Owners unanimously approve sale to mall tycoon

Updated: May 26, 2005, 11:08 AM ET
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- NFL owners on Wednesday unanimously approved the $600 million sale of the Minnesota Vikings to a group led by New Jersey shopping mall magnate Zygmunt Wilf.

Wilf was given to go-ahead to purchase the team from Red McCombs, with the closing date expected to take place in June.

Wilf immediately pledged to work to build a new stadium to replace the Metrodome, but he vowed that the team will stay in Minnesota.

"To me, this is not a matter of economics. This is a matter of passion. I've always been a strong NFC fan," said Wilf, a lifelong supporter of the New York Giants. "We will be in the Minneapolis area forever. Look, I'm not changing that at all. We will do our best to make sure that we get the best venue and right location."

Wilf recently assumed the role of general partner of the ownership group after concerns were raised over whether Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler had the finances to be the lead owner. Fowler, who would have been the NFL's first black majority owner, remains an active part of the group, which also includes Wilf's brother Mark, cousin Leonard and East Coast real estate businessmen Alan Landis and David Mandelbaum.

McCombs has owned the team since 1998.

Wilf, 55, is the son of Holocaust survivors whose family business is among the largest owners of shopping centers in North America. He said he plans to use his real estate business acumen to move forward on a plan for a new stadium, preferably an outdoor venue that will re-establish a home field weather advantage.

"I'm a strong believer in an open venue. From the standpoint of the franchise, I think that it is a good advantage to have some of the other teams come up to our nice, warm Minnesota winters," he said facetiously, "so they can enjoy playing football up where it hurts -- a la Green Bay."

Wilf said he is already in negotiations with various land owners for possible stadium sites, and he said that public financing will be "part of the formula to be able to get this done." The Vikings have been trying to get the state legislature to support a new stadium for several years without success.

Wilf said he will eventually establish a residence in Minnesota, but he does not plan to move there permanently. He said he was still "trying to catch up to speed" on the Vikings operations and was vague when asked whether he would be a high-profile or hands-on owner.

"I don't know about high-profile, but I hope to be an effective leader," he said.


Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press