Around noon CDT, Monday, the Vikings are expected to announce the sale of the team from Red McCombs to an investment group led by Arizona real estate magnate Reggie Fowler. But if the prospect of Red finally relinquishing the team causes you to stir with excitement, be prepared, instead, to stir with continuing doubts about the direction of this organization. Because, for all commotion surrounding this sale, only one thing is certain--the sale of the Vikings to Fowler's group looks more and more like the transfer of an investment to another carpet-bagging investment group.
The Kraft Model of Commitment
Several years ago, long-time Patriot fan Robert Kraft fulfilled an equally long-time ambition to purchase his hometown team. Immediately after purchasing the team, Kraft did what Patriots' fans hoped he would do, he began investing in the team. For Kraft, the investment philosophy was simple--continue to improve the on-field product to draw back the fans. But Kraft added a nice touch to this philosophy, a touch that, perhaps, only a fan would add, by building the franchise for the long haul.
In his endeavor to build a franchise for the the long-term, Kraft made several key moves. First, he hired an experienced head coach. Then he doled out contracts to several more than capable assistants. Several of those assistants have already moved on to higher positions, including NFL head-coaching positions. Next, Kraft used his allocated cap space to sign quality free agents.
Kraft also committed his own money to build a new stadium. Along with any inherent risk in funding a stadium without public support, Kraft, of course, accrued the benefits of owning the stadium outright. This included retaining stadium naming rights, seat licensing rights, concession revenue rights, parking revenue rights, and advertising rights. That adds up to a lot of cash. But it also requires an owner to make, and signals the making of, a long-term commitment to the team.
The Red and Soon-to-be-Reggie Model of Commitment
On the opposite end of the NFL franchise ownership spectrum stands Red McCombs. McCombs purchased the Vikings in 1998 and also immediately began to exhibit an interest in improving what was already a very competitive team. To this end, Red doled out extensions to what he deemed to be key veterans. Red also spoke loudly and often, in Texas-tongue fashion, about "Purple Pride."
The critical difference between Red and Kraft is that while Kraft was building a team for long-term success and making a commitment to that endeavor, Red was fixated on the short-term. And the short-term for Red meant ensuring sellouts, whether by fielding good teams or merely through pre-season promises that the Vikings would be "better than ever," as well as by ad nauseum cajoling of fans to take pride in the Vikings.
We should have seen the writing on the wall when Red brought in Rob Brzezinski to be the team's capologist. While many viewed the hiring as the first step in reigning in Red's prior contract extension gaffes, the more sagacious looked at the hiring with skepticism. Is this Red reigning in his own hasty tendicies, as he is leading us to believe, or is it Red, the used car/football team trader surreptitiously attempting to squeeze every last penny out of a franchise that he intends to dump in the near term?
It soon became evident that Red, unlike Kraft in New England, was all about creating a perception of quality football long enough to ensure a nice net return per season and an even nicer net return on the sale of the team after only a handful of seasons. Perception of the team, much like perception of a used car, is what seals the deal. And Red extolled at creating positive perceptions.
Out With the Old, In With the Old
The proposed sale of the Vikings to the Fowler group looks very much like a sale to an investment group more akin to adopting a profit-making approach set forth by McCombs than one set forth by Kraft. Fowler, already tight on funds by NFL ownership standards, is said to be about a 50-50 bet to pass the NFL's financial screening process. And Fowler's lacky, our own used car dealer, Denny Hecker, appears more interested in profiting from land speculation should a new stadium be built in Anoka County than in seeing that the Vikings are a competitive team.
All of which suggests that, rather than getting a Robert Kraft in the deal, as Vikings' fans desire and deserve, Vikings' fans are much more apt to get another Red McCombs ownership. And all that does is give Vikings' fans reason to look forward to the day when Glen Taylor finally does acquire the Vikings.
Up Next: The Verdict.