NFC North Hot News

The Vikings could be on the move to greener pastures, while the Packers flourish in the NFL's smallest market.

Hot News updates from, and the Insiders

The Packers play in the NFL's smallest city but the $295 million renovation of Lambeau Field has made them an economic force in pro football.

In terms of revenue, the Packers now rank 10th in the 32-team league based on the fiscal year that ended March 31. One year ago, the team ranked 20th.

The Packers reported this month that their net income after taxes was $15.5 million, a jump of $11.7 million over the previous fiscal year.

In addition, the Packers benefited from the Houston Texans, the newest team in the NFL. Last season, the Texans sent a check for $5 million ($3.3 million after taxes) to the Packers and each of the other teams as part of the team's expansion fee.

The Packers' total operating income was $153.1 million, compared with $132 million the previous fiscal year, or an increase of $21.1 million.

Also impressive is the growth of the team's corporate reserve account, the piggy bank that is used for player signing bonuses and other football operations. Last season, the account grew to $58 million, a jump of $22.4 million from the previous year of $35.6 million.

The turnaround is the direct result of the $295 reconstruction of Lambeau Field, a project that is expected to be completed by August.

Although the Packers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, they had much better luck off the field. A combination of agreeable weather, few construction problems and the availability of additional seats and fan amenities gave the Packers a bigger financial shot in the arm than expected.

"This has given us the financial horsepower to survive and compete," Packers treasurer John Underwood said.

Said John Jones, senior vice president and chief operating officer: "We have delivered on our promise to protect this franchise for future generations."

Last year, the team was able to put in about 1,000 new outdoor seats and increase capacity by 3,000 to 64,000. In addition, new, pricier private boxes were made available.

Meanwhile, the new Packers Pro Shop, including Internet and catalog sales, produced even more revenue. The Pro Shop had gross revenue of $11.1 million for the last fiscal year compared to $6.2 million the year before. The Packers expect to generate about $12 million this year.

The financial picture should be bright in the years ahead, although there was some grumbling among fans when ticket prices were raised for 2003.

The Packers intend to make Lambeau Field a place to visit throughout the year, not just during football season.

The team's new banquet facilities, its new atrium with restaurants and the Packer Hall of Fame all are expected to make more money.

Already the team has locked up nearly 140 events from September through December.

"Our goal is to make the economic playoffs," Jones said.

Of course, the NFL's shared TV package is the crucial element to the club's bottom line. Although gate receipts provided additional revenue, the Packers received $77.1 million as part of their share of the TV contract in the last fiscal year.

That money represents a little more than half of the Packers' operating income.

The Packers said they didn't know which teams rank ahead of them in overall revenue. Clearly, however, Dallas, Washington and Houston are ahead of them.

Just about everybody involved with the football side of the Vikings operation is on vacation through the July 4 holiday, and yet the rumors continue to leak out of Winter Park.

Especially on the subject of the Vikings' future home. Is it in Minnesota, where prospects of a new stadium continue to look dim? In L.A., where the Vikings -- among a few other NFL teams -- see great possibilities?

Well, a local report over the weekend likely raised the eyes of anyone believing there is a conspiracy to move the Vikings.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press asked three local law professors to analyze the team's lease with the Metrodome. Now, this lease -- along with the so-called Rozelle letter guaranteeing a team would stay in Minnesota -- is generally viewed as the most iron-clad reason for believing the Vikings would stay in Minnesota at least until that lease expires in 2011.

But in the eyes of the three experts, the Vikings would appear to have a chance at breaking that lease.

Of course, it's not that easy. Once litigation were to get started, who knows what a court would do. But the Vikings' lease contains some wording that could make the lease more breakable than, say, the lease the Minnesota Twins hold. That's important, because a little more than a year ago, when Major League Baseball was threatening to contract the Twins, had a local judge rule that the Twins had to remain at the Dome.

The provision in the Vikings' lease that some say make it breakable is a damages provision that would require the Vikings to pay the Metropolitan Sports Commission -- which operates the Dome -- an amount each year that's equal to the average rent, concession, parking and ticket-tax revenues generated by the Vikings games since 1982. That annual figure is estimated to be about $5.5 million per year. That means if the Vikings were to leave before the coming year, they would owe about $44 million for the remaining eight years of the contract.

Now, it doesn't appear the Vikings are set to move anywhere for this season. But the signs continue to point towards something happening in the fairly near future. Owner Red McCombs -- who has been mum on the subject for about a month -- has been trying to sell the team, but hasn't had anyone come close to his asking price of about $600 million. McCombs has met in New York with NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue in a meeting believed to be the first step in convincing the league that the Vikings are no longer viable in Minnesota, despite five straight years of sellouts. McCombs asked about the L.A. market at that meeting.

Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty has also had a meeting with Tagliabue. In it he stressed his desire to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. But wanting to and being able to are two different things, especially in a state where the voters don't want to subsidize such a project. Besides, it appears the Twins are first in line for a new facility.

Meanwhile, McCombs just sold off the catering part of the Vikings corporation, something he inherited when he bought the team in 1998. It is a move generally viewed as a precursor to some sort of sale; McCombs made a pretty penny on the deal, yet selling the catering business wouldn't affect the price of his team.

This much is clear. McCombs is growing impatient, and he continues to constrict the cash flow to his team; the Vikings ranked near the bottom in actually salary outlay.

Detroit Lions
QB ready to prove his worth

Lions rookie quarterback Curt Anes is battling the perception that Division II quarterbacks are a cut below major college quarterbacks in NFL potential.

Anes, who led Grand Valley State to the NCAA Division II national championship last winter, believes he can compete.

``I know I can play with the big guys,'' Anes said. ``I proved that in the all-star games. I made the all-star dream team but it doesn't matter. I was playing with the elite competition of Division I and I'm outplaying the other quarterbacks -- the Ken Dorseys, the Brian St. Pierres and others -- and still the big question was: Well, he played Division II, what can he do against better talent?''

'Diamond in the rough'
There wasn't much that James Davis didn't do for the defense in his four years at West Virginia. Although he played most of his college career at 220 pounds, he lined up -- at various times -- at defensive end, strong safety and linebacker.

In the Lions minicamps it became clear he will get his chance to play in the NFL as a linebacker. Lions president Matt Millen doesn't expect immediate results from Davis, he expects eventual production.

"He's gained weight now," Millen said. "He's like 238 pounds so I'm going to put him in the middle to have him learn that and I'm going to have him learn the outside spot.

"He's going to sit there for a year, run down on kickoffs and punts, and then hopefully next year he's going to compete for a starting spot -- inside or on the strongside. I think that kid's kind of a diamond in the rough."

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