a range that's more financially reasonable. And it also depends on which seats," Kelm-Helgen said. "It's one thing if you do it in club areas and kind of premium seating areas, like the Twins did. It's another thing if you do it throughout the entire stadium, for example. But we just haven't had those conversations."
Another stadium bill sponsor believes that the problem is that the Vikings started gauging the market on their own, without input from the state.
"What I hear the governor saying is that the Vikings can't act unilaterally. They don't get to just do PSLs," said Terry Morrow of St. Peter was the chief DFL sponsor of the stadium bill in the House.
But he doesn't think the licenses should be ruled out, either.
"Moving forward, if the Vikings believe that PSLs are an important part of the stadium funding plan, that they sit down with the stadium authority, and come up with a system and a fee structure that works for Minnesotans," Morrow said, "so that we don't bar Minnesotans from being able to actually able to buy tickets to Vikings games."
Stadium supporter Morrie Lanning said fans might actually want licenses, rather than just fund the stadium through higher ticket prices. Now retired, Lanning was the GOP sponsor of the bill in the House.
"It's an asset that you can sell down the road, so whatever investment you put into it, you can pass it along to your heirs, or you can sell it," Lanning said. "It's possible that there could be an appreciated value in it, too."
Lanning said he thinks the governor's objections are now going to make the licenses a harder sell, and raise the prospect of kicking off a new stadium battle at the Capitol.
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- All Things Considered, 11/14/2012, 5:20 p.m.