Vikings Stadium Naming Rights, Possible MLS Team Still Question Marks

Updated: 10/04/2013 10:33 PM By: Stephen Tellier

The financing plan is in place. But there are still some huge dollar figures up for grabs, before ground is even broken on the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Experts said it will mean millions more for the Wilfs, but also warn the owners could strike out for another potential Minnesota sports franchise.

On Thursday night, the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority approved the use and development agreements for the new stadium. But there are still important issues yet to be resolved, including naming rights and the potential for a Major League Soccer team in Minnesota.

What's in a name?

In this case, millions upon millions of dollars.

"We felt it was important that the team gain those rights," said Lester Bagley, vice president of stadium development and public affairs for the Vikings.

The stadium legislation guarantees, "all naming rights... are retained by the NFL team." So the Vikings -- namely, Zygi Wilf -- get every penny.

But Victor Matheson, a sports economist who got his PhD at the University of Minnesota, said that's pretty standard in stadium deals.

"Naming rights certainly are a large piece of the financial puzzle," Matheson said.

Recent NFL naming rights numbers have been astronomical -- approaching $20 million a year for new stadiums in New York and Dallas. But Matheson said, not in Minneapolis.

"A comparable stadium, Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, that was a $6 million a year deal," Matheson said. "The Vikings are going probably somewhere between $5 and $10 million."

Still... $5 million a year for 20 years equals the Wilfs' entire $100 million cash contribution to the stadium -- not counting loans, personal seat licenses, and other methods the Vikings are using to finance the facility.

"A large portion of his (Zygi Wilf's) portion will be paid off by him selling the naming rights to someone else," Matheson said.

The Vikings also have five-year exclusive rights to a potential MLS team in the new stadium.

"Those MLS teams play 17 home games. They draw crowds of anywhere from 25,000 to 45,000 people. They can be huge events," said Michele Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the MSFA.

Kelm-Helgen said Minneapolis has a good chance at landing an MLS team. The league is planning to add four franchises, has floated Minneapolis as a candidate, and the Wilfs have previously expressed interest.

But Matheson said, keep dreaming.

"All Major League Soccer has done over the last 10 years is work as hard as they can to get out of NFL stadiums," Matheson said. "The last thing MLS wants to do is put 20,000 people in a 70,000-seat stadium."

If he's right, the MSFA must work to find other ways to use that facility on the 357-or-so days the Vikings aren't playing, to make sure taxpayers get the best value possible for that pricey facility.

As for who's in the running for those naming rights, the Vikings are only saying there are a number of "qualified partners," especially here in Minnesota, that they'll be talking to.

In addition to naming rights, the Vikings also stand to pocket money from advertising, sponsorships, and, of course, all concessions and ticket sales for home Vikings games.