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NFL boss makes few waves on Fowler, stadium in Minnesota visit
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Paul Tagliabue says the NFL is willing to kick in about $75 million on any deal to build a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue promoted a new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings during a stop in Blaine on Wednesday. However, the stadium issue is one of a few pressing matters concerning the team. The league still has yet to discipline Vikings head coach Mike Tice, who recently admitted to illegally reselling Super Bowl tickets. And a series of reports by the Star Tribune have cast doubt on prospective buyer Reggie Fowler's ability to finance the purchase of the team.

Blaine, Minn. — Commissioner Paul Tagliabue came to Blaine to review the proposed site of a new Vikings stadium located near the National Sports Center. The center is a massive complex that houses facilities for several indoor and outdoor sports. Tagliabue called the plan "well-grounded, well-conceived and realistic." And he says it makes more sense than renovating the Metrodome.

"The services you can provide to fans in a renovated stadium in most situations fall far short of the services that you can provide to fans, not just for football games but for multiple, different events," he said.

New stadiums also mean more revenue. Vikings officials say new stadiums for NFC North division rivals the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears have helped them bring in $20 million more than the Vikings saw last year.

Before his session in Blaine, Tagliabue met with Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Pawlenty says Tagliabue seemed most interested in improving the team's relationship with business community leaders.

"At least for now they're not makin noises or threats about moving the Vikings and that's a good thing," Pawlenty said. "We want the Minnesota Vikings to stay the Minnesota Vikings and I understand people don't want to see us get involved unreasonably in stadium efforts. At the same time Minnesota wants to find a reasonable way to keep our Vikings here."

Pawlenty says he doesn't think the stadium issue will come up again before the end of this session. But he says Tagliabue did reiterate that the league is willing to kick in about $75 million on any deal.

In the NFL, a rising tide truly lifts all boats. Team owners share revenues, so more money for the Vikings is more money for the other owners. The financial relationship among owners is also incentive for the league to carefully scrutinize prospective team buyers like Reggie Fowler.

Tagliabue says the league isn't as concerned about Fowler's money as they are his ability to gather the investors and required funds to make the transaction.

"We are reviewing the mechanisms that have to be concluded to enable the financing to close and we're working on the evaluation of the participants of the arrangements," according to Tagliabue.

The pending sale of the Vikings was announced in February. However, it's expected that the league will not make its decision to approve or reject Fowler's bid until next month. A story published Wednesday in the Star Tribune quotes a league official who says the delay is due in part to a lack of financial documents from Fowler. And the story raises the possiblity that the lack of documents are due to a lack of funds.

Fowler's media representatives didn't return calls for comment on the Star Tribune story, but Fowler has previously asserted that he has the money to buy the team. Tagliabue refused to speculate on the possibility that the sale of the Vikings could fall through.

"I don't have an expectation one way or the other because you can't have an expectation until you have a definitive report and I don't have a definitive report yet," he said.

Meanwhile the Vikings front office continues to prepare for the new season. Vikings vice president of football operations Rob Brzezinski says the pending sale of the team hasn't affected day-to-day operation of the team.

"We've been operating all off-season as business as usual," he said. "That's just something that has to play out. For those of us that are operating the club we just have to go on business as usual and that's what we've been doing."

A big part of the team's business as usual has been to secure public financing for a new stadium. The stadium plan for Blaine and Anoka County would offer up to $240 million in county money towards a stadium that could top $600 million. The state and team would be expected to close the gap with unspecified financing.

But the possiblity of that happening this legislative session looks slim. State lawmakers have not placed stadium finance bills high on their list of priorities.