Love Doesn't Come Cheap: Vikings Fans Face Pricey Battle to Keep Team in Minny

M. EccherCorrespondent IAugust 16, 2009

Minnesota Vikings owner Zygi Wilf on the field before  ESPN Monday Night Football September 11, 2006 in Washington.  The Minnesota  Vikings defeated the Redskins  19 - 16.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)

When the Vikings made the trek to Indianapolis on Friday, team executives noticed how nicely the one-year-old Lucas Oil Stadium suited the Colts.

They made sure the Minnesota public noticed too.

"This would be great in Minneapolis," said Lester Bagley, the team's vice president of public affairs and stadium development. "The frustrating thing is that the person that's working the hardest to get a deal done and keep the Vikings in Minnesota is [owner] Zygi Wilf.”

Translation: We'd love to build one of these ourselves, and it would be a shame if we had to do it somewhere else.

After a 48-year romance with the good people of Minnesota, those Vikings still know how to push our buttons.

They know we’re just a teensy bit insecure about a slicker, sexier city making a play for our purple pride. They know we’re still wary of losing a hometown team after Bud Selig tried to contract the Twins in 2002. And they know we love the Vikings enough to put up a fight for them when push comes to shove.

In this case, however, love isn’t a battlefield. It’s a stadium, and it costs $950 million.

That’s a lot of love.

For Vikings ownership, commitment issues are nothing new. Red McCombs toyed with the idea of moving the team to Los Angeles for profit. He kicked around the notion of moving it to San Antonio, his hometown, for fun.

When Wilf bought the team in 2005, he promised that his involvement with the Twin Cities was more than just a fling. Heck, when he vowed, “We will be in the Minneapolis area forever,” he practically dropped to one knee.

At this point, though, his words sound an awful lot like sweet nothings. Bagley said in February that if a stadium deal isn't done when other cities come calling, "it's not going to be a favorable outcome for the Twin Cities in terms of the long-term future for the club."

Why can’t the Vikings quit playing games (with our hearts)? Because they’re set to quit playing games in the Metrodome after the 2011 season. Once that lease expires, they're back on the singles market, looking for a shoulder to cry on and a place to crash.

The latest homewrecking suitor to throw himself at the team is California real estate developer Ed Roski, a billionaire who helped finance L.A.'s Staples Center.

Roski's come-hither trump card? A proposal for a privately financed $800-million stadium in Industry, Calif., 15 miles east of Los Angeles.

He's got a list of small-market teams with whom he's flirting. The Vikings are on it.

So far, the team has given him the cold shoulder. Apparently, he hasn't called lately (just what kind of a gentleman does that make him, anyway?).

But Bagley's comments on the stadium situation remind us that Roski and other out-of-town admirers certainly aren't out of the picture, either. There are still plenty of Casanovas out there with eyes for our beloved Vikes—and if we can’t tie the knot, somebody else will.

We’re fiercely loyal and faithful to a fault, but those qualities won’t be enough to keep the team by our sides. NFL owners aren’t romantics. They’re gold diggers. Wilf is in this business for the money, and it’s going to take money to get the Vikings to embrace the state the way the state embraces the Vikings.

Given the shortage of private investors lining up to invest a billion dollars into a downtown Minneapolis facility, most of the cash is going to have to come from public sources—around $700 million, by current estimates.

For a state facing a $4.6 billion budget deficit in the next fiscal year, that’s an awfully pricey wedding.

Should we pony up? You’ve got me on that one. Like most citizens, I hate the idea of using public money to make a rich man richer. Like most fans, I hate the idea of losing the team.

But that’s the dilemma Minnesota will face over the next two years. It’s the question all small-market fanbases face: How much love can we afford?

The answer could leave plenty of people with broken hearts.

For more on the Vikings, follow Marino on Twitter @MarinoEccher.