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Seat licenses could help fund new Vikings stadium

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) -- The idea of seat licenses is a key financing mechanism for a number of sports stadiums, and some experts predict it will become part of the mix in the debate over a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.

Under the arrangement, fans would buy their seat from the team and pay for game tickets separately. In return, teams typically offer perks like free parking or even locker room access. Fans can also resell their seat licenses.

About 60 percent of the seats in new NFL stadiums are licensed. On average, and adjusted for inflation, the licenses have cost about $3,000 each. The idea hasn't received much attention in Minnesota's stadium debate so far, and team officials are guarded about the possibility, Minnesota Public Radio reported Monday.

"Personal seat licenses are a vehicle that can be used to help finance a stadium," Vikings vice president Lester Bagley said. "We have not made a decision as to whether or not to pursue (them)."

Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University, said the NFL has even required seat licenses in some cases.

"They're a guaranteed contractually obligated revenue stream that's very important to the stadium builders and lenders in securing the costs of building and constructing a new stadium," Boland said.

That's partly because the practice is so lucrative. Minneapolis-based Conventions Sports and Leisure did a study examining whether seat licenses could help fund a potential stadium in Los Angeles. That study suggested football fans may have paid an average of $6,300 dollars each for NFL seat licenses since 2003.

"I think it's inevitable that the (personal seat license) is going to be part of a new stadium," said David Carter, a University of Southern California professor and stadium consultant.

Carter expects Minnesota fans will hear more about personal seat licenses as the debate goes on.

According to the Conventions Sports and Leisure study, more than 90 percent of the seats for New York Giants games at the New Meadowlands are licensed. The figure was 70 percent for the stadium the Dallas Cowboys opened in 2009. About half of the seats at Philadelphia Eagles home games have seat licenses.

But seat licenses may not be a panacea either. The New York Jets had to slash their fees, some of them in half, to sell their licenses. The Detroit Lions and New England Patriots didn't try to sell seat licenses when they built new stadiums a decade ago.

The Minnesota Twins have tried a version of the plan. The 3,000-seat Legends Club at Target Field works like seat licensing. Memberships sold for either $1,000 or $2,000 each. The Twins won't disclose the proceeds, but Vikings officials estimate the team made about $5 million.

That's not much by NFL standards. Based on the NFL average for seat license revenue in the last five stadiums, Vikings fans could put up as much as $240 million dollars for the new stadium, MPR reported, adding that the money probably would count toward the Vikings' contribution, which would be on top of any public subsidy.

Vikings fans like P.J. Wiggan are already wary. The Fridley teacher has had season tickets at the Metrodome for more than a decade, but he's not ready to ante up for a new stadium given the team's poor post-season record.

"If I looked at it as an investment opportunity, I could maybe start to justify it," he said. "But an investment in the Vikings is as dangerous as almost any out there. ... We've had four Super Bowl losses, we've multiple recent NFC championship game losses. This is a team that has not yet shown that it knows how to win the big games."