Vikings' new stadium will cost insane amount

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Vikings' new stadium will cost insane amount

From Comcast SportsNet

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) Now that the Minnesota Vikings will get their new stadium, the worrying can begin over a gambling expansion designed to pay the state's share of the 975 million project.

By passing the final stadium bill Thursday, lawmakers committed the state to raising 348 million by allowing electronic pull-tabs and bingo in bars and restaurants. The financing plan drew skepticism on the bill's way through the Legislature, prompting the sponsors to include backup measures in case the pull-tab dollars don't materialize, including a lottery game and luxury suite taxes.

Gov. Mark Dayton has pledged to sign the stadium bill into law after serving as its chief cheerleader. Backers pushed it through the Legislature after years of failed attempts, despite opposition from no-new-spending Republicans, liberal Democrats and even the top House Republican, Speaker Kurt Zellers. Lawmakers were on the receiving end of an intense outpouring of support from Vikings fans, while the state's business leaders and labor unions also put their clout behind the project. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak brought 150 million from his city to the table, subject to a City Council vote later this month.

But money questions were on the sidelines Thursday as Vikings fans celebrated the bill's passage. In the Senate gallery, fans broke out in a rendition of the ''Skol Vikings!'' fight song, earning a reprimand from the Senate secretary.

''Let's build it!'' shouted Vikings vice president Lester Bagley, the team executive who spent much of the past decade lobbying for the nearly 1 billion stadium. The new stadium will be built on the downtown Minneapolis site of the 30-year-old Metrodome, an inflatable bubble-topped building the Vikings argued did not generate enough revenue for the team to compete.

On Thursday, the Vikings and the University of Minnesota announced they have reached preliminary agreement on the Vikings' use of TCF Bank Stadium during construction of a new Vikings stadium. Under the agreement, the Vikings will pay the university a fixed fee of 250,000 per game. The combined rent and expected concessions and sponsorship revenue that the Vikings would share with the university would amount to 300,000 per game, or 3 million per regular NFL season. The Board of Regents takes up the agreement Friday, and university President Eric Kaler could sign the letter of intent in the next few days.

The Senate vote capped an amazing comeback for the Vikings' stadium dreams, which just a few weeks ago were fizzling before a visit from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell crystallized fears that the Vikings could leave the state without a new home.

At a celebratory news conference, owner Zygi Wilf recalled when he and his brother Mark first took ownership of the team nearly seven years ago and being asked whether they would move the team.

''We kept on fighting that this day would come, and it's here today,'' Wilf said.

Dayton publicly thanked the Wilfs for agreeing to a 50 million bump in their share in final negotiations this week.

''Without your willingness to take that last step, we wouldn't have crossed the goal line,'' the governor said.

The stadium project - with 51 percent of the construction cost covered by taxpayers - comes after years of state deficits and spending cuts to schools, health care and other programs. The state is currently in the black, but a 1 billion-plus deficit is projected for the two-year budget that starts in mid-2013.

''When this doesn't work, it's money right out of schools, right out of welfare, right out of health care, right out of you name it - everything we spend money on,'' said Sen. Sean Nienow, R-Cambridge, before he cast a vote against the project.

Opponents on both sides of the political spectrum predicted that the state is likely to further expand gambling if the electronic pull-tabs - now just a low-tech paper game offered in bars and restaurants - don't bring in enough money.

''They'll want to double down on the bad deal. We've created a monster here,'' said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, leader of the conservative faction within the GOP Senate caucus.

Stadium supporters noted that the final deal required the team to round up 477 million from private sources, 50 million more than originally promised.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said he is confident the gambling money will come through. The bill envisions the new electronic games bringing in 59 million a year in tax revenue by 2014. But if tax collections end up being lower, a sports-themed lottery game and a 10 percent suite tax would kick in. Together the two measures would raise 4 million a year, Magnus said.

''Certainly there are a lot of folks that are never going to support any stadium no matter if a fairy godmother dropped one next door to us,'' said Magnus, who participated in a legislative group that worked behind the scenes on a bill for two years.

