Officials Behind $500 Million Vikings' Stadium Subsidy Get Free Luxury Box Tickets for Family and Friends

Stadium deals are always bad for taxpayers, and this is one of many reasons why.


Jerry Holt/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Six government appointees, including the son of a vice president, who negotiated how much public money would be spent building the Minnesota Vikings' new football stadium get free access to luxury boxes for all events in the stadium.

Which, you know, might call into question how hard they really negotiated for the taxpayers on that one.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports that the six members of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA), the quasi-government agency created in 2012 to oversee the public subsidies for the building of U.S. Bank Stadium, get free tickets to two lower-level luxury suites for all events held there. Even though taxpayers covered more than half of the cost of the $1.1 billion stadium, which opened earlier this year, the public is being kept in the dark about who occupies those 36 seats and the adjoining luxury suites during Vikings home games and other events.

The team claims that the suites are used for "marketing purposes," but the Star-Tribune's investigation found that family and friends of the board members are usually in attendance too.

Maybe the best part of the story is the moment when two members of the MSFA board (chairwoman Michele Kelm-Helgen and executive director Ted Mondale) try to justify their sweet, free, and secret perk by arguing that they "work long hours on game days and spent long nights negotiating on behalf of taxpayers during construction of the building, so having friends and family there is reasonable."

Mondale, by the way, is the son of former U.S. vice president Walter Mondale and he has lived the life of a vice president's son. After a brief stint in elected office during the 1990s, he's settled into a rotating set of political appointments. He was appointed to the Twin Cities' Metropolitan Council by Gov. Jesse Ventura in 1999, and he used that post to push for the approval of a pair of ridiculously expensive light rail lines. With that public boondoggle in his resume, he was probably a natural fit on the MSFA board, to which he was named CEO by Gov. Mark Dayton in 2012, just as the new stadium deal was in the works.

(UPDATE: A reader emails to remind me that Kelm-Helgen is the daughter of Tom Kelm, who was chief of staff for former Minnesota Gov. Wendell Anderson. The elder Kelm has also been a power broker of sorts in Minnesota politics for years. The point is that neither Mondale nor Kelm-Helgen is any sort of an expert on stadium financing or sports or construction. As is often the case, they are simply well-connected individuals who got appointed to a commission gig with sweet perks.)

Taxpayers in Minnesota might not have the same high opinion of the hard work done by Kelm-Hagen and Mondale. The public spent more than $500 million on the new stadium—enough to cover the entire playing field with $100 bills 10 layers thick, according to one local news station's analysis—making it one of the largest public subsidies ever given to a sports facility.

The Star-Tribune says they were given the names of 12 current and former public officials who attended and paid for suite tickets to NFL games. After the initial request for information was made, several other officials—including the mayor of Minneapolis and her husband, several state commissioners, Minneapolis' city attorney, and city council members—also wrote checks reimbursing the board for the tickets they had apparently used.

For anyone who isn't part of this special cadre of insiders getting special access to the suites for free would hav to shell out more than $20,000 for season tickets in similar suites at the stadium. Since the six members of the MSFA board also have access to the suites for all other events at the stadium, the actual value of their seats is in excess of that figure.

The whole thing raises ethical questions since public officials in Minnesota are not allowed to receive gifts, including special privileges or access not otherwise available to the general public. That gift ban has a loophole allowing public officials to accept such special freebies if it's part of their official duties.

It's hard to understand how attending a football game is part of a city or state officials "duties" but that seems to be the defense being offered by the MSFA board members responsible for handing out access to the luxury suite—that's why they're talking about those "long hours" that they work on game days.

David Schultz, a Hamline University political science, law and ethics professor, tells the Star-Tribune that claim is "dubious at best" and adds that "beyond state law, it just looks bad."

Schultz is right, but it doesn't just look bad. It is bad. Aside from the ethical issues at play, the story should make clear one of the major problems with government subsidies for sports stadiums and other big development projects like this.

Political appointees who are supposed to be negotiating on behalf of the public in a stadium financing deal—or any similar process where the government is handing out millions of dollars for development that could be done privately—have little incentive to look out for what's actually in the public's best interest and plenty of incentives to make sure the deal gets done. They can easily be captured by the special interests—in this case, the Minnesota Vikings and their owners—that stand to benefit from the subsidies with promises of perks like these.

