Red McCombs was saddled with the reputation of a penny-pinching owner when the Minnesota Vikings were his franchise from 1998 to 2005, but those pennies were becoming increasingly more difficult to find.
Five years after selling the team to the Wilf family, the franchise is still without a stadium.
"I heard the comments … that part of the reason I sold the team in 2005 was the stadium situation. I wasn't part of the reason, it was the total and absolute reason," McCombs told Sirius NFL Radio. "I would never have wanted to have sold that team and left Minnesota."
McCombs talked with Sirius because the first stadium financing bill for the Vikings that was introduced last week was beat up and nearly unrecognizable and doesn't stand much chance of getting up before the 10-count is issued at the end of this legislative session. The fact that a stadium bill was introduced in 2010 could be viewed as some progress, but McCombs said that ultimately he felt he was no closer to getting approval for stadium financing in 2005 than he was when he bought the team in 1998.
McCombs said executives on an NFL committee that approves ownership changes warned him that it would be difficult to get any stadium deal in Minnesota and they questioned why he would want to buy the team. Still, he never doubted it would get done.
"I really felt confident until I left, but each year it was, ‘Look, you're doing well, Red. We've got a lot of needs in the state. You're just going to have to wait,'" McCombs said of the feedback he was getting from political leadership in Minnesota.
"Every way you look it, it makes the citizens money. The citizens make an investment and they get their money back and get it many times over."
The Vikings have maintained a similar line, pointing out that the State of Minnesota didn't invest any money to build the Metrodome and has taken in more than $300 million in taxes because of it.
The former owner explained why a new stadium is necessary. He said 70 to 75 percent of the revenue the Vikings took in came from a pot that the league splits equally among its 32 teams, using revenue generated from things like broadcast rights and sponsorship deals. The remaining 25 to 30 percent of the revenue comes from each team's individual stadium deal, where teams generate income from suite sales, seat licenses, stadium advertising, parking, catering, concessions and other game-day related income.
"You are competitive partially and then suddenly you are the only one left standing that doesn't have these other revenues. On the expense side, you have no other way to get past that," McCombs said referring to player salaries.
That is where McCombs has received the most criticism from his days as an owner. He said he never lost any money, but the Wilfs have upped the aggressiveness in pursuing top NFL players like Jared Allen and Brett Favre. They don't come cheaply.
McCombs isn't privy to the Vikings' current finances, but he doesn't believe the Wilfs would tell the legislature that the team is losing money if that wasn't the case.
"I doubt that they (the Wilfs) would say that they are, or that the league would even allow them to say that they are, if they weren't. I could not say that I was losing money because I didn't lose any money there. … I knew that we were on very thin ice and we could not continue to do what we were doing without the opportunity to compete with the teams that were getting stadium revenue," McCombs said.
Asked about the possibility of the team moving out of Minnesota, McCombs said he believes the other 31 owners are apprised of the situation in Minnesota because the league shares the "total revenue statements" of each team with all of its owners.
"They know exactly what's happening there. Obviously something has to give in that formula," he said.
McCombs said he was surprised he was never able to convince Minnesota politicians that their cooperation in financing a stadium was the prudent thing to do, but he had nothing but praise for Zygi Wilf and his family ownership group.
"I think he's been more than a good owner. I think he's been an aggressive owner trying to do everything that would make the franchise competitive. … There you have a constituency that is so loyal to the Vikings," he said.
"I cannot explain why the political leadership in Minnesota doesn't allow the citizens to be competitive and solidify their franchise. I don't think you could have a better owner-operator than what they have with Mr. Wilf."
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Tim Yotter is the publisher of 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.
McCombs on stadium: ‘Something has to give'
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