The Minnesota Vikings' lease at the Metrodome may require them to play one more season there, possibly erasing the team's claim of urgency in assembling a new stadium deal.
"We believe that the use agreement, because of the shortened season, calls for another year at the Dome," Metropolitan Sports Facilities Chairman Ted Mondale said Friday.
Shortened season? What does that mean?
The collapse of the Metrodome roof last winter in a freak blizzard forced the Vikings to play two of their 2010 season home games elsewhere. That, Mondale said, triggered the lease extension clause.So in essence, because the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission couldn't provide a suitable place for the Vikings to play at the end of last season, the Vikings are required to spend another year in the same place that was unsuitable.
As you'd have guessed, the Vikings are not amused:
The Vikings disagree and say the agreement with the commission, which owns the Metrodome, expires by Feb. 1. If the National Football League team tries to leave, the dispute could land in court, a scenario similar to the commission's successful 2002 legal fight to keep the Minnesota Twins in the Metrodome.Think about this for a minute -- a freak blizzard is what is known in the legal biz as force majeure, also known as an "Act of God." As mentioned in the link I provide here, the key is that a force majeure provision, which is typically part of most contracts, binds both parties:
Vikings Vice President Lester Bagley said the team's view is based on legal analysis of the lease. "It is not in the state's or anyone's best interest to look for any reason to further delay a stadium solution," he said.
Typically, force majeure clauses cover natural disasters or other "Acts of God", war, or the failure of third parties--such as suppliers and subcontractors--to perform their obligations to the contracting party. It is important to remember that force majeure clauses are intended to excuse a party only if the failure to perform could not be avoided by the exercise of due care by that party.I'm not a lawyer, but in most cases that means the cause that is beyond the control of either party doesn't change the terms of the agreement. What Mondale is arguing is that the Vikings are responsible for non-performance because they couldn't play the agreed number of games at the Dome and that therefore they owe the MSFC another year. Really? If that were true, the lease is potentially perpetual. Suppose the Vikings were actually forced to play 2012 in the Dome under the terms of the existing lease. Now suppose that, the night before the last game of the 2012 season, there is a massive power outage in downtown Minneapolis and Xcel Energy can't restore power for a week. Would the Vikings then be obliged to play 2013 in the Dome, too? If Mondale's reading is correct, the answer is yes. Then in 2013, we could have a water main issue that would keep them until 2014. And in 2014 maybe another blizzard might do the trick. Heck, why negotiate at all?
I would imagine that the force majeure clause that Mondale believes binds the Vikings is related less to weather than it is to work stoppages -- remember that in 1982, the NFL had a strike that wiped out a big part of the season. A work stoppage is a force majeure event, but weather is a different matter.
The MSFC is probably looking for the equivalent of another Judge Harry Crump to enforce this provision. Crump is the now-retired county judge who stopped the Twins from getting out of their lease in 2002. And I have little doubt the MSFC would have no trouble forum-shopping the issue and finding a modern-day Crump.
So is this a win for those who want to keep the Vikings in Minnesota? Hardly. Do you suppose the Vikings and the NFL would be interested in making an agreement with anyone in Minnesota if they use this approach? I could easily see enforcement of such a provision leading to a sale of the team, which would pretty much guarantee that the Vikings would be gone in 2013. The NFL may value the eyeballs and greenbacks the Vikings generate in this market, but the NFL's business model is contingent on always winning in the end, so they wouldn't be willing to accept a loss. If Minnesota wants to be the place that stops public subsidies for billionaires, I think that's great. I support the notion wholeheartedly. But we need to understand one thing: if Minnesota stands firm, Minnesota won't be part of the NFL's future until it gets its mind right, at least as far as the NFL sees it.