The only way to prevent those ethical and political maneuvers from taking place is to not hand out the money in the first place. In Minneapolis, that (Viking) ship has sailed.

(Second Update: This story has been corrected to reflect that U.S. Bank Stadium is owned by the MSFA and is not privately owned.)

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    1. Shocked, Rick’s, Gambling, Winnings.

      1. If you don’t take those luxury suite freebies, you will regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.

  1. Yeah but the Vikings.

    1. It is selfless to go and watch Sam Bradford play quarterback.

      1. I really hated that trade, nobody has ever said they were one Sam Bradford away from a championship.

        1. He’s the embodiment of the phrase, “Less than the sum of his parts.” Good, accurate arm, makes his reads, his interceptions aren’t frequent and they usually aren’t because he threw a stupid pass, but it just doesn’t add up to an elite QB in his case.

          1. You’d think someone who started something like seven college seasons would have become the total package.

          2. It would help if his entire body wasn’t made of eggshells. Hard to be consistently good, and put in the work to be great when you miss that much time.

        2. “nobody has ever said they were one Sam Bradford away from a championship.”






    2. Exactly – is watching the Vikings REALLY that much of a perk?

      1. Is there any NFL team where actually watching in person is worth it? I’ve been to one NFL game in my life. Not only did it cost me several hundred dollars and basically eat up an entire Sunday, but I found the actual experience to be a significant downgrade from the TV product.

        1. No, I get the best view on my sofa and it’s a short trip to the fridge for another beer. And no asshole fans to put up with.

        2. I’ll go when I get free tickets. Even then, getting to the stadium, paying for food, sitting with morons, never seems worth it.

          1. No instant replay from every possible angle and if it’s not a dome and it’s cold out side… just fuck that shit.

            1. Cowboys stadium has all replays from every angle even to the teams detriment.

              I’ve watched opposing coaches watch the stadium TV replays before they throw out the challenge flag.

        3. Yeah going to football games sucks unless you tailgate and if you want to do tailgating right College Football is probably the sport for you.

        4. No, college football and Arena football are far better experiences in person. The last time I was at a 49er game, Shaun Hill was QB. Never been to a pro game at Levi’s stadium either

        5. I attended my first Steeler’s game (somehow I never made it to one before) this season and it was fun, but I prefer the atmosphere at college games by a wide margin.

        6. It’s worth going when you’re in a luxury suite…,

        7. “significant downgrade from the TV product.”

          Luxury suites are not about the game they are about seeing and being seen.

          Movers and shakers and all that.

      2. Nope. But I was perturbed when they sold the Northstars. I was in town watching my brother play in the metrodome, when they blew up the Met Center. Not too proud to say I shed a tear or 2.

  2. Alternate spelling for ‘subsidy’ – theft.

  3. Just in from NBC News:

    The suspect’s name was not released, but law enforcement officials told NBC News he was an 18-year-old Ohio State student, a Somali refugee who was a legal permanent resident of the United States.

    The motive was unknown, but officials said the attack was clearly deliberate and may have been planned in advance.

    1. We’ll probably just never know what his motive was.

      1. But ISIS did tell their followers to kill the infidels with knives and cars. But even if that was the motive, it’s still Trump’s fault.

        1. Boooosshhh

      2. Well if we find out if was some kind of blowback, s o s Guliani is going to deny that was his motive. “He just hated our The OSU freedoms!”

    2. Right wingers cheer, left wingers incredibly disappointed.

      1. This libertarian is just sad.

        1. I have yet to see a right winger cheer. But maybe there are some.

    3. Must have been angry about the lack of roads in his homeland.

      1. Hence the use of a car in the attack?

    4. Just like with Orlando and San Bernardino

      Left: OMG Guns are bad! Those evil republicans WHY DO THEY HATE CHILDREN.

      /White men probably at fault

      / Turns out they were Muslim attackers or refugees

      Left: NOTHING TO SEE HERE. We also can’t publish the name or picture of them NO DON’T

      1. The comments have suddenly died way down at HuffPo. Fun is over, folks, nothing more to see here. But next time it will be a white teabagger wearing a Trump hat, for sure!

