ST. PAUL, Minn. — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't say the Vikings will move to Los Angeles if Minnesota lawmakers don't pass a financing package this year to build the team a new stadium
He didn't say they wouldn't move, either, and that appears to have turned up the urgency to bring an end to this long-running saga.
Goodell and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II met with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders on Friday in hopes of jumpstarting a stalled stadium debate.
"They were here basically to say, 'This is it folks,'" Dayton said.
A simmering movement to put a franchise in Los Angeles came up in the discussion at the prompting of lawmakers, Dayton said. Sen. Julie Rosen, a Republican sponsoring the stadium bill, said legislative leaders heard that Los Angeles is an option, even if there was no explicit threat from the NFL.
"There is no ultimatum, but we did clearly talk about L.A. We did clearly talk about that is an open market," Rosen said. "I do believe there is a feeling in some legislators and even in some folks throughout the state that they would never leave. So it was good to hear from the NFL, and from a very prominent owner, that they do have the right to move or be sold. For us it was good to get everyone on the same page saying this is the year that it needs to be done and we need to move forward."
Vikings officials, including owners Zygi and Mark Wilf, were not present at the meeting. Afterward, most who were in the room said the need to act is urgent.
"There were no implied threats or any threats at all," Goodell said. "What we talked about is the importance of creating a solution here that works for the team, that works for the community. This isn't a new issue. It's been discussed here for several years. I think the legislative leaders and the governor understand the time is now."
Rooney, chairman of league's stadium committee, was also on hand just days after a proposed $975 million stadium failed in a key committee.
"We came to express our concern about where the situation is and do everything we can to encourage that action be taken now," Rooney said. "It seems like there has been an agreement in place that all the parties have worked and is very close to the goal line. We just came to see what we can do to encourage the legislature to move the ball across the goal line."
Rosen said the visit "served us a reality check." She later added, "We cannot wait until next year."
The Vikings have sought a replacement for the Metrodome for more than a decade, and although they will play next season in the Dome, their lease has expired. Dayton has pushed for a stadium deal for months, saying the state is at risk of losing the team just as it did the Lakers long ago.
"Whether the Vikings get sold and somebody's going to move them or move, they didn't address that, and no one knows," Dayton said. "What it is going to create is a lot of uncertainty, and essentially Minnesota's going to be backing the Vikings and the league into a corner and giving them no way out except to take the back door out."
Moving the team is not permissible under league rules this year, but there's always 2013. The Vikings are no longer legally bound by a lease to stay here. They've been contacted before by two separate groups trying to lure a team and build a stadium in Los Angeles but have said, for now, they're not interested in selling.
Under the stalled plan, the Vikings would pay $427 million of the construction costs for the new stadium, which would be built on the Metrodome site in downtown Minneapolis. City and state taxpayers would be on the hook for the other $548 million — or 56 percent of the total cost.
Dayton said the state leaders didn't ask league officials to enhance the private contribution in the financing package. Dayton said the NFL delegation ran through a league loan program that could give the team access to up to $200 million, but it has long been believed franchise owners had figured that money into their calculations.
"This is a two-minute drill and things will have to be moving a bit more quickly," said Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who declined to guarantee an up-or-down vote this year.
The plan awaited action later Friday in a Senate committee where the proposal stalled more than a month ago. The lead Senate Democrat, Tom Bakk, said his caucus would provide the needed votes to dislodge it. Bakk said the stadium puzzle gets even tougher next year, when another projected budget deficit is the main focus and with anticipated legislator turnover after November's election.
Democratic Rep. Mary Murphy, a 35-year Capitol veteran, said she is undecided on the Vikings stadium and doesn't anticipate taking a side until she sees the final bill. But Murphy said she senses sentiment is shifting in favor of the Vikings and the visibility campaign by the NFL could play a part as the session wanes. More calls and emails are coming in, too.
"We're going into the final weeks. People are going to be more vocal as we're out and about" back home, Murphy said. "I just have a feeling it's shifting for the stadium. People's attitudes are."