Fowler agrees to buy Vikings

Posted: Tuesday, February 15, 2005

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — Poised and proud to become the NFL's first black owner, Reggie Fowler is ready to buy the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs.

Despite a low profile and the lack of public knowledge about his personal wealth, the Arizona businessman had a clear, consistent message Monday for those doubting his ability to finance the deal.

''We would not be here today if we did not have the ability to complete the deal,'' Fowler said at a news conference announcing his agreement to purchase the team from McCombs.

Fowler declined to reveal how much he would pay for the team, but published reports and a rival bidder, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, put the price at about $625 million. Taylor had offered about $600 million, though some of that money was contingent on a new stadium being built.

A survey of franchise values by Forbes magazine last fall estimated the Vikings worth at about $604 million. The Arizona Republic reported Saturday that Fowler's net worth is estimated at more than $400 million — far less than Taylor's $1.9 billion.

Fowler's group includes three limited partners whom he declined to identify, other than that they're based on the East Coast.

As the general partner, Fowler is required by NFL rules to put down 30 percent of the cash portion of the purchase — though he could borrow up to $125 million from the league's credit consortium.

NFL owners are scheduled to meet in March in Hawaii, so approval could take a while — the timetable estimated by McCombs was anywhere from three to 10 weeks.

League rules require 24 of the 32 owners to approve a sale, but Fowler isn't thinking about this falling through.

''Mr. McCombs is a very astute businessman,'' Fowler said. ''I don't think we would be sitting here together if we didn't have the ability to come up with that 30 percent.''

Jim Stapleton, a former Detroit Tigers executive, will serve on the Vikings' board of directors. Declining to say whether he was one of Fowler's limited partners, Stapleton said he would help guide the new ownership group through the stadium-seeking process.

''The history and the significance of this is not lost on us,'' said Stapleton, who is also block. ''But whether we were black, white or yellow, our goal would still be to make the Minnesota Vikings a world-class franchise on and off the field.''

McCombs, who has had the Vikings on the block for nearly three years, will make a huge profit if the league approves the sale. After paying about $250 million for the club in 1998, however, McCombs was never able to make progress toward a new stadium to replace the 22-year-old Metrodome.

''The fact of the matter is, it was never going to work,'' McCombs said.

Fowler, who sidestepped all stadium questions except to stress the issue's importance, faces a big challenge if he wants a new venue to be built mostly with public funds. Opposition to previous plans has been strong, and because the team's lease at the Metrodome runs through 2011, it has not been a high priority for the Minnesota Legislature.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson said that Taylor, a former state senator, would've had a better shot at stadium money.

''Fowler would have to start in first grade,'' Johnson said, before the deal was announced.

A former University of Wyoming football linebacker who played briefly with the Cincinnati Bengals, Fowler said he will live in the Twin Cities area — something the San Antonio-based McCombs didn't do. He rejected any thought of moving the team.

Asked about becoming the league's first black owner, Fowler said he thought it was ''a great thing'' — but also not that big a deal. And McCombs said that issue did not factor in the negotiations.

''He did not discount the price because of that,'' Fowler said, laughing.

Fowler spoke softly and succinctly, and showed a sense of humor several times.

''I'm 6-foot-1 and tons of fun,'' Fowler said joking in response to a question about his background.

The 46-year-old Fowler owns Spiral Inc., a diverse Chandler, Ariz.-based company that supplies grocery stores with bags, cups, containers, labels and janitorial supplies. Spiral comprises six divisions with a focus on the real estate, aviation, manufacturing, agricultural, entertainment and banking industries.

During McCombs' run, the Vikings have sold out every home game and made the playoffs four times in seven seasons — twice advancing to the NFC championship game. But his popularity waned, especially when he talked about moving the team to Los Angeles.

Frustrated by the lack of revenue from a new stadium, McCombs cut costs whenever he could. The Vikings were well under the salary cap this season and have one of the lowest-paid coaching staffs in the league.

———

AP sports writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this report.



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