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Curtains?
Steve Rushin
December 22, 1997
In only five years the sports mecca of Minnesota has said goodbye to its NHL team and, by voting down proposals for new stadiums, has all but lost the Twins and begun to alienate the Vikings. The way the economics of sports works nowadays, this could happen to any city in America
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December 22, 1997

Curtains?

In only five years the sports mecca of Minnesota has said goodbye to its NHL team and, by voting down proposals for new stadiums, has all but lost the Twins and begun to alienate the Vikings. The way the economics of sports works nowadays, this could happen to any city in America

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"But take the Twins. Forbes just said that Carl Pohlad is worth $1.3 billion. I was at the capitol and heard a legislator say, At that point, wouldn't you just give some of it away?' I mean, all of us would."

Pohlad claimed to be doing just that last summer when he offered an $84 million "gift" to the state toward a new stadium. (The "gift" was soon revealed to be a "loan," and Minnesotans have had their hands on their wallets ever since.)

In September, Pohlad reached an agreement to sell the Twins to North Carolina nursing-home magnate Don Beaver, reportedly for $140 million, if he didn't get a new stadium approved by Nov. 30—which he didn't. (Pohlad reportedly can break the deal by paying Beaver $100,000.) Then, in November, at the end of this withering year of hardball. Pohlad said he would donate the Twins to an unnamed Minnesota nonprofit foundation (provided he recouped the $86 million in debt he claimed to have amassed with the club and reaped a sizable tax break for the donation). The foundation would have kept the team in Minnesota, selling it off to a private owner (possibly Pohlad) within three to five years, and a new roofless $250 million stadium would have been built with a delirium of user taxes—so many that a bleacher seat probably would have cost in the low four figures. It was all very complicated, and one legislator aptly called the final stadium proposal "a 30-legged stool."

Nevertheless, Pohlad—who, it must be noted, kept the Twins in Minnesota by buying them in 1984, when they were on the verge of moving to Tampa—now seems to be regarded benignly by some Minnesotans. To many, he is the subject of almost anthropological fascination, an 82-year-old billionaire who would roll the dice with his reputation rather than risk losing more of his bottomless fortune.

One state senator from rural Minnesota likened Pohlad to the senator's own father: Whenever the boy would ask him for money, the old farmer would slowly open his wallet, wet his fingers, remove a sawbuck, hold on to it for an eternity before handing it over and then dolefully watch the bill until it receded out of sight. At one point Pohlad offered to contribute $111 million toward his stadium, money raised from "private sources," an investment he would have recouped in 20 years. In the end, you almost had to hand it to the guy. As the Twin Cities weekly City Pages put it, "The octogenarian owner has shown more pluck in trying to overcome his financial losses than his teams have demonstrated in years."

On the day that I interviewed Headrick, an editorial cartoon ran in the Star Tribune. It depicted a panhandler (presumably Pohlad) holding a tin cup marked TWINS. Behind him stood another panhandler (presumably Headrick) holding a cup of his own, marked VIKINGS, above the first cup.

Headrick now knows what he's up against in asking for stadium funding, and I can only wish him good luck and godspeed. "I think the public has gotten very jaundiced about it all," Headrick said. "Some now feel that it's just not worth it: If that's the price you have to pay, if you have to have new stadiums, then we're not willing to pay it."

Which leaves us, or may leave us, with professional hockey. There's a poster on the door of my neighborhood liquor store—I see it with increasing frequency these days—advertising St. Paul's as-yet-unnamed NHL franchise. It reads, A NEW ICE AGE IS COMING.

The line never fails to amuse me, and I have news for the owner of that team, whoever he may be: Brother, the new Ice Age has already arrived.

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