Holler: Wilfs buck the tight-fisted trend

The Wilf family, owners of the Vikings, are breaking the tradition of frugal finances among past local pro sports owners. They want their new stadium to be "iconic" and were willing to put in $41.1 million more to assure that happens.

Historical context was mostly lost Friday when it was announced that the Wilf family had contributed an additional $41.1 million to the Vikings stadium construction. They paid to keep the "iconic" images that will make the stadium a showpiece of the Twin Cities landscape for decades to come.

For those Minnesotans who have grown up with the ownership groups of the local pro sports franchises – from the Gang of 10 with the Vikings to Calvin Griffith to Norm Green to Marv and Harv – the only attribute all of them shared was that there has never a dollar they didn't want to keep for themselves.

They call the Los Angeles Lakers the Lakers for a reason. Not because of an abundance of lakes in SoCal, but because it was the name of a Minnesota franchise that moved away to greener pastures – pastures that start with $.

Whenever a pro sports franchise went to the state, the county or the city it played in for some help in funding their homes, they were rebuffed. Bad Landlord Syndrome was the norm. The result was a choke-hold on tight-wads – a painful combination.

Griffith once suggested an idea to bring back more foul balls at Metropolitan Stadium so he could save about 75 cents a pop. He was that cheap. It's been said if you asked Griffith to borrow 100 dollars, his response would be, "50 dollars? What do you need 25 dollars for?"

Commerce killed the North Stars – that and Green's busy hands around the office. The former Twins Stadium was going to be replaced by the Taj Ma Mall in Bloomington and the Met Center was suddenly on an island. Demands for the state or a city in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area to step up and build them a new stadium fell on deaf ears. Oilmen in the Metroplex wanted to bring hockey to the Deep South. To be a "real" sports town, you need all four major sports. The franchise move to Dallas accomplished that. One of pro sports' most distinctive and iconic jerseys – some would contend the most emblematic of Minnesota – died when the North Stars became the Dallas Stars.

The Timberwolves would have died quickly if Glen Taylor hadn't have stepped in. Marv Wolfenson and Harvey Ratner, the two principal owners of the Timberwolves when the NBA opted for expansion to cash in on the upsurge of interest in its product, purchased the franchise for $32.5 million. Playing in the Target Center, which also housed one of their franchise health clubs, Marv and Harv drove the Wolves franchise into the ground. They tried to sell the franchise to a group in New Orleans, but the NBA blocked it. The team was sold to Taylor for $88.5 million. Part of the sale was to require a public takeover of Target Center – a controversial decision that put the pro sports owners on the governmental black list in Minnesota.

The Pohlad ownership family of the Twins, frustrated at not getting a publicly funded stadium deal, pulled perhaps the most egregious of crimes against fan humanity by offering themselves up along with the Montreal Expos to contract. They wouldn't pull the Mayflower trucks to move, they would cease to exist – in favor of a $150 million parting gift swag bag. It was that reality that was the impetus to get Target Field built.

And that doesn't even include our close, personal friend Red McCombs, who bought low and sold high like most successful business entrepreneurs do. He would likely still own the team if not for political indifference due to the garrote-style lease agreement he inherited.

The Wilfs should be commended to a much larger extent for their willingness not to cut corners. The home they bought into still doesn't quite look like it's finished – and its demolition will start soon. The home that they're paying a half-a-billion dollars to make a showpiece isn't going to look like another team's practice facility.

There will always be those who dispute the state cost-sharing on the Vikings stadium, which, thanks to Friday's increase in private funding, will likely assure that Minnesota lands a Super Bowl and pays back the state's entire investment in one week. Their refusal to cut corners will open doors.

Considering the other Pottersville owners that have made up the fabric of Minnesota fandom over the decades, the Wilfs are breaking new ground. The Vikings remain the only professional sport that didn't have an end-date. The Lakers left. The North Stars left. The Pohlads would have sold out for $150 million. The Wilfs are ponying up more money – on top of the original commitment – than it took Marv and Harv to franchise the Timberwolves or Carl Pohlad to buy the Twins from Ebenezer Griffith. Say what you want about feeding at the public trough, but any owner willing to give up a dollar is a positive. There are 41 million additional reasons under that line of thinking to thank the Wilfs.


  • The Vikings nominated Jared Allen as its candidate in the third annual Salute to Service Award by the USAA (United Services Automobile Association), the NFL's official military appreciation sponsor. Inspired by a 2009 USO Tour to Iraq, Allen started his Jared Allen's Homes for Wounded Warriors program. Allen's program has expanded from one home being built/remodeled for a disabled soldier in 2011 and 2012 to five homes being completed for wounded veterans.

    John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.

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