- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Though the NFL doesn’t yet have its first black majority owner, it does have its first who is the son of Holocaust survivors. New Jersey shopping mall magnate Zygmunt Wilf’s $600 million bid to buy the Minnesota Vikings was approved yesterday by league owners.

Meanwhile, those owners took four ballots to award the February 2009 Super Bowl to Tampa Bay over Atlanta on a simple majority vote. Houston and Miami had been the other contenders. Tampa, which played host to the title game after the 1990, 1983 and 2000 seasons, may have prevailed by offering to pick up $1million of game day expenses.

In other developments during the owners meetings in the District, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the gap on revenue sharing between the richer clubs and their less wealthy brethren is closing and could be solved by the October league meetings.

One concept floated would freeze growth of unshared money as a percentage of the total with some division of revenues not currently shared. Another would share all revenue, perhaps on an 80-20 basis, compared to the current 66-34 split of ticket sales between home and visiting teams. Most other locally earned dollars aren’t divided.

“We have a much broader consensus … that would address some of our internal issues,” Tagliabue said. “Hopefully, we can keep making that progress and translate that into progress with the players association.”

While saying that talks with the union remain “at a dead end,” Tagliabue plans to meet often with NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw over the next two months in hopes of hammering out an extension of the collective bargaining agreement that expires in 2008. League meetings also are planned for each of the next five months.

Tagliabue said there also was progress on returning the NFL to Los Angeles, which hasn’t had a franchise since 1994. Term sheets are being negotiated with groups in Los Angeles, Anaheim and Pasadena in hopes of having a team in the nation’s No.2 market by 2009.

The commissioner declined comment on the Clean Sports Act, which was introduced on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, saying he hadn’t read the full bill.

Wilf, 55, came to the United States from Germany as an infant. His father, Joseph, and his uncle, Harry, soon amassed enough wealth that they were offered the New York Titans of the year-old American Football League in 1961. They turned down the seemingly risky proposition.

“Our passion has been football for quite a long time,” said Wilf, whose family has had New York Giants season tickets since the early 1960s and bought a luxury suite when Giants Stadium opened in 1976. “We had to wait 40 years to come here and pay a few dollars more to get involved [in pro football]. This is not a matter of economics. It’s a matter of passion. We will be in the Minneapolis area forever.”

One of Wilf’s five partners is Reggie Fowler, who had hoped to become the NFL’s first black majority owner but couldn’t produce enough liquidity to do so.

“Reggie Fowler was instrumental in putting our group together,” Wilf said. “We look forward to working together in our areas of expertise to build up a world-class organization.”

The Vikings have endured a tumultuous offseason with the trade of superstar receiver Randy Moss, coach Mike Tice’s admitted sale of Super Bowl tickets and running back Onterrio Smith’s detention by airport security for possession of a prosthetic device used to mask drug tests. But Wilf’s major challenge figures to be obtaining public funds for a replacement for the aging Metrodome, an obstacle that predecessor Red McCombs failed to overcome during his seven seasons.

“Hopefully, the expertise that I have in the business world, dealing with land owners and working with governments, will put me in the best position to accomplish that result,” Wilf said.

With 109 properties, the company founded by Wilf’s father and uncle, Garden Commercial Properties, had reported revenues of $101 million and 5,000 employees last year. But Wilf would prefer not to put a roof over what would be his most famous property.

“I’m a strong believer that an open venue is a good advantage, to have the other teams come up to nice, warm Minnesota winters and can enjoy playing football where it hurts a la Green Bay,” Wilf said.

Wilf’s newly acquired franchise won 11 division titles in its last 14 seasons in open-air Metropolitan Stadium, earning the Purple People Eaters nickname, but has added just five in 23 seasons indoors.

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