NFL VP says league won't stop Vikings from looking elsewhere
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A top NFL executive said Wednesday that "it seems like there's a fair amount of momentum," toward resolving the Minnesota Vikings stadium issue, but cautioned "that an awful lot rides on this special session" that's expected to be called by Gov. Mark Dayton next month.
Eric Grubman, executive vice president of NFL ventures and business operations, made it clear during an appearance on "Judd & Phunn" on 1500 ESPN that the league would not object to Vikings owner Zygi Wilf exploring his options for relocation if a stadium is not approved during a special session.
"The league does not stand in the way of any club exploring options that are available to it," said Grubman, who spent time this week in the Twin Cities visiting with Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders. "The league is not a gatekeeper in that regard.
"The league is a gatekeeper in regard of someone needing an approval but they are free to explore their options and from all I know they already could be exploring their options. They do not need clearance from us."
Grubman had to be pleased with what happened later Wednesday as Dayton reportedly said he planned to reveal his recommendations for a stadium plan by Nov. 7. That would be about three weeks before the potential special session.
Dayton spent time Wednesday meeting with Wilf and has made it clear he doesn't wany any side to have the right to walk away from the Arden Hills project once a contract is agreed upon.
"The Vikings and Zygi Wilf are very pleased with today's discussion with Gov. Dayton," read a statement issued by the Vikings on Wednesday night. "We are appreciative of the Governor's willingness to move the issue forward this fall and the interest by legislative leaders to work collaboratively with all parties toward a final solution."
Lester Bagley, the Vikings vice president of public affairs and stadium development, had confirmed in late August that the Vikings have received calls from Los Angeles groups and other potential suitors whom he refused to identify.
Tim Leiweke and his Anschutz Entertainment Group want to put a team in a downtown Los Angeles stadium they want to build. Real estate executive Ed Roski also hasn't given up on his goal of drawing a team to the stadium he wants to build in Industry, Calif., which is about 20 miles away from L.A.
The Vikings' lease at the Metrodome expires on Feb. 1 and the team has sought a new stadium for several years. It currently has its sights set on a proposed $1.1 billion project in Arden Hills.
Dayton would like to get a special session called by Thanksgiving to decide on the issue. The state would be responsible for $300 million, with Ramsey County contributing $350 million from a sales tax and the Vikings putting in more than $400 million.
The NFL reportedly would contribute as much as $150 million through a league loan program, although Grubman said, "we didn't put a specific number on it because our overall league financing plan is likely to be approved at our next meeting."
Grubman said he came away from his meetings Tuesday in Minnesota "very encouraged," adding, "I will have confidence when we see a real plan emerging."
But he stressed that has to happen soon.
"I think that an awful lot rides on this special session," he said. "I think a deal that people can embrace has to be produced in the November time frame. If it's not it is a sign of stalemate and it creates an instability, and I can't tell you that something specific will happen because I don't know what the different parties might plan.
"I don't know what the Wilfs might do exactly. There's nothing the NFL will do specifically. But the risk of a stalemate and the crisis management creates an instability and other people might invite themselves to the party and whether those would be people interested in moving the franchise, I just don't know and I don't (know) if it's healthy for me to speculate."
Grubman called Los Angeles "a great market," although he did his best to separate the Vikings situation from Los Angeles getting a team. But Grubman did not downplay the fact that there are plenty of rich people interested in owning an NFL team.
"I've been in the business of trying to match buyers and sellers of NFL franchises since the mid-90s," he said. "For every seller, there's a list of buyers longer than both your arms. That's just the way it is. So those imaginations are running wild out there and frankly I don't want that noise and chaos.
"We have a great market in Minnesota, we've got a franchise that's connected to its fans, we've got an ownership group that's ready to commit hundreds of millions of dollars and we need to get the rest of it done. And if we can do that, then I can take this one off my list of chaotic situations that I might otherwise have to worry about."