ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — The public officials who run U.S Bank Stadium acted unethically — but not illegally — by giving free luxury suite tickets to friends and family.
That’s according to a tough new report from the Minnesota Legislative Auditor, who says the legislature needs to step in. The audit found that nearly half of the tickets in two luxury suites went to friends and family of Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority officials.
Stadium officials say they changed their free ticket policy after a public outcry over the special perk. But the report raises serious questions about how the stadium is run.
The scathing auditor’s report raises ethical questions about the use of luxury suites by stadium officials who run the facility. Especially free tickets for friends and family that are purportedly meant for marketing purposes.
“Is the authority using the suites for their stated public purpose? Marketing? And in too many cases, they are not used for that purpose,” Minnesota Legislative Auditor James Nobles said.
The report found that stadium staff distributed 352 tickets to luxury suites. About 45 percent, or 158 of them, went to friends and family. Only 29 percent, 101 tickets, were for marketing.
Top lawmakers called it inexplicable and offensive.
“It’s become a kind of private club that any Joe Citizen would not be able to use. And clearly when we set out doing the Vikings stadium, it was meant to be the People’s Stadium,” Rep. Sarah Anderson of the House Government Operations Committee said. “And we are now far afield from being the People’s Stadium.”
Under withering questioning, stadium officials repeatedly apologized for the ticket debacle, citing a new “no freebie” policy.
“And I apologize because I definitely hear that people are disappointed, angry with what we have done. I hear you,” Michelle Kelm-Helgen, the chair of the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, said.
Angry lawmakers are preparing to overhaul the stadium operations, and accused stadium officials of being tone-deaf.
“Thirty six tickets per event! Willy Nilly to whoever you wanted! Was actually overstepping that code of ethics! Did it ever occur to you that there was something wrong with this?” Sen. Julie Rosen of the Senate Finance Committee said.
The legislative auditor also revealed Tuesday the MSFA controls three luxury suites, not two. Stadium officials say they rent out the “Cabin Suite” for events, which has generated $192,000.