|National Football League|
Vikings in limbo and expansion not on NFL's radar
By DAVE CAMPBELL and JON KRAWCZYNSKI
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) The Vikings are embroiled in a fight for a new stadium that may jeopardize the franchise's 51-year tenure in Minnesota.
And if you think that's just a local story, think again. The situation could be a preview of showdowns in St. Louis, San Diego, Buffalo, Jacksonville and Oakland in the coming years.
NFL officials have said repeatedly that the league isn't interested in expansion, and with cities including Los Angeles and Toronto among the spots that could host a team, it creates a situation in which the threat of relocation will hang for some time over cities and states faced with franchise demands for a new stadium.
"Having an available, hungry market is not a bad thing when you're negotiating," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports business consultant.
In an interview last month, NFL vice president of business operations Eric Grubman said he has a list "longer than my arm" of interested buyers in cities "all over the place," but named only Los Angeles and Toronto as viable markets the league would currently consider.
Expansion doesn't appear to be an alternative.
"It is not something we've focused on with our membership. And I don't see that in the foreseeable future," Commissioner Roger Goodell said earlier this year. "We want to keep our teams where they are. We believe that's healthier for the league in the long term. We're working to get stadiums built and make sure we do whatever we can to make sure those teams are successful in those communities."
The NFL's 32-team structure has the advantage of competitively balanced schedules and division alignments. Plus, recent contract extensions with the over-the-air television networks run through 2022; total revenue from CBS, Fox and NBC that year alone will be $3.1 billion.
Another team or two would force the league to cut that lucrative pie into more pieces, even with a hefty expansion fee.
"The math doesn't add up," Ganis said.
Plus, he added, "there's no real expectation that a team, even in a market like L.A., is somehow going to generate more revenue for the league on a long-term basis."
San Antonio, Texas, the home of former Vikings owner Red McCombs, is one of those open markets eager to join in the fun someday. McCombs thinks Texas can get a third team eventually, but it will come at the expense of another NFL town.
"San Antonio has been after a team since 1992," McCombs said in a phone interview. "We will continue to stay after it until we finally prevail. The owners really like this 32-team league. You almost have to depend on getting someone to relocate, because it's so hard to get a three-quarters vote (to approve expansion) to unbalance a 32-team league."
McCombs tried to get a stadium to replace the Metrodome in Minnesota for years before finally relenting and selling to current owners Zygi and Mark Wilf in 2005.
The efforts have reached a potential tipping point in this legislative session, with supporters and opponents locking horns over a nearly $1 billion plan to put a new stadium in downtown Minneapolis. The House and Senate are scheduled to vote on the plan on Monday, and a defeat of the bill would be an ominous sign for the franchise's future in Minnesota.
The 84-year-old McCombs remains an ardent football fan and connected to the league, and is hopeful that the Vikings will get a deal worked out to remain in the state.
"I hope they'll get it done," he said. "The people of Minnesota deserve it. I certainly worked hard for it when I was there. But by the end I really was kind of getting further away from getting (a stadium). It was time for me to give it up and let someone else pick it up."
Whether or not the Wilfs are successful, several other struggling NFL cities see a similar predicament looming:
- The Bills are proposing major renovations, as much as $200 million, to Ralph Wilson Stadium, which will be tied to lease negotiations with the state and county that have yet to formally begin. The Bills lease runs out in July 2013.
- The Raiders' lease at the Oakland Coliseum runs through the 2013 season, and they want a more modern and lucrative stadium. There has been little movement toward their goal of rebuilding one on the current site, and owner Mark Davis has acknowledged conversations with Los Angeles groups about returning the franchise there. The Raiders have also discussed sharing the stadium the 49ers are having built in Santa Clara.
- The St. Louis Rams can legally break their lease after the 2014 season if the Edward Jones Dome is not deemed in the top tier of NFL stadiums. The team rejected an initial $124 million proposal calling for them to pay 52 percent of stadium improvements and owner Stan Kroenke has been noncommittal about their future in St. Louis if the dome isn't upgraded.
- The San Diego Chargers have been trying for a decade to replace Qualcomm Stadium and have a clause in their lease that allows them to leave the city during a three-month window each year through 2020 if they pay off bonds that were sold to expand the stadium in 1997. They're trying to build a new stadium downtown.
- The Jacksonville Jaguars play in one of the league's smallest and least-supported markets, though last year's ownership change seemed to stabilize their place in north Florida for the short term. Their stadium lease runs through 2027 and would cost about $65 million to be bought out.
If the NFL does eventually decide to expand, it may look at an ambitious European or Asian division, but that may not be for another two decades. London has hosted a regular season game over the last four years, with the Rams scheduled to play the Patriots there this season. The Rams hope to return again in 2013 and '14.
"There's going to be a limit to how much growth you can create in the U.S. without new revenue channels," said Bill Glenn, senior vice president of The Marketing Arm, a Dallas-based sports marketing firm. "Unless we're talking pay-per-view for NFL games, I'm not sure where that comes from in the U.S. Jersey sponsorships? That doesn't create the kind of revenue the league is looking for.
"It's a very challenging proposition for the NFL to have significant growth rates and keep within the domestic boundaries."
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, N.Y., contributed to this report.
Updated May 5, 2012