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Still Writing: How a game of “Chicken” could teach us about compromise

Published: February 17, 2012
Section: Opinions


Chicken is a game between two parties in which both take positions and attempt to make the other yield, with the worst possible situation being neither party yielding. A simple example would be two cars driving down a single-lane road. As they approach each other, both sides try to get the other to move to the side and out of the way. If neither side shifts, they will crash.

A similar situation arises when sports teams need or want (both are possible) new stadiums. In this scenario, the two cars are replaced by the ownership of a team, seeking a new and better venue in order to update the experience for both the teams and the fans, the government, seeking to balance budgets and not spend money irresponsibly. It happens all the time, most clearly when teams like the Oklahoma City Thunder and infamously the Indianapolis Colts relocated to their current locations. One current example is the give-and-take between the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Legislature.

The Minnesota Vikings are “franchise free agents,” they have no lease and, until last Wednesday, were free to relocate to anywhere provided the NFL approve of the relocation. Since Wednesday was the deadline for the Vikings to inform Commissioner Roger Goodell of intentions to move, it’s safe to say that they are not relocating to Los Angeles or anywhere else for the 2012 season. They have been working for most of the last 10 years trying to convince the state legislature that the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has become too old and out-dated to be a viable stadium. Unlike the three other regular tenants, they have been unable to get funding for new venues. While Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins were able to get funding for the construction of Target Field, and the University of Minnesota was able to fund the building of TCF Bank Stadium, the Vikings have been sitting on the side and consistently pushed as an issue of low priority.

On the other side of the issue is a Republican-controlled state legislature that will not implement a new tax to fund a future stadium and a democratic (technically democratic-farmer-labor) governor Mark Dayton that is hesitant to pull state money from other programs or funds in order to finance a stadium.

While I can sympathize with the fact that money is not made out of thin air and the fact that the state has been involved in two stadiums during the last six years, the fact remains that the state has handled the whole situation horribly. After nearly a year of work promoting and developing a site and a proposal to fund construction, most of this while the legislative session had adjourned for the year, the legislature has all but crushed that plan while Governor Dayton has endorsed what the Vikings have made clear is the “least preferable” option.

If the state government was going to do nothing but tear the proposals apart piece by piece, why not either call a special session and decide against the proposal back in September? Why not become actively involved in building the project plan together so that both sides can be happy with the end product.

Aside from issues of where to build and how to fund a stadium, there are issues of the details that also need to be hammered out. The Vikings feel that they only “need” an outdoor stadium, without a roof. The state wants a stable or retractable roof so that a future stadium can be used year-round for functions in the winter and spring months when football doesn’t have games and its too cold to have outdoor events.

Compromise can work in two ways. The first and more common way is when both sides trade concessions and walk away with something that they don’t like but is between the two original proposals. The less common situation is when the two feuding sides come together and hammer out a new unified plan.

Whether politicians realize it or not, having professional sports teams bring in a lot of money through taxes and raise the profile of a city relative to other regional population centers. To lose an NFL team will hurt the local economy as well as government tax revenue whereas construction of a new stadium would provide jobs in both the building and the management of a new stadium.

Just because the Vikings cannot move away this year, does not mean that they are not free to leave after the upcoming season. If the two sides could come together and, rather than tear each others’ proposals apart, build a plan with both sides’ support, Minnesota can avoid having another team go the way of the Lakers and the Vikings can avoid becoming like the Baltimore Colts and re-locating overnight.

Teams re-locate often when they cannot come to an agreement with local government over the financing of either upgraded or wholly new stadiums. The Colts left Baltimore, the Browns (now Ravens) in all but name and history left Cleveland and the Oilers (now Titans) left Houston. If the parties in Minnesota cannot learn to stop playing chicken and start compromising and working together, it appears all too likely that the Vikings will be the next NFL team to relocate.