"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Memo to Wilfs: attend church potluck, repent

MPR photo of Zygi Wilf
We used to joke at McDonald's about the frequency of stadium-related headlines. Glen Helberg was still alive in those days. We miss him. He's laughing from heaven now, I suspect, at how the Vikings stadium continues to be foisted in front of us via Star Tribune headlines.
Is the stadium such an august matter that it needs such continuous attention? Shouldn't the subject begin to weigh on our collective conscience?
I mean, are the demands of Minnesota's pro football team, owned by out-of-state interests, so pressing and paramount in our lives that those people seem to have us doing a dance? Are we willing to be extorted simply because we cannot live without pro football? Is it that bad? Are we that sick?
Day after day the headlines continue. Now we're past the phase where the stadium is actually being "sold." We bit on that one. The new palace is sort of official. It's vital to know, however, that technically we can still get out of it. I hope that feature is getting more and more impressed on people's minds.
Already the groundbreaking is pushed to November.
I hope it can be a groundbreaking like those fabled groundbreakings in Little Falls many years ago, for about three institutions (one a horse racing track), none of which ever got built. Perhaps there could be a billboard just outside of town: "Welcome to Little Falls, home of calamitous groundbreakings."
The Vikings stadium appears to be on less than firm footing now. A further delay could come about if the team doesn't quickly resume negotiations on a lease and development agreements. We learned Friday (8/23) that the team "unexpectedly" broke off negotiations during the week.
November is the target month for spades to get turned and efforts to get humming. Even then, we won't see our pro football team play there until 2016. By then, your plasma TV might be obsolete. (Question: What is the difference between plasma TVs, LED TVs and "smart" TVs? I'm age 58 and not "smart" enough to know. When I was a kid, we turned on the TV, selected a channel with a knob and just sat down and watched. High-def? Sometimes we'd be content watching a certain channel under some "snow" on the screen. If kids of today only knew.)
 
NFL talks, we listen
No entertainment product is worth the kind of leverage these NFL owners have come to have. The NFL has become a huge money pit. It is attracting into its ranks of owners the kind of people who will stop at nothing to build their personal pile of money.
We are learning this in spades with the current mess in which our absentee owners find themselves. It is that mess which is yielding the current new stream of headlines in our Strib. I wish Mr. Helberg was here to comment on it.
I'd like to hear his comments on the tearing down of our old school in Morris too. I haven't seen any benefits for the city yet, just cost. And how the heck did that old wreck of a building and all that empty property fall into the lap of the city? Why couldn't we have voted on the funds for demolition at the same time we voted on the new (Cadillac) school?
The new Vikings stadium is certainly a Cadillac. How did we get here? How have we lost our ability to show some good old-fashioned skepticism? The powers-that-be sort of just skipped right over us. Now that there's wreckage, we seem to feel some concern and annoyance, but why can't we be more rational and assertive?
 
