PoliGraph: Marty stadium claim true in recent history

After a drawn-out debate over the budget, lawmakers have turned their attention to another delayed decision: whether to green-light a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, is ranking member of the state Senate’s tax committee, and he opposes the effort because it is too expensive for taxpayers.

“Zygi Wilf and the Vikings are attempting to make their Ramsey County stadium deal sound like a run-of-the-mill, routine proposal. It is not,” Marty wrote in an Oct. 23 opinion piece in the Twin Cities Daily Planet. “The Vikings are asking for the #1, all-time, biggest taxpayer subsidy of any sports franchise anywhere in American history!”

Marty wrote a commentary on the subject for Minnesota Public Radio News Oct. 21.

For the first time, PoliGraph tackles sports, and finds Marty’s claim mostly accurate.

The Evidence

The proposed Arden Hills Vikings stadium is expected to exceed $1 billion. The current plan would require the state to chip in $300 million, Ramsey County to pay for $350 million of the project’s cost by raising the sales tax, and the Vikings to contribute $407 million.

That doesn’t include losses in tax revenue that Marty argues would effectively increase the public’s contribution further, nor does it factor in a Metropolitan Council report that predicts the project will exceed cost projections.

To support his claim, Marty relied on research conducted earlier this year by two economists associated with the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts. The report looked back at the costs of all sports arenas in the United States going back as far as 1990.

The most expensive buildings on the list include the Indianapolis Colts stadium, which cost taxpayers roughly $620 million (the Holy Cross report incorrectly states the cost as $720 million), the Washington Nationals field, which cost the public $611 million, and the Orlando Magic arena, which cost the public $430 million.

PoliGraph looked back even further using research by the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette University, and found only one facility more costly to the public than the Vikings stadium is expected to be: Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The Garden’s most recent construction occurred in 1968 and cost $123 million in taxpayer dollars. Accounting for inflation, the stadium would have cost roughly $762 million today.

The Verdict

Madison Square Garden beats the Vikings’ proposal when adjusted for inflation, but the building is more than 40 years old. When it comes to stadiums built in the last 20 years, the planned Vikings stadium comes out on top.

For getting his facts nearly correct, Marty’s claim leans toward accurate.

SOURCES

The Twin Cities Daily Planet, Let’s inject fiscal sanity into stadium debate, by John Marty, Oct. 23, 2011

The Minnesota Vikings, the New Minnesota Stadium: FAQ, accessed Oct. 24, 2011

National Public Radio, The Nation: Stop The Subsidy-Sucking Sports Stadiums, by Neil Demause, August 5, 2011

Metropolitan Council, Stadium Proposal Risk Analysis, Oct. 2011

Financing Professional Sports Facilities, By Robert A. Baade and Victor A. Matheson, January 2011

Marquette University Law School, National Sports Law Institute, Sports Facility Reports Volume 12, Summer 2011

Interview, Heidi Mallin, spokeswoman, Lucas Oil Field

Email exchange, Victor Matheson, economist, College of the Holy Cross, Oct. 26, 2011