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Will the NFL's Minnesota Vikings move to Birmingham?


October 30, 1997
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It is reported that the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings have been secretly on sale for the past two months. A potential suitor in Birmingham has had discussions with the team but it is unclear if an offer was made, and if so, if it includes moving the team to Birmingham.

The Vikings unusual ownership structure has become unstable of late. In June, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue met with the Vikings ownership and stressed the need for the team to meet the league's mandate that each franchise have one owner with at least a 30 percent stake. The ten primary Vikings owners currently own equal shares worth roughly ten percent each. The decision to sell the team came from the unwillingness, or inability, of any current owner to step forward and meet the mandate. The sale is being pursued due to the wishes of a majority of the board members wanting to sell their interest in the team.

"We have to explore all the possibilities. I think eventually we have to sell," said John Skoglund, one of the ten primary Viking owners. The owners have been seeking a new lease and substantial renovations of the Metrodome. The Metrodome situation is so bad that any new owner would be put in the same position, which has made the sale difficult.

All of the area's facilities are in need. On Wednesday, Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson called for state lawmakers to find a broad-based solution that would help Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins, the Vikings, the University of Minnesota football team, and the expansion franchise of the National Hockey League that's scheduled to begin play in 2000.

In addition to the prospective buyer in Birmingham, the team has met with prospective buyers from Los Angeles, Toronto, and another unidentified city.

October 31, 1997
xxx Photograph
  Dr. Larry Lemak
   
The Birmingham suitor is Dr. Larry Lemak, a noted local surgeon. "We'd love to have an NFL team come here. We're going to do what we can to pursue that opportunity."

Lemak has a working relationship with Vikings president Roger Headrick, who is a member of the board of directors of Birmingham-based MedPartners.

Lemak said he had officially contacted Headrick yesterday with an offer to buy the team. "We do know of the Vikings situation and they know our situation - as do some other teams with leases that aren't so hot."

The Alabama Sports Foundation, of which Lemak is chairman, is pursuing the possibilities of bringing a team to Birmingham. "The idea of the NFL, or any major league sports franchise, is exciting. I think the interesting thing is that people realize the potential for a major league sports here is real. The fact that we're mentioned with Los Angeles, Toronto, and San Antonio is huge," Lemak said. The ASF is an offshoot of the 1996 Olympic soccer games held in Birmingham.

Currently, there is no firm ownership group in Birmingham, but Healthsouth CEO Richard Scrushy has reportedly met with the Vikings.

January 27, 1998
A published report says that Lemak's investment group would make an offer within ten days but  Lemak says they are still reviewing the team's finances and does not expect to make an immediate offer to buy the team. "I think it's all a little premature at this point. We haven't finished analyzing the financial data. We'll have a decision soon, but not yet."

The NFL's recent announcement of a dramatically larger television package will push up the team's price, which is estimated at $200 million. But according to Gene Hallman, CEO of the ASF,  that shouldn't worry the local investors. "The price will go up by some amount. At the same time, the profit to be made next year will go up, as well. So that's a wash."

Lemak's team has a few options, including buying the team outright or just a percentage. They will also consider moving the team to Birmingham, where another Lemak-led group has recently proposed a taxpayer-funded plan to build a $280 million domed stadium and convention center downtown.

Other potential buyers at this point are Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider, Minnesota Twins owner Carl Pohlad, Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor, and San Antonio businessman Red McCombs.

February 2, 1998
Best-selling author Tom Clancy has emerged as a potential buyer for the Vikings. Clancy's surprising bid was accepted on Monday.

Clancy is known for his military thrillers "The Hunt for Red October", "Patriot Games", and "Clear and Present Danger".

Whitney said that the current owners would meet this week and a decision would be made on Tuesday.

May 27, 1998
After Tom Clancy's winning bid of $200 million fell through due to shaky financing, the Vikings are back on the market.

However, Lemak's investment team has not decided if they will submit another bid. While the ASF hasn't openly supported the effort to build a domed stadium in Birmingham, the success of the vote could have an impact on the purchase of the team.

But Lemak warns that a purchase would not automatically mean the team could move to Birmingham. "Much of the doubt is centered around the fact that if you secure a team, you don't just pick it up and move it. The NFL has quite a say in what happens."

The NFL has seen quite a lot of movement of late. Since 1995, the Los Angeles Rams moved to St. Louis, the Los Angeles Raiders moved back to Oakland, the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore, and the Houston Oilers moved to Nashville.

July 7, 1998
The Minnesota Vikings officially announce San Antonio businessman Red McCombs as their new owner, pending approval of the other NFL team owners.

McCombs reportedly paid $250 million for the team and has repeatedly said he would keep the team in Minnesota.   

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