Let's examine "product" of football
Football is an entertainment product. The entertainment business is fickle.
A product that dazzles us one day becomes passe the next. Why do you think popular songs move up and down the "Top 40" chart? I attended a workshop in Moorhead once where this was explained to us by a music industry professional. Oh, they have us all figured out.
With the NFL, they're going to the well as often as they can while their product is still "hot."
What could make it less hot? You mean you're not aware this could happen? Saturation of the product is a real spectre. Advances in television technology have been staggering. As kids we couldn't have imagined these personal satellite dishes.
Troy Aikman has sounded the alarm about saturation as a problem for football. OK, need a primer? The reason all the movers and shakers in big media and entertainment wanted to push SOPA and PIPA through - remember that? - was their knowledge of how scarcity (or the perception of it) was an underpinning of entertainment business success.
In other words, if you have to drive all the way to the Twin Cities to see a movie like "The Exorcist" (as I did, at the Gopher Theater, in about 1973), the movie must be a huge attraction. Not so much if it opens at every theater in the country.
When I was in high school, Monday night football was a big event. We'd get goosebumps just listening to the opening theme. Ask Del Sarlette, he'll confirm that.
"And. . .take tape."
Then we'd hear the theme music.
Today, there might be as many as three NFL games available for viewing on the first Monday of the season, back-to-back, the last one from the west coast.
Oh, we love football but there is a limit to how much we'll love anything. We may not know it yet. Slowly we'll get less mesmerized by televised football. The networks might get tired of paying huge broadcast rights fees. They'll latch on to any alternative they think could become a new fad.
The bigger they come, the harder they fall. The goose that laid the golden egg has a lifespan (maybe).
Television made NFL football in the mid-1960s, when technology advanced to where we could really appreciate the sport on the screen. We had the AFL back then too. Then the merger occurred.
The Vikings lost four Super Bowls. We felt hurt but we didn't lose our addiction.
Today the NFL championship, i.e. Super Bowl victory, looms like some sort of Holy Grail for Vikings fans. We march like lemmings behind Governor Mark Dayton, whose eyes seem absolutely glazed over by his enthusiasm for getting that new Taj Mahal stadium. He has groveled at the feet, sort of, of Zygmunt (Zygi) Wilf, Zygi's brother Mark and cousin Leonard.
Couldn't these three at least pretend to be a little Minnesotan? Why not attend some potlucks at church basements? Bring some red Jello.
Seriously, why don't these guys at least attempt a little serious PR? Find the nearest TV camera and try connecting with us like Richard Nixon did in his "Checkers" speech. "Oh, I know you all think we're just a bunch of crooks, but. . .well, we are." (To clarify, the Wilfs' problems are civil rather than criminal, but the judge's biting words hardly paint of picture of choirboys.)
Maybe the owners could present themselves as charming ne-er do wells. After all, we apparently love movies about mobsters. The Wilfs are falling down because of their background (in New Jersey).
Our state of Minnesota has fallen down too. Dayton needs to rip off his purple jersey and realize he's involved in a steely serious business matter with real schemers across the table from him. Forget about the football on the field. That has no pertinence now. It's almost an afterthought.
The state has failed, embarrassingly so, in putting forth electronic pulltabs. It's embarrassing on the face of it to turn to gambling. When I was a kid, we had serious moral reservations about gambling. We grudgingly gave a pass to the Catholic Church and their basement bingo.
Electronic pulltabs failed for the stadium. These funds were supposed to cover the state's portion of the financing.
I'm reminded of when Top Rank Boxing attempted to buy the Minnesota Timberwolves. They stated that "X" amount of the funds would come from a certain source (apparently in the ether), "Y" from another, etc. My old boss Jim Morrison shook his head and said "junk bonds."
Top Rank came close. So close that Connie Chung, who was then the co-anchor of the CBS Evening News, reported as fact that the transaction was complete and the Timberwolves would be "playing next year in New Orleans." Yes she did. CBS did. Dan Rather by extension did. I want Minnesotans to remember this little piece of history.
My old friend Jim McRoberts says "figures lie and liars figure."
Am I being too hostile tossing around a word like "liars?" If you think that's a strong word, you should read what Judge Deanne Wilson out in the Garden State has said about the Wilfs. And these are our NFL owners.
The owner of the Cleveland Browns is in a similar mess. No matter how that turns out, Jimmy Haslam III has lots of depositions in his future - what fun.
Will we get the full truth on the Wilfs? The Sports Facilities Authority has launched a belated investigation. The state has turned to that proverbial "law firm" - I don't think they work for nothing - and a "forensic accounting firm" to try to come to the rescue, to at least protect the state's interests. They'll cast an eye on the New Jersey cases and review the NFL owner application.
Will the Wilfs be required to open their books? Who pays for all this investigating? The Sports Facilities Authority says the Wilfs will. Ah, but the Wilfs have not yet said they will. What a tangled web we weave.
If the Wilfs renege on anything, could the state sue the NFL?
Most likely the NFL didn't vet the Wilfs properly in 2005. Doesn't this make you wish Tom Clancy had become our owner? A man of letters as owner of our pro football team. It wasn't to be.
How do we know the Wilfs will really put the $477 million they've pledged into the stadium? Is this Top Rank Boxing redux? I guess they'll get $50-60 million from seat licenses. Plus, $20 million a year for 20 years for naming rights. (I have joked that Marshall Fields should get the name nod, so we could call the place "Marshall Fields Field.")
The NFL pledges a $50 million grant and a loan of as much as $150 million.
Alas, even if these building blocks come to pass, there's a heckuva hole to fill.
The Wilfs could borrow? After the lawsuit mess and Judge Wilson's excoriating words, might bankers be reluctant?
If a loan becomes elusive, they of course could sell some of their shopping centers and apartment buildings. Would they be OK with that? I'm sure their aim is to build their empire and not to compromise any part of it. There's no point in robbing Peter to pay Paul.
I don't think the Wilfs are in the NFL for the love of the game. Love of the game? It's an absurd proposition. This is a "game" which, at the pro level, has huge bodies accelerating with great speed like missiles into each other, rendering these souls in many cases shells of their former selves after they've been retired a while. They might forget their own name or have to wear adult diapers.
So, I don't feel one ounce of romance about it. The owners pretend to, but I think they just have dollar signs in their eyes.
Shouldn't someone in our state government have known about the Wilfs' New Jersey suit? And if someone did know, why couldn't this have been broached when the legislature was debating the stadium deal last year? Hoo boy. What a tangled web we weave.
When e-pulltabs went down as a flaming wreckage, the legislature "patched that up" with a corporate tax that should produce $20 million a year.
Again, are we hopeless lemmings? Of course we can institute new taxes to pay for anything we want. But that wasn't the idea with the new stadium. We were supposed to extract the money from gamblers (a regressive tax of course). Now it's $20 million a year from a new corporate tax.
Of course, as a child could plainly see, that tax money could go to the general fund to help benefit the state's general welfare. Don't our streets, highways and bridges need attention?
Now we're supposed to trust a wheeler-dealer family from New Jersey that has been found by a judge to have committed fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty; and violated New Jersey's civil racketeering statute. The Wilf enterprises could be on the hook for $100 million or so. Zygi's total fortune is estimated to be $310 million.
Judge Wilson has used the word "evil." And these are our owners. My advice to them: find the nearest church basement potluck, relax and repent. You're in Minnesota.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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