Tagliabue's Take: Ownership, Stadium, Tice

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue gave much more than just a rah-rah speech for a new Vikings stadium during a press conference that lasted about 30 minutes. He talked about the ownership situation, the scalping of Super Bowl tickets and also went into detail on the complexities involved in stadium deals. Today, we go in-depth on Tagliabue's press conference.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue didn't shy away from too many questions posed by reporters at Wednesday's press conference assembled to talk about the possibilities of a new Vikings stadium.

Tagliabue wouldn't get into specifics on the Vikings ownership situation and dismissed a question about prospective owner Glen Taylor, but his wide-ranging press conference at the National Sports Center in Blaine dealt with a variety of hot-button issues surrounding the Vikings.


Reggie Fowler's bid to the buy the Vikings from Red McCombs for about $625 million is far from a done deal. Almost two months after McCombs, the Texas car dealer, announced the purchase agreement reached between him and Fowler, an Arizona businessman, the NFL still hasn't approved the sale and appears to be waiting on Fowler to clear up his financial house.

The uncertainty of the situation hasn't escaped the NFL's highest ranking employee, Tagliabue, at the stadium press conference, as several times he mentioned an uncertain ownership situation in his responses.

"Whatever the ownership is, the need for a stadium is clear," Tagliabue said. "The solution for the stadium will involve whoever the ownership is. … The ownership is something that we'll get resolved in the near future and then we'll be working together."

How close is Fowler to being approved by the NFL owners? When asked that question, Tagliabue spoke in general terms.

"We are reviewing the mechanisms that have to be concluded to enable the financing to close and we are working on the evaluation in the participants of those arrangements," he said. "When we have a definitive understanding of what can be done and what can't be done, we'll let you know."

The commissioner said he doesn't have a strong feeling one way or another whether Fowler will be approved.

Said Tagliabue: "As I said about two weeks ago, 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."

The holdup is thought to be Fowler's financing. The league is reportedly waiting on the sale of at least part of Fowler's stake in a Colorado aviation simulator business, SATCO. One report had the sale of 25 percent of that firm estimated at $300 million, but other speculation by those familiar with the aviation simulator business estimate that the sale of SATCO in its entirety would garner less than half of the reported $300 million.

Until Fowler's financial wherewithal is proven to the NFL Finance Committee and approved by the other NFL owners, McCombs remains the owner. Is Tagliabue concerned with the amount of time that has lapsed between the purchase agreement and the execution of the sale?

"No. We said at the outset when this was announced in February that we expect the approval process to take 60 to 90 days, and I think we're still well within those parameters," he said. The sale was announced on Feb. 14.

The next possible date for a vote on the Vikings' ownership is at the next meeting of NFL owners, May 24-25.

Tagliabue pointed out that other prospective owners of NFL teams have been denied in their bids, including Tom Clancy's bid to buy the Vikings in 1998 before McCombs secured his deal.


Ownership aside, securing a partnership between the NFL, the Vikings and the local government agencies to finance a new stadium is an in-depth matter.

Anoka County, on the northern edge of the Twin Cities metro area, and City of Blaine officials have proposed a detailed plan for a stadium and surrounding business complex. It was those officials who arranged for Tagliabue to come to Minnesota Wednesday in an effort to gain momentum for a new stadium.

"I'm here to get a deeper understanding of the proposed project's view of Anoka County for a Vikings stadium. … I have a pretty good awareness of the elements of the project," Tagliabue said. "The Vikings organization, plus my own staff, plus others who have been working on the project have kept me abreast of it over the past year or more."

In fact, the Vikings have been trying to secure public financing for a new stadium since the days of Roger Headrick and the "gang of 10" owners running the team in the mid-1990s. When McCombs purchased the team in 1998, he placed a priority on securing public financing for a new stadium. His efforts to date have failed, prompting his desire to sell the team for the past two years.

Even with Tagliabue's appearance in the Twin Cities, the chances of the Vikings getting any public financing in the 2005 legislative session are remote.

"I didn't come here with any expectations that things were going to happen overnight. …" Tagliabue said. "As we look ahead, two seasons from now will be the 25th season for the Vikings in the Metrodome. By 2010 we'll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Vikings. My perspective is to take the time and develop the understanding of what can be a sound solution for the next 50 years with no expectation that anything is going to happen overnight."

Tagliabue met with Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty Wednesday morning to gauge the current political climate.

"Most of our discussion focused on the need for a stadium for the Vikings and also on the role of the businesses community and supporting the team and the role of the team in the community," Tagliabue said.

But it is the Anoka County and Blaine officials who have been the most proactive in trying to gain momentum for a Vikings stadium.

They have proposed a stadium that would cost about $650 million in today's dollars, and the total project costs, including the surrounding housing and businesses, is estimated at $1.6 billion. Tagliabue praised their efforts.

"Anoka County and Blaine not only have a vision, but they understand what has to be done in terms of financing and how the financing can be incremental and can be part of a broader project that has many, many benefits to people of the community and goes quite beyond sports," he said.

