Tuesday, August 21, 2018
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Vikings new owner says he's committed to Minnesota
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Reggie Fowler, left, has agreed to buy the Minnesota Vikings from current owner Red McCombs, right. The deal, worth a reported $625 million, was announced Monday. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs has agreed to sell the team to Phoenix-based businessman Reggie Fowler. The two didn't disclose the sale price when they made the announcement Monday, but it's believed that Fowler will pay more than $600 million. NFL owners must still approve the deal.

Eden Prairie, Minn. — Reggie Fowler is a former college and professional football player. He's now the head of a company called Spiral Inc., which sells supplies to grocery stores like bags, cups and containers. Fowler's personal net worth is estimated at more than $400 million.

In his first official press conference with Minnesota news media, Fowler was asked to address the concerns Vikings fans may have about him possibly moving the team. He says fans shouldn't worry about that.

"I plan to move here. I plan to become a part of your community and become part of your state," Fowler said. "All I know about Minnesota is what I've read about Minnesota. But when you decide to acquire an asset of this level that's so important to your state, I think it's important for you to understand that we want to become part of your community. You have to be."

League rules require a general partner to put down 30 percent of the cash portion of the purchase. Fowler could borrow up to $125 million from the NFL's own league-wide credit consortium. If the purchase price is near the reported $625 million, that would leave a balance of $500 million; Fowler's share of that would be about $150 million.

Fowler says he's confident the deal will go through.

"Mr. McCombs is a very astute businessman. I don't think we would be sitting here together if we didn't have the ability to come up with our 30 percent," Fowler said.

McCombs bought the team in 1998 for nearly $250 million dollars. A Texas billionaire, McCombs says he has mixed feelings about selling. McCombs says he always dreamed of owning a professional football team. However, he says he knew early on that the team couldn't be competitive in the Metrodome. McCombs says the Dome didn't have enough space for luxury boxes, concessions and other revenue generators.

"And we went to work to try to find a way to get a new facility. About two years ago, I recognized we just were getting nowhere with that," said McCombs. "That was when I announced to you, and you announced to the world, that we would look at opportunities for somebody else to buy the club."

Fowler largely sidestepped the stadium issue, saying it wouldn't be appropriate for him to talk about the stadium issue until his purchase of the team is approved. Still, it's clearly something the league is interested in addressing.

The Vikings rank near the bottom of NFL teams in terms of revenues. However, sports economist and Washington State University professor Rodney Fort says the team was still making money. He says according to estimates by Forbes magazine, the Vikings bring in more than $140 million a year. Fort says about $4 million of that is take-home pay for the owner.

"It's pretty tough to lose any money in the NFL. So in that sense, the change of ownership doesn't signal that the Minnesota Vikings are going under or that there's some fire sale or something like that," says Fort.

NFL owners are partners. They share revenues from lucrative television and sponsorship contracts. Fort says that arrangement helps keep the playing field pretty even, but not completely. He says some teams do better because they have stadiums that make them money. And Fort says Vikings fans should expect the new owners to start talking about stadiums and the revenue issue right away.

Asked about becoming the league's first black owner, Fowler simultaneously said he thought it was "a great thing" and not that big a deal.

"Because those are the ones they get to keep. They don't have to share. Stadium oriented revenues are the ones that are shared less than others. And that's where they get their edge," said Fort.

Reggie Fowler declined to name his partners, however he did acknowledge that Minnesota car dealer Denny Hecker is part of the team. The other owners are reported to be real estate investors from the East Coast. If the league approves of the sale, Fowler will become the first African American owner of an NFL team.

Fowler simultaneously said he thought it was "a great thing" and not that big a deal. And he said it didn't figure in negotiations with McCombs.

"He did not discount the price because of that," Fowler said, laughing.

Jim Stapleton, a former Detroit Tigers executive, said he will serve on the Vikings' board of directors and help guide the new ownership group through the stadium-seeking process.

"The history and the significance of this is not lost on us," said Stapleton, who also is black. "But whether we were black, white or yellow, our goal would still be to make the Minnesota Vikings a world-class franchise on and off the field."

McCombs says it could take anywhere from three to 10 weeks for the league to make the decision about the sale.

During McCombs' run, the Vikings have sold out every home game and made the playoffs four times in seven seasons - twice advancing to the NFC championship game.

But his personal popularity waned as he pushed harder for a new stadium, especially when he talked about moving the team to Los Angeles.

Frustrated by the lack of revenue from a new stadium, McCombs cut costs whenever he could. The Vikings were well under the salary cap this season and have one of the lowest-paid coaching staffs in the league.

"When the time comes, if Mr. Fowler sees that we need to make changes and there are things to get better, we'll do that," vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski said. "But in the meantime, we're confident that we're doing things the right way here."

On Monday, McCombs said he would "always be a Viking" and regretted that he wasn't able to get a new stadium.

"I loved it," he said of owning the team. "I think I did a very good job at it. But the fact of the matter is it was never going to work."

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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