Wednesday, May 30, 2012

(Football) Vikings get a new playground

I have recently been witness to a Leisure Class outrage of epic proportions.  The local professional football team was furious that they hadn't gotten a new stadium since 1982.  So in a state that has scrimped by on maintenance for so long we actually had a bridge fall into the Mississippi, various government bodies have been blackmailed into building them a $Billion edifice that will be used, at most, a couple dozen times a year.  Not even cathedrals are that useless.

The economics of these pleasure palaces are insane.  Stadium supporters trot all the amazing amount of jobs (part-time peanut vendors) and other benefits that will follow from such an "investment."  But because the real numbers never add up, the benefits are wildly inflated by intangibles including rising property values for adjacent land, or the number of Minnesota mentions on national TV, etc.  The big mother talking point is, "Without professional football, we are simply not a big-league city!"  An amazing number of (mostly) men buy this argument.  Some primitive instinct kicks in that says "We exist and want to be recognized."  Since sport is one of the acceptable occupations of the Predator Classes, this desire for recognition simply MUST be accompanied by a spectacular display of conspicuous waste (or Veblen would be wrong.)  And while Dallas will still have a bigger stadium / dick, $Billion will buy an astonishing amount of wretched excess.

For me, the idea of building that football team a new stadium utterly infuriated me mostly because I HATE the sports scene in this neck of the woods. The University of Minnesota's Gophers are terrible at everything and have been for over half a century. The only exception was when they accidentally hired Herb Brooks (USA's Tarisov) to coach hockey—a "mistake" the school refuses to ever make again. The pro teams suck so badly, they could replace gravity.

But I reserve special contempt for the Vikings. This is because not only is the team an exercise in utter futility—they have the freaking nerve to name it after MY tribe. I am such a pureblood Viking (7/8 Swede, 1/8 Norwegian) that 1/4 of my ancestors come from Gotland! When we wanted to be, we could be REALLY ferocious. Most of Europe's churches at one time included some version of the prayer "From the fury of the Northmen, deliver us O Lord." At the height of the Viking age, we controlled a trading area that stretched from Canada to Constantinople. In the process of saving Northern Europe for the Protestants in the Thirty Years War, we Swedes messed up Germany so badly, it required over 150 years to recover. We are horny enough to have collected most of the seriously beautiful women in Europe and brought them home for about 500 years—a move that makes it almost impossible to walk the streets of Stockholm to this day without seeing at least a 9.5 on a regular basis.  And when our tribe settled down, we built countries that lead the world in every possibly important social indicator from infant care and childhood education to old age care. Our societies have 98+% literacy rates and we actually use that skill to read books!

How the hell does a collection of bad memories playing a game imagine they can name themselves after US? It's not flattering, it's embarrassing and trust me on this, real Vikings HATE to be embarrassed! When they started blackmailing the state into building a $Billion edifice to their rank incompetence, I wanted to demonstrate some of that old "fury of the Northmen." Mostly, I just wanted that team to leave town—which is what they threatened to do.

As far as I am concerned, the football team can go to LA, only unlike the Lakers, you do NOT get to take your name along. For if you do, we will solicit money from every person with a Scandinavian surname in the 5-state area and use it to hire the most tenacious legal assholes we can find to tie your franchise in legal knots. We will also hire a good PR team to shame you bastards in ways the Native Americans only wish they could do to the Washington Redskins.

Because WE are Vikings and the football team is NOT!  Not. Even. Close!

The House That Christian Ponder Built

Camping out in St. Paul for the Minnesota new-stadium circus
By Steve Marsh May 23, 2012

The most important building in Minnesota is a mini Michelangelo. The state capitol is modeled after St. Peter's in Rome, but our version is chalk-white Georgia marble with a statue of four horses pulling a legionnaire in his chariot done up in gold leaf on the roof — it looks like they're about to fly off and attack Iowa. The capitol was finished in 1906 on the second-tallest hill in St. Paul (the St. Paul Cathedral got the tallest one), for four and a half million dollars (almost $90 million today). It was built by a bunch of newly arrived Catholic immigrants and designed by Cass Gilbert, local boy made good, come back to leave his mark. Gilbert would go on to become one of the country's first starchitects, designing some of the early skyscrapers in New York and the new Supreme Court building in D.C., but he was an ambitious 35-year-old when he gave St. Paul his modern take on a Roman basilica. His early masterpiece wasn't just an homage to the original Big Peter, but a state-of-the-art civic palace with swagged-out, techlike electric lighting and telephones, a statement on the power of a rising industrial and agricultural corridor. Gilbert was a true believer in the American experiment, and his government buildings conveyed grand ideas. Our capitol intentionally conjures echoes of ancient toga-swathed Romans discussing the noble virtues of bonae litterae — he wanted you to feel the spirit of serious men exchanging serious ideas in these weird halls inlaid with local kasota stone and Egyptian marble and hung with oil paintings of past governors.

Cue the spring of 2012: Gilbert's cathedral is full of Upper Midwesterners with a fondness for beryl cream and off-the-rack department store suits, straining their vowels through a weeks-long argument over how many pull tabs they should allow their citizens to play in order to pay for the most expensive building in our history — a new billion-dollar Vikings stadium. Honestly, the acoustics did add a palpable dignity to these proceedings, even though the proceedings were conducted entirely in our ridiculous Fargo accent. Gilbert must've known exactly what it was going to take to make our leaders look noble more than 100 years into the future. He only had one real complaint about how the place turned out: At the last second, they went with a smaller dome than what his plans called for. He always thought it looked a little funny. But seeing it now, despite a little dome envy, our capitol really feels like the last first-rate thing we built.

