Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY

Sunday slant: No faulting Wilfs’ desire for Minnesota Vikings

NFL owners continue to possess assets that are massively increasing in valuation, but the Wilfs keep investing in whatever they think can foster a winner for the Minnesota Vikings.

Mark and Zygi Wilf don’t need to be praised for building a new headquarters for their Minnesota Vikings. It’s the cost of doing business … if they want to spend that kind of money. Not all owners seem as willing.

The Wilfs certainly could have maintained the status quo with the old-school, 36-year-old Winter Park building in Eden Prairie that can’t be expanded upon because of the wetlands surrounding it. They could have continued to have their employees spread out in four different locations because of the space constrictions and maintained training camp in Mankato.

All of that is status-quo thinking, but billionaires usually aren’t status-quo kind of thinkers.

No, the Wilfs are builders doing what they do best – developing. Developing a newer, bigger headquarters in Eagan and hoping that investment contributes to the development of a Super Bowl team.

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When Red McCombs bought the team in 1998 and sold it seven years later, the value of the franchise had tripled. Since the Wilfs bought it from McCombs in 2005, it has tripled again … and more. Forbes placed the valuation of the franchise at $2.2 billion in 2016, 17th in the NFL (if you are looking for a reason that league owners haven’t continue to pay Roger Goodell handsomely, this is it).

The Wilfs could sit on their massive pot of money as it grows and makes an operating income of $51 million, according to Forbes, or they could reinvest in the product. They have chosen the latter.

Yes, they will reap the rich rewards of this whenever they are interested in selling, but that doesn’t appear to be anytime soon and fans should enjoy the ride while it lasts.

The Vikings are routinely spending up to the salary cap, despite no Super Bowls to show for it. Hope springs eternal, just like the income.

It wasn’t always that way. 

McCombs invested $400,000 to get new carpet and furniture at Winter Park when he bought the team, but there were plenty of stories about his miserly ways and his Texas hustle and bustle didn’t impress local politicians when it came to looking for public money for a new stadium.

Eventually, McCombs got fed up with the political push-back and sold to the Wilfs, who showed the patience needed to work out what was roughly a 50-50 split between the Vikings and public money to tear down the antiquated Metrodome and erect a stadium that is ranked among the best in the world. And then the Wilfs continued to pick up the tab for upgrades to U.S. Bank Stadium that they wanted as plans came together. It’s some of those finishing touches that have contributed the rave reviews the stadium has earned.

Again, you don’t have to praise them for spending more. It was their choice, but these billionaires don’t think small.

Their latest product – or at least the steel shell and plenty of renderings to depict the final vision – for the headquarters in Eagan depict an impressive facility and surrounding development. The Wilfs and their developing partners will continue to make millions from the 200-acre site, but who wouldn’t do that if they could? Maybe some, but not the hard-charging Wilfs.

“We’re incredibly excited as a Vikings organization about this incredible project for a number of reasons. First and foremost, we’re going to give our players the best possible environment to succeed. And that’s still our ultimate goal is to win a Lombardi Trophy and Super Bowl championships for the people of Minnesota and for Vikings fans everywhere,” Mark Wilf said.

“The facility is going to provide much-need modernization and upgrades that set the pace in the NFL and are critical in recruiting and retaining future players.”

For some, resentment followed, but it’s hard to imagine anything but jealously from that crowd. For others, there seems to be genuine appreciation for the investment.

The Wilfs have desperately wanted to own a Super Bowl-winning team. They don’t meddle in the front office or coaching, but have the final say in the big decisions that involved investment of money or investment in top talent. They are more like the rich uncles that continue to spend on hope for their football family’s name.

Like they did with U.S. Bank Stadium, they throw around catch phrases like “world-class facility” and encourage that phrasing among their executives. In both cases, with the stadium and the Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, it seems to ring true.

The Vikings had representatives scouring NFL and major-college facilities for ideas on what could make their new headquarters the best. They incorporated ideas from the Seahawks, the University of Oregon and the English Premier League. The result won’t just be a massive upgrade in size, but quality.

The Vikings’ portion of the 200-acre site will rest on 40 acres, more than three times the size of their Winter Park land. The number of grass practice fields will double to four, with an additional synthetic turf field inside a stadium poised to host high school rivalry games and much more. The training area will triple in size, to 6,754 square feet and the training tables will double. The hydrotherapy center will quadruple in size to 1,919 square feet and the number of extremity whirlpool tubs will double from two to four.

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The list of upgrades, both in size, medical advances and technology goes on and on.

They can use it as a learning center for those looking to be educated about television production or athletic medicine.

For some, there is great fear and loathing that training camp in Mankato will be a venue of the past after 2017. But if change is sometimes hard, it can also be welcome when the finished product materializes.

“We’re planning to program this in ways that brings honor, class, grace to the entire state of Minnesota and the entire Twin Cities area. So no decisions have been made as far as training camp is concerned,” Chief Operating Officer Kevin Warren said about the TCO Performance Center while trying to maintain a solid relationship with Mankato as training camps are still hosted there.

“If you look around this area, we’re programming this area to accommodate as many fans as we possibly can and give back to this community, but our goal here is to build the best sports headquarters environment that touches upon, health, wellness, technology.”

Money will always talk. It does for the Wilfs and it still will for future free agents considering an offer from the Vikings. But it would be difficult for a player or a fan to look at the Vikings’ new facility – coincidently (?) scheduled to open just before free agency next year – and think that the organization doesn’t have an ownership group willing to do whatever they can to facilitate a championship.

It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s impossible to lay blame at the Wilf’s willingness to invest.


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