Saved out of the clutches of California

Minnesota Vikings fans are breathing a sigh of relief, reports the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

After a grinding week of late nights and marathon floor sessions, the state Senate granted final approval to a new Minnesota Vikings stadium on the final day of the legislative session. …

The Senate approved the $975 million project on a vote of 36-30 amid cheers from Vikings fans in the gallery. The House gave final approval to the bill at 3:30 a.m., after the team agreed to kick in an extra $50 million.

Foes and supporters predicted Senate passage, although not without a bumpy ride. The plan to build a new stadium on the site of the Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis, with the state share funded by a huge expansion of bar-gambling, still has many critics.

But they don’t appear to have the support to stop the bill from reaching Gov. Mark Dayton, the stadium project’s most ardent supporter at the Capitol.

Amazing what the junction of sports teams threatening to leave and election years can accomplish, isn’t it? The project is supposed to be funded by electronic bingo and pull-tabs, and should those revenue sources be insufficient, a 10% admissions tax on “stadium luxury seats” and a sports-themed lottery game.

The amazing thing is that Leif Ericson Field, or whatever it’s going to be called, will cost more than every stadium project in the Twin Cities since 1990 combined – the $412 million Target Field in St. Paul, the $303.4 million University of Minnesota TCF Bank Stadium, the $130 million Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the $104 million Target Center in Minneapolis, and the $20 million University of Minnesota Mariucci Arena.

This will bring to an end the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, built on the cheap in the early 1980s because Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington was falling apart. (And was never really designed for major league sports anyway.) There is unquestioned convenience with not having to deal with the elements when at a game. The Metrodome was not a bad place to watch football. It was a horrible place to watch baseball, but the Twins won two World Series because they had an unparalleled home field advantage due to the noise a full Metrodome would generate.

Note that the Vikings have never been to a Super Bowl since they left the Met, but a generation of Vikings fans apparently believes it’s too cold to sit outside to watch Vikings games in December. Wisconsin, I think, will be fine with keeping Miller Park (100% fewer rainouts and snowouts than Target Field) and Lambeau Field.

If the Vikings think a new stadium will automatically mean more wins, though, recent history shows they’re mistaken. It obviously will mean more revenue for one of the lowest-revenue franchises in the NFL, but that also means more revenue for the 31 other NFL teams. Being awash in money is no substitute for competent general managers and coaches, as the Dallas Cowboys can attest.

The other thing is that home field advantage appears to be fading in the NFL. Note that the Packers won Super Bowl XLV despite playing three road games. The Packers went 15-1 but lost in the playoffs to the Super Bowl XLVI winner, which won two road playoff games three years after winning a Super Bowl with, as with the 2010 Packers, no home playoff games.

I’ve heard coaches say their players concentrate on things better on the road, which is the opposite of what you might think given that home games feature a familiar floor and home cooking. It’s possible that the various stadium player accouterments have taken away some of the opponent road disadvantage. (No more cold showers in cramped locker rooms, for instance.) Travel certainly is not as onerous as it was in the days when players took trains or propeller planes to games. The fact the Packers haven’t won a home playoff game since Brett Favre was the quarterback might have prompted the ideas behind the Lambeau Field South End Zone renovation, one clear purpose of which is to increase the volume level inside the stadium.

With the domed Thor God of Thunder Stadium, the Vikings can no longer stand on their own sidelines, not even wearing gloves, and watch their opponents focus more on the cold than on the game. Vikings coach Bud Grant was a great coach, and the Vikings had some of the better players in the NFL in the ’70s, but the December home field advantage couldn’t have hurt.

The Packers will still have the oldest stadium in the NFL. The gap between Lambeau Field and the next oldest stadium will grow when the 49ers move out of Candlestick Park, built in 1960. Next oldest are the stadium originally known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium, both housing teams rumored to be heading back to Los Angeles. The Packers demonstrate you don’t have to keep building stadiums if you do them right the first time, and remodel appropriately thereafter.

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