Saturday, November 15, 2008

Vikings Dodge Several Bullets

Several years ago, following an edict from the NFL that the Minnesota Vikings winnow their ownership group to include a majority owner, several well-healed names lined up to purchase the team. Among those interested were Red McCombs, author Tom Clancy, and Timberwolves' owner Glen Taylor. As most Vikings' fans are well aware, McCombs won the bidding, taking control of the Vikings and turning the team into a legitimate Super Bowl contender in spite of his penny-pinching ways.

Realizing that he was not going to win legislative support for a publicly financed football stadium, however, McCombs cut the Vikings' budget to the bone--a move that included jettisoning wide-receiver Randy Moss to the Oakland Raiders for linebacker Napolean Harris and what turned out to be purported wide-receiver Troy Williamson. After slashing the payroll and eschewing heating, allowing the Vikings' Norsemen ship to fall into disrepair, and foregoing necessary repairs on the Vikings' headquarters at Winter Park in Eden Prairie, McCombs put the team on the block.

With visions of a new stadium dancing in their heads, prospective purchasers again queued for what seemed like a guaranteed doubling of their investment dollar in a span of but four or five years. In addition to adding several hundred million dollars to the market value of the team, a new stadium offered even greater revenue streams by virtue of parking and naming rights, suite rentals, increased ticket prices, better concession deals, seat licensing, and the unencumberance of the Mike Lynn Metrodome deal.

The giddy prospective purchasers initially included Reggie Fowler, Glen Taylor, and Denny Hecker. Despite fan interest in having a local purchaser, the list of prospective purchasers quickly whittled to one--the little known Fowler. When it became clear that Fowler did not have anywhere near the resources to purchase the team, let alone an Arena Football team, Zygi Wilf and family, with prodding from the NFL, stepped into the mix, absorbing Fowler as a minority, minority owner.

In both instances of change of ownership, Vikings fans overwhelmingly favored the local Taylor as the new owner. Second among fan preferences in the former transfer of team ownership was Clancy. Second among fan preferences in the latter transfer was Hecker.

With Taylor's misguided vision for the aimless Timberwolves on full display for the few who any longer care to take notice, Vikings' fans undoubtedly now are grateful that Taylor backed out of both opportunities to purchase the Vikings (imagine Matt Millen permanently entrenched as Vikings' general manager, despite trading away Adrian Peterson for JaMarcus Russell), citing the low prospect of a return on the team as a primary reason in both instances (Editor's note: McCombs walked away with a $400 million profit and Wilf has already seen an upward adjustment of $200 million in the value of his purchase, without a stadium deal).

If Taylor's penchant for assessing the value of the Vikings going forward and his stewardship of the Wolves are any indication of how well he would have run the Vikings--and they most certainly are--Vikings' fans dodged bullets twice in having Taylor withdraw his bids for the team.

Taylor's decision not to pursue ownership of the Vikings on both occasions were but two strokes of good fortune for Vikings' fans, no matter fan disposition toward McCombs and the Wilfs. Following his near-successful bid to purchase the Vikings, Clancy revealed dire financial straits only partially tied to his pending divorce. And now, with Hecker on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, it appears that Vikings' fans have yet another dodged-bullet for which they should be grateful.

Since taking over the Vikings, Zygi Wilf has made numerous preposterous and cliched statements about the team, seemingly without really knowing much about the team or understanding much about the history of the franchise in Minnesota. Some of the verbiage is par for the course with any new owner of any franchise, and in any professional sports league, some clearly beyond the pale.

Even without consideration of what likely would have been disastrous ownership changes, however, the Vikings and their fans have had, in Zygi and his cohorts, the benefit of an ownership group that has at least attempted to put a good face on the organization, rejuvenating the team's facilities and spending nearly to the salary cap ceiling in year four of their ownership of the team. To be certain, Wilf miscalculated the market's enthusiasm for yet another publicly financed stadium in a bear market and woefully over-valued his own acumen in making the most important personnel decisions that his team initially faced. But, for Vikings' fans, there is at least solace in the knowledge that things quite easily could have been much, much worse.

Up Next: Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay.

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