Rumors Leak From HQ

Indicators at Winter Park, the Vikings' headquarters, are pointing more and more toward Red McCombs' willingness to sell the team.

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 last season and figure to be near the bottom again this year.

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