Debunking the Stadium Misinformation

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Myth:  We need to pay for a stadium this year because something has changed:  the Twins are no longer contractually bound to stay in town and there is a serious risk that the team will move.

Earlier this year, a court ruling confirmed that the Twins are not contractually bound to play in the Metrodome, and would be free to move. 

According to a February 7, 2006 item on the MN Twins website, this gives the team “added leverage in its fight for a new stadium.” They say that legislators have an “increased sense of urgency from the ruling to find a new home for the team.”  

They quote House Speaker Steve Sviggum, "I won't say this is a surprise, but it is kind of a big deal.   This only adds to the importance of addressing this now. This issue needs to be on the 2006 [legislative] agenda."

Although the Twins are careful not to explicitly threaten to leave, they and their allies go to great lengths to use the implicit threat of moving to add pressure to the legislature to pass a subsidy bill.  But this isn’t new.   They were contractually free to move in 1997, and have been free to move most years since then.

Back in 1997, the Twins didn’t just threaten to leave, Carl Pohlad actually signed a letter of intent forcing them to be sold to a North Carolina businessman who planned to move the team.  According to the legal agreement, the state’s only escape clause was to pass a stadium bill during the November 1997 legislative special session, and even then Carl Pohlad would have been required to reimburse the purchaser up to $100,000. 

During that 1997 special session, shortly before the House voted against the stadium bill that was necessary to block the move, the author of the Twins’ bill, Rep. Loren Jennings told his colleagues, "There will be no tomorrow. Baseball lives if you push green (i.e., vote yes). Baseball dies if you push red."

The next day’s Star Tribune said that Rep. Jennings “called Thursday's vote the death knell for major league baseball in Minnesota. ‘On November 13th, professional baseball died in Minnesota,’ he said.”

A November 14, 1997  Pioneer Press article, the day after the special session adjourned without passing a stadium bill, quoted the Governor’s chief of staff, Bernie Omann talking about the Twins moving, “I think it's very clear that they're not going to be in Minnesota…. There is no backup plan. That was our backup plan and there are going to be people who say we were bluffing, but that simply is not the case.”

But, the Twins were bluffing. They did back out of the sale and they did not move.  There have been other similar threats, direct or implied, over the last decade including the league’s heavily-hyped contraction plan. 

They will continue to threaten a move.  Frequently, they bolster their threats by claiming that the Twin Cities is a “small market” and they would be better off in cities such as Las Vegas.

Again, this is misinformation.  According to Nielsen Media Research, Minneapolis-St. Paul is the 15th largest designated market area in the country, out of 210 communities large enough to be rated by Nielsen.  That is a small market?  Las Vegas ranks 48th.

Would the Twins and the league really choose to move a successful franchise away from their loyal fans to a market only half as big, just to punish Minnesota for failing to give a subsidy?

Reality: The threat of moving is not new; the threat is not more real than it was in the past.  The implied threat to move the team continues to be their preferred means of applying pressure for a new subsidy. 

If politicians are sincerely concerned about the possibility of the team moving, they should sit down with Carl Pohlad and the business community and begin developing a private financing plan, based on user fees. 

The location of a professional sports team should be determined by the viability of the market and loyalty of the fans, not based on the owner’s ability to extort money from the taxpayers.

John Marty