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The Inside Track | Q & A WITH RED McCOMBS

Vikings' Owner Sees NFL Coming to L.A.

May 15, 2003|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Red McCombs, who amassed a fortune selling cars in San Antonio, knows how to cut a deal. He bought the Minnesota Vikings in 1998 for $264 million, a bargain by today's standards. But there's one deal he just can't seem to close: A new stadium in Minneapolis.

McCombs met in New York last week with NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and discussed, among several topics, the return of football to Los Angeles. Could the Vikings fill the void left by the Raiders and Rams? McCombs doesn't rule it out.

Question: Did you go to New York with the intention of talking to the commissioner about Los Angeles?

Answer: We didn't go there for that purpose. I went there to bring him up to date on what I saw the Vikings' issues were vis a vis a stadium in Minnesota. And in that conversation, of course, the questions came up from me about what is the league going to do, what are you proposing to do with the L.A. situation. Their response was they definitely want a team in L.A. They haven't yet come to exactly how they want to go about it. So I really didn't learn anything.

Q: Did you see any Rose Bowl renderings?

A: No, no. I didn't see any renderings, plans, sites, that kind of thing. That really wasn't ever part of the discussion.

Q: Can you get anything done in Minnesota?

A: I think definitely that there will be something happening in Minnesota. The way I see Minnesota is that we lost the four years while Jesse [Ventura] was governor. We already see interest from Gov. [Tim] Pawlenty. I see that as a rather slow process. If I were just guessing I'd say we're talking about two or three years in the planning stage and then a couple of years to build. I see that happening. That is a timetable that really doesn't excite me at all. I expected to be playing in a new stadium this season. So I'm very disappointed, and the commissioner knows I'm disappointed.

Q: So where do you go from here?

A: I sense that the league is not too anxious about talking about relocating a team to L.A. as long as there is a reasonable chance that that team could do well in the market where it's at. So I think the league is not quite as anxious for me to get my problems solved as I am, which would be understandable because it's my [bottom] that is aching, not theirs.

Q: How hemmed in are you by your lease and the letter from former commissioner Pete Rozelle promising the Vikings will stay put?

A: We know that that's the legal issue, but we're very comfortable with the legal aspects of that.

Q: In other words?

A: In other words, we see that as an issue, but we don't think that that is an issue that would kill a relocation for the Vikings.

Q: Do you see L.A. getting a team soon?

A: It is definitely going to happen. The question is, who and when? It would be unrealistic to think that with the NFL being the unquestionable hottest entertainment property in the United States -- not just football, but the hottest entertainment by any standard -- so to say that that wouldn't have a place in the greatest market in the United States is unrealistic. So that's going to happen. Now will the Vikings play a role in that? I don't have a clue.

Q: Is there an appetite at all among owners for expansion?

A: None. In the NFL it takes a 75% vote to pass something. And I see a solid 10 votes against expansion. I don't think it would have a chance.

Q: Will the people in Minnesota support using public funds to help build a stadium?

A: The people are very supportive. I've been very impressed with the fan base and the people of Minnesota. They're great fans. When I went there, they blacked out virtually all their games with the exception of Green Bay; they hadn't had good attendance for years. Since the day I got there, we've filled the stadium every single time we've opened the doors. I couldn't ask for more.

Q: How close are you to saying, "I'm fed up. I'm done with this." Have you hit that point?

A: I got fed up a year ago. I don't have any timetable on it. I'm kind of a fly-by-the-seat kind of guy anyway. If I were to see something that looked like an unusual opening that would be worthwhile to pursue, that would interest me. In the meantime, I don't let any of that get in the way of putting the best football product I can on the ground. I think that we will be a very good football team this year.

Q: How quickly could the L.A. situation come together?

A: I think it could happen very quickly. But I don't see any appetite for expansion. [And] I don't see any appetite for relocating a team unless a team can show that that team cannot make it work where it is. We're kind of caught in that in between, in that with the very, very difficult stadium situation that we have, we still have been able to operate a pretty solid franchise.

Q: So are you being penalized for running things too well?

A: That's one of the reasons I said nine months ago that I'm looking at the options of selling the franchise. Maybe someone can do something that I can't do. Maybe they can get the league to relocate, maybe they can get a stadium built in Minnesota. I haven't been able to get either.

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