By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 6, 2005
Arizona businessman Reggie Fowler appears poised to end his bid to become the first black majority owner of an NFL franchise. Fowler would have a lesser stake in an investment group seeking to purchase the Minnesota Vikings from Red McCombs under a potential reshuffling that would make New Jersey real estate developer Zygmunt Wilf the group's lead investor, sources familiar with the deliberations said yesterday.
The move would be made in an effort to alleviate concerns about the group's finances and improve the chances that the sale will gain the necessary approval by the league, said the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investment group has not yet announced any changes.
Fowler and McCombs announced in February that they'd reached an agreement for Fowler's investment group to buy the team for a reported $625 million. But there were reports since the agreement was announced that Fowler might not have the financial wherewithal to structure the deal to the NFL's liking. The league has guidelines limiting the amount of debt that it allows in such transactions, and Fowler's personal wealth recently was estimated at around $400 million. Wilf is reported to be a billionaire.
Any sale would have to be approved by at least 24 of the 32 NFL teams. The clubs generally do what is recommended by the league's finance committee, which is composed of the owners of 10 teams. The full ownership body is scheduled to consider the Vikings' proposed sale during a meeting in Washington on May 24-25, and could vote on the transaction then.
Neither Fowler nor Wilf was available to comment yesterday. A person answering the phone at Fowler's office at his Chandler, Ariz.-based company, Spiral Inc., referred questions to his Minnesota publicist, who did not return a telephone message. League officials declined to comment publicly.
"We don't have any comment on it," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations. "The group has made no announcement."
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported yesterday that Wilf had informed the league he would be the group's lead investor. Wilf reportedly met this week with Vikings President Gary Woods and with the owners of land on which a new stadium for the team could be built.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, a member of the finance committee, said he was aware of the reports but indicated that the committee had received no official notification of a change in the structure of the Vikings' prospective ownership group.
"I know what's been reported," Bowlen said. "I'm sure we'll get a report from the league office and go from there."
Bowlen declined to say whether committee members believed that Fowler had the wealth to be the lead investor in the deal. Fowler previously said he was confident he could complete the transaction.
Bowlen said a change to Wilf as the group's lead investor would not necessarily delay the finance committee's deliberations on whether to recommend approval of the transaction.
"Obviously we could have a new controlling owner here, but I know there's been a lot of work done on this transfer already," Bowlen said. "A lot of the work is already done, and it wouldn't take as long as starting over from the beginning with a new group."
Fowler generated controversy just after his agreement with McCombs was announced when he released biographical information through his publicist, then revised the information after there were reports of errors in it.