"For this type of a concept to get done, there has to be a sense of urgency. There are commitments in place currently as far as how the land has been aggregated and there are other alternatives ultimately for land owners. You cannot just keep stringing the project out without having a flagging interest at some point and other lost opportunities. The sense of urgency was emphasized. … My expectation is that I and my staff will be back here to try to act on a sense of urgency to try and get something done as soon as it's realistic."

The University of Minnesota's efforts to secure public financing for an on-campus open-air stadium appears to be on the fast track. That project would cost the state much less money — about $7 million per year — than a Twins or Vikings stadium. The Twins, with a year-to-year lease to play at the Metrodome, are considered the next most likely franchise to get public funding. The Vikings, with a Metrodome lease that runs through 2011, may have to wait until the Gophers and Twins financing is approved before they garner serious momentum. But the backing of the governor has helped all three projects gain some traction in the Minnesota House and Senate.

While the Vikings stadium would be the most expensive of the three projects, the NFL would commit money to the project, Tagliabue indicated. The NFL's G-3 financing programming, which helped support numerous stadium projects over the past decade, will probably run dry before a Vikings stadium is approved.

The current G-3 financing program, in which the league could contribute as much as one-third of the financing to a project, is expected to be used up by stadium construction in Dallas, Indianapolis and New York, but Tagliabue expects that some sort of extension of league support for stadium projects could be forthcoming.

The league's specific contribution to the Anoka project wasn't discussed in his meetings Wednesday, Tagliabue said.

"We in the NFL have put together a structure in place that enables the league to play a role that no other league plays in partnering with teams and communities to facilitate investment in a public/private stadium projects. We would be prepared to do that here," Tagliabue said.

In the last dozen years, two-thirds of the NFL stadiums have been built new or had major renovations, like Lambeau Field in Green Bay and Soldier Field in Chicago.

"It's been the most significant period of stadium construction," Tagliabue said. "I think it's the result of planning and concepts such as those that are presented here … by Blaine and Anoka County."

The oldest stadiums are in Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego, Tagliabue said. The next stadiums that need to be addressed, he said, are the Metrodome and RCA Dome in Indianapolis.

He said all stadium projects are complicated in terms of communicating with the groups involved and the financing, but he said most of that work has been done "in a very thorough" way in the Anoka-Blaine project.


The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission, the group in charge of operating the Metrodome, has long tried to convince team and political officials, that renovating the Dome is an option in the stadium debate.

The Vikings and Tagliabue disagree with the MSFC.

"I don't consider the refurbishing of the Dome as a potential site. … I think the footprint of the stadium and the structural elements are not compatible with the current generation of stadiums that are being built, whether they be open-air stadiums or dome stadiums. I think it has to be a new stadium (in Minnesota)," Tagliabue said. "In terms of whether there are multiple sites, it's clear to me that this is one site (in Blaine) that would be more than satisfactory."

The Dome doesn't offer fans enough of an experience for football and other events, the cost would be more effective to build from scratch rather than trying to "jerry-rig" a renovation, and the league financing would be better for a new stadium, Tagliabue said.


The commissioner also said it's necessary to have some sort of equilibrium among the 32 NFL teams' revenues because each team is required to spend a percentage of the average revenue among the teams on player salaries. If a handful of teams fall far short of that average, then those teams would have a more difficult time reaching the league's minimum spending requirements on player salaries, as specified in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

In other words, if the average revenue of teams is higher, then the salary cap is higher, putting a low-revenue team in dire straits to operate competitively.

Regarding the CBA, Tagliabue said the NFL and the Players Association had a long meeting earlier this week. "I think we're making some progress," he said. "Whether we're running like a rabbit or an inchworm is the issue, but we're making progress."

The two parties are trying to work out an extension of the CBA years before it expires to avoid a labor dispute like the National Hockey League is currently experiencing.

Through all the complications and delays in securing public financing for a stadium, Tagliabue remained publicly optimistic. "I don't think that the Minnesota Vikings are going to move out of state," he said. "I think that we're going to get a project done."


Tagliabue also spent a portion of his press conference addressing Vikings coach Mike Tice's admission to selling his personal allotment of Super Bowl tickets for a profit, a violation of league policy.

"My staff has reported to me that there were clear violations of our policies and that the tickets that were available only for personal use by team employees were used for other purposes, so that's a violation of the policy and so at some point I will be imposing discipline," Tagliabue said.

Tice and running backs coach Dean Dalton came under NFL investigation for scalping Super Bowl tickets after a player reported the violation to the league and a few media outlets. The commissioner confirmed Wednesday that Tice likely won't be suspended, although his discipline is expected to include at least one fine.

"I don't think it would include suspensions," Tagliabue said of the punishment he expects to hand down. "I think it would be financial discipline, fines and conceivably some other discipline short of a suspension. There may be multiple fines."

Tagliabue said a timeframe for that discipline being handed down would depend on trips he has to make to about a half-dozen league cities and to Europe and Mexico. He said no other teams were found to be in violation.

"We investigate these things in an ongoing basis and we're doing that as we do every other offseason," he said.

Tomorrow we will hear from Vikings stadium consultant Lester Bagley.

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