Wilf Offering Olive Branch?

After a silent few months, Zygi Wilf has stepped up his efforts to get a new Vikings stadium in Minneapolis by offering to spend $45 million to buy more than enough land for area surrounding a new stadium. But his problem still remains the same: Will Minnesota politicians step up to help contribute for a stadium to assure NFL football in Minnesota or hide behind the election rhetoric.

Like it or not, Zygi Wilf has proved to be a man of his word.

When he bought the Vikings from Red McCombs, most Vikings fans endorsed the move. McCombs had been lucky enough to buy a franchise at the right time – when the going rate for non-naming rights franchises were going for $250 million – cheap enough that even a coach could draw up a proposal to "take it off your hands."

By the time Uncle Red rode off into the sunset with more than double his original investment, many Vikings fans were understandably wary of Wilf – a Giants fans with the working capital to buy a football team. When he became owner, he pledged to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.

If any part of Red's exit strategy was clear, it should have been that, if Minnesotans know you come to the table with your hat in your hand, you're dead in the water.

The announcement that Wilf and his investment partners were willing to buy four blocks of downtown Minneapolis is a sign of good faith that the ownership group is making an earnest effort to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. Wilf made the pledge when cornered by local media types about his plan for the franchise and he gave his word that he would do everything he could to keep the Vikings in Minnesota.

Broken deals with Anoka County aside, Wilf is moving forward with his plan to get the Vikings a new stadium in the downtown area that, between games and numerous other events, would create a lot of income for the state coffers. Yet, will that be enough to sway election-minded legislators?

It shouldn't be forgotten that the Twins and local billionaire Carl Pohlad were first in line for a new stadium. And why not? Anyone who has ever attended a Twins game knows that 70 percent of the highest-priced tickets offer views that force fans to look over their left or right shoulder to see home plate. When stadium talk began, it seemed like a no-brainer that the Twins would get their own stadium. What did the state do? Nothing. Why? When the soap boxes are out, politicians get re-elected by making educational promises and tax cuts for middle income Minnesotans, not ponying up millions for a stadium.

Having gone nowhere with the state, Pohlad didn't try to broker a deal with Hennepin County. He was willing to allow his team to be eliminated – the Seattle Pilots with better history. Only when it became apparent that Pohlad was willing to let the team just "go away" did Minnesota get off its high horse and say "wait a minute." They didn't want to lose their baseball team.

Even with the Kervorkian suicide machine in place, the partisan politics of state gas bags was such that still nothing was accomplished. Finally, Hennepin County stood up and let the Legislature off the hook by showing the intelligence and foresight that having professional baseball in Minnesota is an economic positive.

With Hennepin County out of play for approving to help fund another stadium, it will be up the Legislature to step up and help fund a Vikings stadium. At VU, we may be a little biased, but we also are capable of doing math. How much is the salary cap? Seeing as just player salaries alone can provide $15-20 million a year into the state coffers for state income tax, just the roster of players could pay off any state contribution to a stadium. That doesn't take into account the hundreds of employees that are viable because of the Vikings.

Whether Wilf buys four blocks of downtown Minneapolis or not in the big picture is irrelevant. He will need about $400-500 million from the state checkbook to get a stadium done. Will the state pay for it? That's the half-billion-dollar question. If they don't, nobody can honestly blame Wilf if he moves the team to L.A. The basketball team there isn't called the Lakers because Orange County is filled with sailboats and fishing hot spots.

The onus is back on the state in the ever-changing saga of putting the Vikings in a stadium. Wilf, unlike Pohlad, hasn't threatened to self-implode the franchise. He doesn't have to. The NFL has kicked the teeth on baseball for the claim of America's Pastime. Baseball teams move or offer to be contracted. Remember the Expos? Wait 10 years. Nobody will. No NFL team has moved since the business became big time. Wilf shouldn't be the first. But, unless the powers that be with the state realize that they need to step up and keep the Vikings, the other owners will vote to approve taking the NFL away from Minnesota. If the Vikings go after 2011, the NFL will likely never come back. If the Vikes go, they shouldn't come back.

* With all the positive press the Vikings have been getting since taking Adrian Peterson in the first round of the draft, the team was still listed as the sixth "Most Frustrating Market" by FOX Sports.

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