The Minnesota Twins' recent demand for state funds to build a rent-free, retractable-roof baseball-only stadium might sound like an old whine to fans who've heard similar pleas from teams in cities from Boston to Los Angeles—especially given that the Twins' home park, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, is barely 15 years old. But the deal the Twins are seeking could usher in a new era in franchise ownership.
The Pohlad family, which owns 90% of the Minnesota franchise that has lost some $35 million since 1993, has offered 49% of the team to the state in exchange for most of the stadium funding. The Twins would continue to absorb any operating losses, while the state would share in any profits. Should the Pohlads want to sell, the state would have first crack at either purchasing their 51% or finding a new owner who would keep the team in Minnesota.
Although the Twins have been identified with the Metrodome since their raucous fans helped them win four home games in the 1987 World Series, the dome was actually built by the state in '82 to keep the Vikings in town. The Twins were an afterthought, and the Vikings bought control of the Metrodome's luxury suites for NFL and major league games. Primarily because of that arrangement, the Twins rank dead last among major league teams in stadium revenue.
The Metrodome lease the Twins signed in '88 gave the team an out if attendance dropped below 80% of the American League average for the 1995 to '97 seasons and the Twins incurred operating losses over that period. The franchise will probably meet those conditions and could legally leave after the '98 season. Yet the state has been reluctant to kick in the roughly $200 million the Twins need for a stadium.
Even if the state approves funding, major league owners may well reject the Pohlads' plan. Public ownership would require the Twins' books—and perhaps, in this era of revenue sharing, those of the other American League teams—to be opened to the public, a development that could expose the creative bookkeeping that teams sometimes employ to disguise profits. What may doom an innovative concept to save a struggling franchise is that many other franchises aren't struggling as much as they suggest.