Red McCombs Opinion On Possible New Vikings Stadium.
For the last several months, fans of the Vikings and non-fans alike have been following the twists and turns of a stadium proposal in Arden Hills that would assure that the Vikings stay in Minnesota if passed.
One person who can empathize with the situation the Wilf family has faced over the past month or so is former owner Red McCombs. He has been closely following the progress (or lack of it) of a stadium bill, which has found itself in the center of a partisan political budget battle being waged at the State Capitol.
While some of the names in Minnesota politics have changed, the hoops the Vikings have had to jump through are similar to those McCombs did in seven years of owning the team. He said the frustration he felt back then is likely the same as what the Wilfs are experiencing now.
“It doesn’t surprise me that there are people trying to block a new stadium, but I would have felt that by now civic leaders and politicians would realize that the Vikings need a new stadium,” McCombs said in an interview with Viking Update. “It’s a plus for the people of Minnesota, but it doesn’t surprise me that Minnesota politicians don’t realize that.”
McCombs said that, had the state gone along with a proposal he helped broker with Anoka County, the Vikings would already be in a new stadium and he would still be the owner of the team. But, he was stonewalled at every turn by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who made it clear that as long as he was governor, there would be no state funding for a stadium on his watch.
“The seven years that my family was there, we enjoyed every minute of it,” McCombs said. “We loved Minnesota and wanted to stay. Our issue was that we couldn’t get Gov. Pawlenty to sit down at the table. We had a deal ready to go with Anoka County, but the state’s lack of action forced the deal to fall through.”
What McCombs said is the most troubling is that there is plenty of data to support the idea that stadiums generate a lot of money, not just for the owners of sports franchises, but for the communities in which they are located. He likened the Vikings situation to what happened in Green Bay when renovations were needed to Lambeau Field. The result of that decision has paid dividends ever since.
“The reality is that every stadium, especially football stadiums, have all made money for the cities that they’re in,” McCombs said. “If they build a new stadium and get a Super Bowl in Minnesota, they will come a long way to recouping the investment money back with just that one event. A few years ago, the City of Green Bay barely passed a measure to improve (Lambeau Field). They did and it has been a cash cow ever since. People visit the stadium year-round and it has become a tourist attraction. They are realizing the benefit of having an improved stadium there and it’s hard to imagine that something can work everywhere else in the country, but somehow won’t work in the Twin Cities. It just doesn’t make sense.”
McCombs praised Zygi and Mark Wilf for their determined efforts to get a stadium deal done and not “hold the state hostage” with the threat of relocating. He said they have been able to get a foot in the door at the State Legislature where he wasn’t – a source of frustration that ultimately got McCombs to throw up his hands and sell the team.
“I give the Wilfs all the credit in the world,” McCombs said. “They have made a lot more progress than I did. I told Governor Pawlenty that a new stadium would be an investment, not a gift to me. When he said he wouldn’t support a new stadium under any circumstances, I said, ‘I’m done.’ That was why I sold the team, because it was clear there wasn’t going to be a new stadium done when I owned the team. I didn’t want to sell the Vikings, but given the political climate there, I didn’t see any other option.”
McCombs said he holds himself as responsible for not swaying politicians to get a stadium deal done, but said after years of having the doors of power slammed in his face, his patience wore thin and, against his personal belief system, waved the white flag of surrender and gave up.
“If I blame anyone for not getting a stadium done, I blame myself,” McCombs said. “I felt it was my job to sell the politicians and business leaders and I was never able to get a consensus. I put that back on me. The Wilfs have been very strong owners and they’re asking the people of Minnesota not to help them, but to help themselves. What I was up against wasn’t just frustration, it was an end-game for me. My family didn’t want me to sell the team because they loved it in Minnesota. But I felt, from a business standpoint, I had no other option but to sell the team and keep it in Minnesota.”
He said he was shocked to see the footage of the Metrodome roof collapsing in December, but it seemed somewhat prophetic. For years, he had said the dome wasn’t a viable facility and it was antiquated. When the roof came crashing down, it just reaffirmed that point.
“When the roof crashed, I felt bad for the fans of Minnesota,” McCombs said. “Had they followed the plan we came up with in 2005, they would have already been playing in a new stadium two years ago. It was disheartening to see that it came to that, but it speaks to the inadequacy of the Metrodome as a professional football stadium.”
McCombs is keeping himself busy in the world of sports. He is the primary investor in an Austin, Texas racetrack that will host the return of Formula One racing to the United States with the U.S. Grand Prix. The track will hold up to 250,000 fans and McCombs said he used money that he intended to invest in a Vikings stadium to build the track.
Despite all the hurdles he and the Wilfs have faced from reluctant politicians, he still believes that a stadium deal will get done. He could have sold the team to an investment group that would have relocated it following the 2011 season, but he didn’t. The Wilfs have made every effort to get a stadium deal done and McCombs said that, for both their sake and the sake of Vikings fans, he hopes a deal can get struck.
“I think a deal will get done,” McCombs said. “I love what I’m seeing from the new governor and his interest in keeping the Vikings in Minnesota. The Wilfs have done just about everything they can to get a deal done. When it will happen, I’m not sure. But one thing I can say is that this is a wonderful opportunity – not only for the Wilfs, but for the people of Minnesota. I just hope the politicians can see that a new stadium isn’t the expense some have made it out to be. It is an investment that will repaid many times over in the next several years.”
Red McCombs was by far worst and cheapest owner to lay stake to an NFL team. The best thing that happened to this team was getting away from McCombs. He was always a money grubbing owner who did everything and anything to save a dollar. In fact, many believe his reasonings for selling the team was strictly because he was unable to acquire a new stadium.