GOING, GOING, GONE?
March 31, 1998
The Minnesota Twins are demanding that taxpayer dollars fund the construction of a stadium for them. And if they strike out, the team may walk to North Carolina.
ANNOUNCER: It's a big day for Calvin Griffith, president of the Twins.
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FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Twins meant much to the Minneapolis-St. Paul area when they moved to Minnesota from Washington, D.C., in 1961, bringing major league status to a medium-sized market.
ANNOUNCER: In the seventh Bob Allison comes up for the Twins. Joe DiMaggio, the ex-Yankee great, is among those looking on. Allison steps in. Whitey Ford goes into his wind up, comes in with the pitch. Allison meets it. Minnesota fans let out a roar.
A new tactic in pro sports: stadium or bust.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Twins enjoyed solid fan support, meaning gate receipts which hit record numbers in the late 80's and early 90's, when the team claimed two World Series. But now, the Twins are threatening to leave Minnesota unless a new stadium is built for them. It's a tactic that's become widely used in pro sports, according to Arthur Rolnick, an economist at the Federal Reserve in Minneapolis.
ARTHUR ROLNICK, Economist, Federal Reserve: There are cities that don't have these teams that are willing to build these stadiums and if that threat is credible, they'd be foolish not to require the hometown to do the same thing. If I'm an owner of one of these teams, and I can get another state, another city to build me a stadium, increase my profits, allow me to pay higher wages and get the better players, I'm going to do it.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: In the last decade, two new baseball stadiums have been built for expansion teams and another 12 for existing ones, many in communities anxious to hang on to their major league teams. The parks have been financed through higher state or local taxes or bonds.
SPOKESMAN: The value is not there when you're playing baseball in what is essentially a football stadium.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The Twins currently share the enclosed metrodome with the Minnesota Vikings, who enjoy a bigger share of revenues from the lucrative luxury suites, as well as seats better suited to football. State lawmakers got a tour of the dome last spring from stadium official Bill Lester, who supports a new baseball park.
BILL LESTER: Your angle to look back or at home plate, where 80 to 90 percent of all the action in a baseball game occurs, is bad.
No public support to build a new home for the home team.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: One of the key players in the Twins campaign for a new stadium has been Kirby Puckett, the recently retired superstar hitter. Puckett is still immensely popular at gatherings like this one during the Twins' spring tour through rural Minnesota. Despite that support, the idea of any state subsidy for a new stadium found little sympathy among voters.
VOTER: I think the players should finance more of it.
VOTER: I think they can stay where they're at. Don't need a new stadium.
VOTER: I'm a retired rail man, railway man. You know what my pension is a year? Fourteen thousand dollars. And, you know, it takes money to pay part of my money to pay for a stadium--$80 million. I can't understand people like that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Despite public opposition, the Twins unveiled a scale model for a new retractable roof stadium with a price tag of $300 to $370 million. Club officials and their allies proposed various financing options they hoped would be palatable to the public. Over time these ranged from cigarette surtaxes, capturing and using state income taxes paid by current players, ticket surcharges, and revenues from a new gambling facility.
CARL POHLAD: We're going to continue to work hard to get it. We're going to have some glitches. We expect that, but by no means have we lost any of our enthusiasm, or our desire to keep on with this effort until we can make it successful.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Carl Pohlad, a banker who bought the Twins in 1985, even proposed turning the team over to community ownership as part of the deal, proof of his good faith, according to Twins President Jerry Bell.
JERRY BELL: The concept that has been developed is clearly the most unique concept in the universe of stadium deals, and that is the owner is willing to forgo any future profits whatsoever and is determined to keep baseball in Minnesota.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Twins officials argue the only ways teams from mid-sized cities can make a profit is with a new stadium and favorable lease arrangements. That's because two tiers have emerged in the major leagues since the 1980's, when players became free agents. The fact that they could sell themselves to the highest bidder gave a big recruiting advantage to the richest teams, usually those in bigger cities with lucrative TV contracts. Jay Wiener is a sports writer for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis-St. Paul.
JAY WIENER: We'll never be able to keep up with the $60 million cable package that the Yankees have every year or the $40 million package that the Red Sox have every year.
JERRY BELL: The Twins' stadium revenues are the very last in Major League Baseball out of 28 teams.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Twins officials say their team is losing money and unable to compete for good players. Club President Jerry Bell said the Twins' payroll is about $22 million a year, the league average $35 million. Last November, Governor Arne Carlson called the legislature into a special session and urged them to approve a financing package. He was flanked by several leading state and city politicians who supported a new stadium.
MAYOR SHARON SAYLES BELTON, Minneapolis: Today what we wanted to affirm is that it's important that all of us in the state of Minnesota who are committed to making sure that this continues to be a world-class state, that we make sure that the Minnesota Twins stay in Minnesota.
GOV. ARNE CARLSON, (R) Minnesota: This is our last best hope for keeping the Twins in Minnesota. And so when the legislature comes back on the 13th, this package has to go up, or it has to go down. And my prayer and our prayer is that it goes up.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Putting further pressure on lawmakers, Twins owner Pohlad signed an agreement to sell the team to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver. The deal was to take effect if lawmakers did not come up with a stadium package by the end of November.
DEMONSTRATORS: Hey, hey, we won't pay! Hey, hey, we won't pay!
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: However, even the prospect of losing the team did not seem to turn around public opinion.
WOMAN: People don't want their money going to this. There are more important things to be about.
MAN: No. I guess I'm kind of in a fed-up mood about it. If they really don't see a benefit to being here, then don't let the door hit 'em in the rear end on the way out.
OTHER WOMAN: It's welfare for rich people, corporate America. I don't believe in that.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Even this latest plan, where they say they're going to give the team away?
OTHER WOMAN: Give the team to the taxpayers. Carl Pohlad lost money on it, why wouldn't we? If he doesn't want it, I don't want it either.
Are public subsidies welfare for rich players and owners?
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Twins officials say the Minnesota public does not realize what they will be losing, and they chafe at the welfare-for-the-rich criticism, which they've faced throughout the debate.
JERRY BELL: This is the easiest subject in the world to demagogue just for what you said. There are millionaire players, and millionaire owners involved in this. If those were the only people who benefitted from this, we shouldn't do it. You don't have to provide public funding for a lot of things in this community. You don't need to support the orchestra, you don't need to support the Orpheum Theater, you don't need to support the science museums. You don't need to support the Minnesota Twins, we would agree with that. But if you don't do these things, then pretty soon it's not the same community.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The legislature adjourned without approving a stadium bill. Attempts to revive one during its subsequent spring '98 session also failed.
JAY WEINER: I think that we're a community that has decided that pro sports isn't the civic imagery engine that it has been in some other cities for some reason we've been able to say sports are great, sports are fun, but sports aren't the be all and end all. And I think it's a problem that professional sports leagues are actually going to be finding in a lot of these middle sized markets.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: The debate on the Twins' future now shifts to North Carolina, where the question of public subsidies for a new stadium goes before voters in the Winston-Salem-Greensboro area. The move from Minnesota is subject to their approval, and that of the league, and that's hardly assured in a business worried about the disparity between big and smaller city teams. The North Carolina market is about a third smaller than Minnesota.