        1. These people are incapable of learning.

          Islam has been invading and trying to conquer the west for centuries. Wave after wave after wave. It is happening again right under their nose and they just cant see it. This is what an invasion looks like. It isnt a scene out of a movie with orderly soldiers marching under banners. They trickle in until they become so disruptive that the host society cant function. These fuckers are openly admitting that that is their goal, that they are here to conquer and all we get from the brainwashed lefties is their eyes rolling opposite directions in their head while spit dribbles out of their mouth and they spout open borders gibberish and racist! racist! Islamophobe!

          This is why europe is dissolving right before our eyes. They are actively promoting an invasion of people who openly say they are there to fuck their children, cut their throats and take all of their shit. They are brainwashed idiots that cant think. They are being murdered and still have no connection to reality.

          It is pretty horrifying to watch. Yet the left still cant figure out why Trump was successful. They cant see that either.

          1. The leaders of the left fully understand this. Their mistake is thinking that they can be buddies with the Islamists once they have eliminated all those annoying white people who don’t like being told what to do by their betters. If that were to happen, I don’t think they’re going to like what happens next.

            1. You knew I was a snake when you picked me up.

          2. Like the Chrichton book where the guy gets eaten alive, unaware?

          3. Islam has been invading and trying to conquer the west for centuries. Wave after wave after wave.

            Everybody has been trying to conquer everyone since humanity began. If you want to single somebody out, point the finger at the most voracious and extensive conqueror and subjugator of other peoples, by a huge margin: Christians of West European ethnicity.

            1. “point the finger at the most voracious and extensive conqueror and subjugator of other peoples”

              You are only finding fault with the most recent historically successful of those. History isn’t confined to the last couple of centuries.

              Compare the aftermath of the different substations and then compare the outcomes for the subjugated.

        2. And why would a Trump supported even do an attack out of anger? I mean they “won” and all that.

          1. Exactly. Now they’re emboldened.

    5. Aren’t there a lot of Somali refugees living in Michigan? Just sayin’….

        1. I always thought it was pretty mean for the government to resettle refugees from equatorial Africa in the upper Midwest.

  4. Wait, government subsidies are a vehicle for graft?

    No way!!!!!!

    1. There had to be a first time!

  5. How the fuck are these assholes not in jail? At my job, I can’t take more than a $50 gift card from a vendor.

  6. C’mon man…. I used to cook in a Mexican restaurant 30 some odd years ago, and we worked long hours cooking on meal nights (Sunday through Saturday nights), as we spent long nights making chili rellenos. It was common for us to enjoy a few tacos after a hard nights work. This is basically just the same thing, just that the tacos now cost $20,000.

  7. “Government” is just a word for us all getting ripped off together.

  8. I do not understand the *point* of luxury boxes.

    Keep in mind that I’m not a sportball fan at all but sometimes I go to an event to hang out with other people who do like this sort of thing and when doing so I’d far rather be down at the front – where you can actually see what’s going on and hear the impact of multiple 300+lb men smacking into each other at full-throttle – even if the weather is bad.

    If I’m in the luxury box, well, I’ve got a tv at home. And I have all the beer I want. And I can sit in my favorite chair. And I can change the channel if I get bored.

    I guess these boxes exist so that really rich people or cronies can use binoculars to see who’s paying attention to them in the other boxes? See and be seen being seen?

    1. Oh, and the biggest perk of home viewing – when the game is over I can avoid all the traffic getting home.

      1. That perk will lose some value when self-driving cars roll out to the masses.

        1. Only if the seats double as toilets.

    2. Most of the boxes are corporate. And you go with a big group of people.

      They’ll over serve you in the boxes, where as they cut the beer off in the 7th inning in the rest of the stadium.

      1. where as they cut the beer off in the 7th inning in the rest of the stadium.

        Extra inning games must be miserable experiences.

