Saturday, March 31, 2007

Finding a New Home

This past year saw the first progress in decades for Minnesota sports teams in search of new stadiums. The Twins, fresh off five consecutive winnings seasons including four division titles finally secured funding for a new outdoor stadium, as did the Gophers football team. The Vikings, who have been trying to secure funding for the past five years had initially reached an agreement with Anoka county in September of 2005 to build a new $675 million dollar, 68,000 seat retractable roof stadium in Blaine that was to be part of a larger project that would have funded retail and office space, private residences and nature preserves. However that deal fell apart in November of 2006.

"We've been operating on the premise that Anoka County was the chosen site by the Governor's Stadium Screening Commission since February 2004 -- a competition that Hennepin County and Minneapolis did not enter into. That appears to have changed with the Minneapolis-based Sports Facilities Commission developing a proposal that would include an NFL football stadium. It's as if the state and team are willing to start all over," said Anoka County Commissioner Dennis Berg. "It's unfortunate, because we've had strong public support, as was evidenced in this past election."

"We got into this project to benefit Anoka County residents, and we said all along that when it no longer benefitted Anoka County residents we would terminate negotiations," said Anoka County Commissioner Scott LeDoux. "It doesn't benefit Anoka County taxpayers to negotiate against other communities to keep the Vikings in Minnesota, or to be used as leverage for a better deal somewhere else."

The Vikings, as well as the Twins and Gophers had been pushing hard for new stadiums for a couple of reasons. First, as most who have been to the Metrodome know, the concrete bubble is certainly one of the least attractive venues in all of professional sports and while its ability to host a both baseball and football is useful its also a major detractor for profitability. In todays competitive world of professional sports with ever expanding expenses its become an imperative to find venues which can make a team financially competitive over the long term. The eighties saw the ushering in of many new multi-purpose, or large capacity stadiums in cities across the nation. These stadiums, whether for baseball (Veterans Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Astrodome, Candlestick Park, Kingdome) or football, (Superdome, Candlestick Park, etc...) have been mostly demolished and replaced by newer, more aesthetically pleasing stadiums. The idea when these venues were being built was that cities could save money by building stadiums that would both hold massive quantities of people and host multiple sports teams. While the idea sounded good it proved flawed. Baseball teams, who were unable to regularly, if ever able to sell out 60,000-70,000 seat stadiums ended up paying excessive maintenance fees and football teams found that they were unable to compete against teams who were had stadiums with more luxury suites as most multi-purpose stadiums such as the Metrodome required the teams to split the suites so even when only one team was in season they could use only half the suites available.

The past decade has seen a major movement in stadium building to creating 'throwback stadiums.' These venues combine the aesthetic beauty of the stadiums of the past with the practicality, intelligent design, conveniences of modern day, and low-maintenance costs. The movement largely began with the Cleveland Indians new park, Jacobs Field, which opened in April of 1994. Since then Major League Baseball and the National Football League have seen a boom in new stadiums with fan favorites such as Camden Yards, Gillette Stadium, and the Arizona Cardinal's beautiful new home University of Phoenix Stadium. These new facilities draw significantly larger crowds than these teams old venues while making the franchises significantly more profitable and therefore more able to compete in todays super-charged professional sports market. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly they provide the cities they are built in with booms to the commercial areas that surround them as they become centers of activity that regularly draw large crowds which feed the businesses that surround them. Don't believe me? Just ask anyone near Kellogg Blvd how business has been since the Wild moved in.

Ever since negotiations in Blaine broke down the Vikings have been working with the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin county to try to secure funding for a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis in an area known as Downtown East which is located near the Metrodome. The Vikings and the city have begun working with the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (MSFC) and a group called ROMA Design to complete a plan for the Downtown East area with a new Vikings stadium as its heart. Upon completion of this plan the Vikings intend to press the discussion of a new stadium in the legislature in 2008.

If you would like to get involved, I would recommend visiting the group "Minnesota Momentum's" website.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Recap on Brad Childress Interview with Star Tribune

In reading Kevin Seifert's article in the Star Tribune this morning it became apparent to me that he did not double check his stats. He states that E.J. Henderson led the team in tackles with 142 when in truth he only had 109 (76 solo, 33 assist). If I make a mistake in this article it is because it is my first one. What's your excuse Kevin?

In the Star Tribune's interview with Brad Childress, he announced E.J. Henderson as his new starting middle linebacker, discussed decreasing Chester Taylor's workload, mentioned the possibility of extending Pat Williams’ contract, is willing to experiment with Darrell Bevell calling plays (at least during mini-camps), and talked about how Erasmus James may not be a large factor next season. Overall I feel pretty good about what he had to say about the upcoming season. But let's go ahead and examine each of the major talking points of the interview.

First I'll begin by taking a look at E.J. Henderson's new position. E.J. moves from the weak side where he led the team in tackles last year. E.J. seems like the only logical choice to play the middle due to his success last year, as well as his experience playing the position in the past (both in college and with the Vikings), and the lack of experience from the other linebackers on the team. Being that Henderson just signed a 5 year 25 million dollar deal with the club, its clear the Vikings are also impressed with his progression as a player.

Next, Childress discussed decreasing Chester Taylor's workload. In his first year as a starter Taylor touched the ball 345 times after having logged only 478 touches in his first four seasons with Baltimore. He started out the season playing fairly well but did not rush for over 100 yards in the last 4 games of the season. This could be due to a couple of factors. The first likely culprit is simple wear and tear, as he just wasn’t used to playing a full season. The second is that he did not as many attempts in the final four games of the season as he did over the first twelve games. I think that is a good idea to decrease Chester's workload but I am unsure who will pick up the slack as I’m not overly impressed with the other running backs on our roster.

Another topic mentioned is the possibility of extending Pat Williams’ contract. Williams’ contract expires at the end of the next season. Having just earned his first Pro Bowl at the age of 34, its clear that he’ll be due for a raise. From the sound of the article, Pat wants to stay here in Minnesota and I would like to see him stay for the next few years. He does a a great job at the point of attack against the run and is able to take on multiple blockers while still making plays against the ball carrier. His presence on the line was certainly one of the biggest factors for the Vikings success against the run last season and losing him would be a major blow.

Shocker!!! Brad Childress might be willing to let Darell Bevell call the plays at least during spring mini camps. Brad, an offensive coordinator in his time with the Eagles is not ready to say for sure if he would be willing to give up the play calling altogether though. I personally don't think the head coach should be the one calling the plays. rather I believe that a head coach needs to focus on putting the right people in place and trust that they are doing their jobs. Instead of focusing on calling the plays, Brad should be managing the entire game.

Finally, Brad talked about Erasmus James and how his knee injuries may hold him back from being a big factor next season. Erasmus had a second knee surgery earlier this winter and may well begin the season on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list Childress states the obvious when he says it would be a big bonus if James can contribute quality snaps to the team this year. I’m disappointed because I was hoping to see James come back this year and provide a much needed pass rush considering he was considered a premier pass rusher coming out of college. However, considering the injuries he’s suffered the past few years, both as a collegian and as a pro, it would be shocking to many if James ever becomes an impact player in the NFL. This is a real tragedy, not just from a Vikings perspective but a personal one as well, as James’ physical gifts are undeniable. However the effects of so much damage to a players knees can’t help but have a cumulative effect of his talent.

All in all I feel good about where things are going with the team. I am disappointed with Erasmus James' recovery but I am optimistic that the club will be better this year than last.