It's the day after the NFL draft, and I'm sitting on a stone bench outside the Senate information office on the second floor, just off Gilbert's famous rotunda, just down from the Senate chamber, thinking about how hard it is to build anything in this day and age. I've probably been a one-issue voter (pro-stadium) for more than half my life now. We've been in a perpetual stadium crisis, whether it was Norm Green stealing the North Stars in 1993, or Harv and Marv threatening to take the Timberwolves to New Orleans in '94, or Carl Pohlad's threat to move the Twins to North Carolina in '97, or the rumors about Red McCombs dragging the Vikings to San Antonio as soon as he bought them in '98. For my generation, stadium politics is part of being Minnesotan. It plays into our collective inferiority complex — we all grew up knowing why the L.A. Lakers are called the Lakers, you know? We know exactly where we stand as a television market: right in the middle. We're the 15th largest, and the NFL likes us because they can get ratings at noon and three o'clock, but it's too cold here, and dark, and the grass is always greener somewhere, with less snow on it, both for players and owners — and even for us fans, frankly. We have huge abandonment issues.

It's an election year, which, strangely, means that this spring was supposed to be a do-nothing legislative session. Everybody — Democrats, Republicans, and tea partiers alike — were supposed to be too nervous to take a stand on anything, anxiously hoping to run out the clock by pointing fingers at each other until November. But when the Vikings stadium bill predictably fell apart in some House committee, Roger Goodell got involved. The commissioner grabbed Art Rooney, everybody's favorite mascot for surrogate paternal authority, and flew into town to hold a joint press conference with our governor and no. 1 Vikings fan Mark Dayton. They made not very carefully veiled threats about the Vikings becoming a "free agent" if something wasn't done by the end of this session.

Surprisingly, for a provincial capital that despises outsiders, the commissioner's cameo defibbed the legislative body into action again. It turned out to be a smart move by the commish — acting the heavy on behalf of Zygmunt Wilf, the Vikings owner who's referred to as either "Zygi" or "the New Jersey billionaire™," depending on the referrer's agenda. Goodell makes a much more convincing Dean Wormer than Zygi — and whether you're pro-stadium or anti-stadium, everybody in America knows it's nigh on high treason to waste the NFL's time. more


  1. Yes sir, I couldn't agree more. I joined the debate to try to insert some sanity, but the denial of reality pro sports crowd is led by yapping and biting jackals, unable to hear or think over their own noise.

    Even pro sports debators had to acknowledge not a single study has shown economic benefits from building stadiums/arenas and that was BEFORE the NFL sharpened their extractive contract clauses to capture more revenue sources and extract more concessions. I'd start listing them, but my blood pressure can only take so much.

    Politically, this violates the expected role of gov't in providing tax exemptions and public subsidies for a private monopoly business that even the churches of the world must envy.

    Economic theory-wise, pro sports subsidies violate--
    (1) local multiplier effects since most revenues are sucked out of the community,
    (2) ignores any substitution effect when the claim monies spent on pro sport entertainment unto their own as if they would never be spent in other entertainment/activity the community otherwise.

    But most violently ignored is the huge opportunity costs to the state, to have placed into the extractive hands of the Goldman Sach run NFL over half a billion dollars that could have been spent elsewhere--

    --Like the vaunted Arden Hills site, that is too poisoned for residential development, but argued to be perfect for sports fans to go tailgate at.
    --I'd say instead it is perfect for these kind of deals that I clipped from Tony's posting today -

    Sandia National Laboratories has partnered with Texas Tech University, Vestas Wind Systems and Group NIRE to develop a state-of-the-art wind turbine research facility in Lubbock, Texas. The Scaled Wind Farm Technology Facility is scheduled to go online in October, said Sandia spokeswoman Stephanie Holinka

    Choate Construction has started pouring the concrete foundations on what is expected to become the world's biggest testing facility for wind turbine drivetrains. The $98 million facility at the Clemson University Restoration Institute in North Charleston, S.C., is scheduled to begin operating its first test stand in early 2013, while the second test stand is due for completion in the spring of 2013. A group led by Clemson University will operate the facility upon completion.

    But instead we get to read about blog/journalist Steve Marsh visiting Larry Superfan Spooner's $30,000 purple van to watch the legislative kabuki theater on his big screen TV.

  2. Thanks Mike. This post (my part) was written for you so I am happy you enjoyed it.

  3. That was kind of you, thanks, I know you prefer to keep your discussions at a higher level generally than to focus on the local sports scene, but I found many of your economic stances here applied directly to this boondoggle.

    It was socially staggering to see these politicians falling all over themselves to enrich the NFL, just a few years after allowing a bridge to fall into the river and less than a year after the state gov't shutdown, both on their so-called principled stance of shrinking gov't taxes.

    At best, the NFL represents a socially acceptable outlet for people's violence and gang/herd tendencies, which I suppose does have some appeal to oligarchs who prefer the masses to throw footballs instead of molotov cocktails...but what does that say about our society's priorities--loudly and clearly--we only value lowest common denominator activities, screw schools, forget green energy, go vikes.

    And anyone who thinks that this is just crazy Minnesotans, had better follow the money of their localities pro sports funding. The more you research, the sicker it gets.

    The vaunted NFL is 15 Billion dollar per year industry, that refuses to pay its own way, while they extract every dollar they can from it's most loyal (gullible) fans and communities. And the other pro sports aren't far behind.

    It is a bitter lemonade being made with these deals...very hard to swallow and ignore.