        1. They really are. They almost always shut concessions down by the 7th and they won’t open them up for anything.

        2. Yes, mostly because it’s a baseball game.

      2. I’ve been in one of the corporate boxes for the local AHL team. Sitting up there, eating food and drinking beer, the game below is a second thought. Good time to talk with the co-workers but its not a good hockey experience.

        1. Yeah. The game is an afterthought.

          I was in a box at Dodger Stadium with work friends. Tom Hanks was in the next box over. I don’t think he appreciated a bunch of drunk dudes shouting “THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL” into his box all game.

          1. He is probably used to it at this point.

    3. See and be seen being seen

      Network/bribe. Also, you still get to pee in the sexy piss-trough with the common folk.

    4. ” sometimes I go to an event to hang out with other people who do like this sort of thing and when doing so I’d far rather be down at the front – where you can actually see what’s going on …”

      When I go to a game, I try to get seats in the highest row in the stadium, directly behind the goal posts. There’s a reason they shoot the coaches film from there. Also, it’s basically the only view you can’t get on TV.

    5. Yes, boxes are for corporations to buy and then dole out to groups as a pat on the head. Every time I have gone to a box, 99% of the people are there to drink, eat and chat with each other.

      My proposal for the old Metrodome was to simply dig out a giant basement and put in “luxury boxes” in it. People would get to tell all their buddies that they got to go to a box, the team gets to royally rape corporations for shit tons of money.

      The basement boxes would have ultra HD TV’s on one wall. Like I said, 99% of the people would never know.

    6. You forgot the part about men patting each others asses without being called gay and all that.

      Men on football. 🙂

      1. Wait. Trumpdeau? Hey, was this planned?

  9. Alameda County officials run this same scam with the Golden State Warriors.


    1. Because what they have been doing for decades is working so well.

    2. Can we assume here that every sentence is a lie, as with other topics they write about?

    3. Hilarious that what they view as dismal performance – what they describe as by far the worst among charter school systems – is the same as Detroit’s public schools.

    4. anti-choice

      It would be amusing if people who supported school choice started calling themselves “pro-choice”.

    5. Choice is only OK for killing fetuses. It the fetus actually makes it through a live birth, well that proves they didn’t actually want a choice.

  10. If only there were a reliable way to figure out which people attend events at this stadium and then make only those individuals pay for the stadium. Such payments could, perhaps, even be weighted by the quality of services each individual receives at the stadium. Alas…

    1. This whole business is crazy. And people vote to be taxed for this!!

      1. What is the annual revenue of the Vikings team? Why don’t they build their own damn stadium?

        If they did, I wouldn’t give a piss and, neither should you, about who they give box seats to.

  11. Re: That CBS Minneapolis story…

    It’s a giant sum ? enough money to cover a football pitch in $100 bills more than 19 times over

    We call it a football field in the U.S.A.

    1. Go Buffaloes!

    2. Yeah, are those even U.S. bills?

      1. Duck bills.

  12. Dudes, they are just following the lead of the Target Field Commissioners.

    They get access to a suite for 9 games a year (tax value is $2400/game).

    I also know that the Hennepin County Commissioners get to go to any game they want for free, but are not given an actual seat. So they can go into Target Field for a game, but are not assigned a seat (because that would be unethical).

  13. Who’s watching football?

  14. This is okay, but good Lord forbid you sell a cigarette without NYC approving it.

  15. And I am certain they got a 1099 form showing the retail value of the perk that they will report on their tax forms for next year.

    1. You may be on to something there. Because if the MSFA doesn’t issue those 1099s, the IRS would be very, very interested.

      Remember, this is how they eventually got Capone. And look how that worked out. 😉

  16. RE: Officials Behind $500 Million Vikings’ Stadium Subsidy Get Free Luxury Box Tickets for Family and Friends

    Is this what they cronyism?


    Not because it happened. That’s normal. But because it’s exposed and no one does a thing about it.

    Time for the vigilantes again. Time for tar and feathers. It was so effective in San Francisco in 1856.


  18. Hey, we voted Trump so we could get away from this regulatory crap. Trump has been making deals using tools like stadium seats forever!! We need to get with the program so we use the seats and stadium suite to sweet talk business to come to Minnesota to put people to work! If they do this, the stadium suite s a cheap investment we all leverage to win!

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