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By Dave Campbell / AP Sports Writer, Published December 10 2010

Cloudy future: Vikings face uncertainties with stadium

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – The Vikings are approaching the end of perhaps the most disappointing of their 50 seasons in Minnesota, the playoffs a near impossibility in a year with Super Bowl aspirations.

Next year will be filled with uncertainty about whether the Vikings will actually stay in Minnesota.

The Vikings are about to enter the final year of their lease at the Metrodome, now known as Mall of America Field, without any guarantee where they’ll play their home games beyond the 2011 season, if there is one with the labor situation unclear. And two separate groups in Los Angeles are trying to lure a team back to the nation’s second-largest market, which has been missing one since the Raiders and Rams both left in 1995.

How realistic is the possibility the Vikings would move west?

One analyst who closely follows the business of sports, economics professor Andrew Zimbalist of Smith College in Massachusetts, says he doesn’t see it happening.

“Minnesota is just too strong a market,” Zimbalist said Thursday. “I’m sure it’ll be discussed, because they want to apply pressure. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.”

In Zimbalist’s view, the San Diego Chargers and the Jacksonville Jaguars are on top of the list of teams most likely to relocate to Los Angeles.

The Chargers can declare their intent to leave between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year through 2020 if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm Stadium in 1997. They announced this week they’re staying in San Diego for 2011, but beyond that their whereabouts are unknown.

Commissioner Roger Goodell said last February he’s concerned about the Jaguars and that attendance needs to pick up for the city to keep the franchise. There’s also speculation about the Buffalo Bills, the Oakland Raiders, the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.

Lester Bagley, a Vikings vice president, has acknowledged contact from both Los Angeles area developers Majestic and AEG groups about their interest in the franchise. The team’s response, according to Bagley, was that the focus remains on getting a new facility built in Minnesota.

“I think our issue is being watched nationally. People know that we’re down to the last year on our lease. We’ve been in a long, drawn-out discussion on the matter, but we feel pretty good about where we stand in Minnesota,” Bagley said.

This is a metropolitan area still getting used to the Twins new baseball park, Target Field, which has a $545 million price tag. The Twins will pay roughly one-third of the overall cost, but the majority of the money is coming from a special Hennepin County sales tax.

The Vikings are touting job creation – up to 13,000 workers – as a strong reason to commit public money to building a new stadium while acknowledging the state’s priorities for more critical needs like schools or health care.

The Vikings have previously pledged roughly one-third of the cost for a new stadium, which would cost at least $700 million, according to past estimates. They’re currently studying four locations in the Twin Cities area, including the Metrodome site, with a goal of picking one and presenting state lawmakers with a proposal in February.

Any stadium legislation would have to navigate a complicated path, however, with state government is short $6.2 billion over the next two-year budget cycle. Republicans who will run the Legislature next year and Democratic Gov.-elect Mark Dayton are focused on the deficit and the economy, though they haven’t ruled out action on a stadium bill.

Owner Zygi Wilf and the team have avoided direct threats to leave, but in a statement last spring after the 2010 legislative session the Vikings said a stadium solution “must be finalized” in 2011.

Associated Press writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report from St. Paul