Owner: 'None of the media reports ... are correct'

Updated: January 26, 2005, 7:44 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

MINNEAPOLIS -- Red McCombs apparently is getting tired of reading about an imminent sale of his Minnesota Vikings.

While McCombs has had the team on the block since 2002, he issued a brief statement Wednesday dismissing a wave of recent reports. McCombs, a San Antonio businessman who bought the 44-year-old franchise in 1998, was not specific.

The Star Tribune, citing a person with knowledge of the situation, reported Tuesday that McCombs recently entered a short-term exclusive negotiating agreement with Arizona entrepreneur Reggie Fowler.

The St. Paul Pioneer Press, citing an unnamed team source, reported Wednesday that McCombs had upped his price on the team to $650 million, from $600 million.

"None of the media reports concerning the potential sale of the Vikings are correct," said McCombs' two-sentence statement, issued through the Vikings. "I am continuing to work with our staff on preparing the Vikings for the 2005 season."

Fowler, who was in Minneapolis on Monday, told reporters at the Minnesota Timberwolves game that he was house-hunting in the area and actively trying to complete a purchase of the team. With league meetings set for March 20-23, Fowler's group appears to be aiming for an agreement that's in place by then. Twin Cities auto dealer Denny Hecker, who took Fowler to Monday's game, is one of his partners.

Fowler, who is black, would be the NFL's first minority owner. League rules require a single person to put up at least 30 percent of the purchase price, and little is known about Fowler's personal wealth.

However, two sources with intimate knowledge on the status of the franchise told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that the latest proclamation by Phoenix businessman Reggie Fowler is all smoke and no fire.

"He's not even a factor," one source told Mortensen. "The feeling is, he's trying to intimidate Glen Taylor, but Taylor doesn't need to be intimidated -- he's done very little to make this happen."

Taylor, the Mankato businessman and former state legislator who owns the NBA's Timberwolves, remains an interested suitor, but will take a back seat for the time being. Taylor has met separately with both McCombs and Fowler in recent days.

"I told Red that I wouldn't compete against Reggie," Taylor told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The door is still open, but we're being patient."

Taylor said it was his understanding that McCombs agreed to negotiate exclusively with Fowler. The length of that agreement is unknown, but reportedly two months or less.

"What's sort of been thrown out there is sort of what's happening," Taylor said. "If it doesn't work out, I told Red I'll be talking to him."

Neither McCombs nor Fowler returned calls Tuesday and Wednesday.

Forbes magazine last fall estimated the Vikings' value at $604 million, near the bottom of the magazine's ranking of the 32 NFL teams but far above the $246 million McCombs paid for the team in 1998.

Frustration over lack of progress on a new stadium has led McCombs to speak openly about selling or moving the team, perhaps to Los Angeles. The team is under a lease through 2011 at the Metrodome.

The Vikings spent five years pushing for a new stadium to be built in part with public money, before recently deciding to scale back their lobbying effort in the current legislative session. Because dozens of other clubs have either opened new stadiums or refurbished existing structures since his 1998 purchase, McCombs has said the Vikings can't generate enough revenue in the 22-year-old Metrodome to compete.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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