Over the long term, supporters also expect the stadium to be a good deal for the state. Sen. John Harrington, DFL-St. Paul, said he expects the return on the state's investment to be substantial over time. The Metrodome was built for 55 million, including 33 million in public money, and ended up bringing in hundreds of millions in tax revenue over the past three decades. Harrington said he voted yes on the stadium to help put people to work.

''I have 20 percent unemployment on the east side of St. Paul,'' he said. ''I need every job in this bill that we can possibly come up with.''

The deal guarantees the Vikings' future in Minnesota for three decades. Bagley said the team's billionaire owners, New Jersey developers Zygi and Mark Wilf, supported the final plan, even with the additional private cost, because time was running out. Senate passage came on the last day the Legislature was allowed to take votes.

''It's a good deal for the state, it's a good deal for our fans and it's a good deal for Minneapolis. It's a fair deal,'' Bagley said.

The Vikings intend to take advantage of an NFL loan program, sell naming rights and possibly impose seat license fees to help cover the team's end of construction costs. They will be bound by a 30-year lease on the stadium and pay about 13 million a year in operating fees. Minneapolis will kick in about 7 million a year for operating costs, and a public authority will have the power to rent the stadium on non-game days for concerts, conventions and special events such as monster truck rallies.

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Johnny Oduya feeling better, more up to speed with Blackhawks

Perhaps the best thing about the Johnny Oduya trade back to the Blackhawks, for both parties involved, was that Oduya wasn't needed immediately.

It's not that the Blackhawks didn't want the veteran defenseman, who helped them win Cups in 2013 and 2015, back in the lineup as soon as possible. Oduya was coming off an ankle injury, one he re-aggravated and missed about a month when he was with the Dallas Stars. He needed time to fully heal and with the Blackhawks in good shape in the standings and with solid depth at defense, he could.

Now with the playoffs right around the corner, Oduya is feeling more like himself.

Outside of missing two games that were the second halves of back-to-backs, Oduya has been playing steadily since March 9. Oduya's minutes have ranged from around 16 to 21 in games. He said he's now 100 percent healthy from his injury and he's feeling the difference on the ice.

"It makes a big difference," Oduya said on Thursday, prior to facing the Stars for the first time since his trade back to Chicago. "I mean, obviously sometimes you get more or less lucky, depending on what you get and the style of play and what you do or not. Skating is a part of my game I try to use as much as possible to get in good position and try to take away time from the opposition as much as possible.

"Even with battling and things like that, of course it's nice to feel more confident," Oduya added. "In any situation, you're in you want to feel confident on the ice."

The Blackhawks have seen that confidence in previous postseason runs and are looking to see it again in Oduya. Coach Joel Quenneville considers Oduya, "Mr. Reliability."

"You look back at what he delivered for us, not just the regular season, but he's been solid and reliable in the playoffs. He's assumed some important matchups and important minutes," Quenneville said. "Last year, we didn't have him on the back end and watching him this year, it was the perfect fit him coming back."

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The Blackhawks' defensive group hasn't changed much since Oduya's first stint here. The system probably hasn't been altered much, either. Still, Oduya's not taking anything for granted and is trying to get back on the same page quickly.

"Same as the last time I came into a great hockey team and I really just want to get up to speed and up to date as quickly as possible," Oduya said. "Little things that may have changed. I want to fit in as well as I can. That's the idea anyone has coming in late in the year. The guys here make it pretty easy; the coaching staff is familiar with the way I play and helps speed up things a little more."

The Blackhawks are trying to be their best heading into the postseason. So is Oduya. He needed a little extra time to get back to health and he may still need a little time to get back to speed, but he's just about there. 

"I feel pretty good. Of course it's a lot easier when you have guys around you you've seen before, a coaching staff," Oduya said. "It's a work in progress, anyway. I want to be better, I want to evolve with the team and want us to be better, too. It's a work in progress."