Zygi Wilf – Minnesota Vikings Owner

I originally wrote this for last week’s issue of Politics in Minnesota: The Weekly Report:

It is amazing that the Minnesota Vikings new owner, Zygi Wilf, a New Jersey real estate developer, has yet to take a false step on the path to a new football stadium.

The contrasts probably helped him right off the bat. He bought the team from a blustery Texas billionaire whose penny-pinching ways kept the team weak on defense and his threats to move made it absolutely clear that the Vikings were a financial investment first and foremost and a passion a distant second. And then there was Reggie Fowler‘s resume malfunction. By contrast, Wilf looked like a white knight come to save the day.

As the first black owner of an National Football League franchise, Fowler’s story would have been compelling. But as the son of Holocaust survivors, Zygi Wilf’s personal story is just as compelling, in a Horatio Alger, Only In America kind of way.

From the moment he took the reigns, Wilf has said and done the right things.

Shortly after purchasing the team, he bought a full page in the newspaper (superimposed with the Lombardi trophy; nice touch) for an open letter to fans pledging to keep the team in Minnesota and continue in the Vikings’ winning tradition. Everything he’s said since suggests he’s passionate about wanting the team to win.

Financially, he has walked the talk since buying the team by doling out his own cash on such things as fixing the air conditioning and refurbishing the Vikings ship at Winter Park, buying out tickets to training camp in Mankato this summer so that the fans wouldn’t have to pay to see the team practice, and renegotiating Daunte Culpepper‘s contract so the Vikings would have a happy quarterback leading them this season.

But most importantly, he will put up $240 million of his own money for a new stadium and that far exceeds what Red McCombs was willing to shell out.

It’s easy to be skeptical when people they say they consider their company, "not just a business, but a family." It’s so cliche. But when Wilf says it, he is convincing because it appears that is his family’s MO for all the businesses they’ve run. The Vikings are no different: His brother Mark Wilf is the team president and his cousin Leonard Wilf is the team’s vice chair. All that is merely interesting until you couple it with Wilf’s stated desire that the team be an intergenerational family business that he won’t sell; then it lends credibility to his promise to keep the team in Minnesota.

By saying the Vikings would honor their Metrodome lease, Wilf stands in contrast to previous owner Red McCombs, who was always applying pressure at the Capitol. His insistence on an open-air stadium embraces the glory years of the 70s-era Vikings who went to four Super Bowls, evoking fond memories from 40-plus Minnesotans, including those at the Capitol.

It helps that he appears to be a die-hard football fan. Jay Weiner‘s fascinating story about the sale of the Vikings in last Sunday’s Star Tribune reveals that when it became apparent that Fowler didn’t have the resources to close the deal, Wilf took the lead, saying:

I’ll step up, Wilf remembers telling Fowler. I’ll do it. I’m at a point in my life where I’ve accomplished a lot. I’m competitive. It’s time to do something that I really love.

Finally, most people rich enough to buy an National Football League franchise and put up $240 million for a stadium have more likely than not had some experience dealing with government. But Wilf may be especially suited to succeed where others have failed. As a commercial real estate developer, he’s had specific experience dealing with local governments and local communities’ reactions to those developments. That experience might explain his deft political touch.

That experience, his ability to sell not just a stadium, but a massive commercial development, and his demonstrated public relations finesse, should take him a long way toward finding the Vikings a new home in Blaine.

14 Replies to “Zygi Wilf – Minnesota Vikings Owner”

  1. Count me in as an 40-minus football fan who hopes they don’t put a roof on whatever stadium gets built. Football is a game made to be played in the elements, sunshine and grass? rain and mud? snow and ice? it’s all part of the game.

  2. the reason the vikings are losing it its because they want to be called the buffalo vikings and want zygi wilf to not have any eyebrows because they are bushy and there was a 50/50 chance when zygi was two years old to not have any eyebrows and there are rumors that zygi has a water buffalo and the packers should be called the pa’ers.

  3. The head coach the Vikings had in 1984 was Les Steckel was autistic because he was the only one on the Vikings that thought you get results by working the players too hard physically

  4. Denny Green should be renamed ‘Mrs. Bennett explained it was unnatural’ part of one sentence in that Sean Barron 1992 book ‘There’s A Boy In Here’ when Barron gave a mushy card to the guidance counselor in 1977 because he had a crush on Mrs. Bennett near Youngstown, OH. Barron was misdiagosed with autism because it was as far back as 1965 meaning he was hyperactive. Barron is now 45 years old.

  5. get marshall now while the yalue is cheap and they want out now now now this is the f in year just do it can it make us worse we arent going to get worse in the next couple years

  6. except if your looking for mcoy or bradford or maybe tebow but you know more then i do that no is the time….. yes nothing is guarenteeed as the giant can tell so leets make some history

  7. just seen the first game of the vikings, i must say fire childress, what do you see in him, he is a total failure, knows nothing, does nothing new, everybody know what were going to do cause they see the films, nobody gets open at all, saints, open all game, get real, get rid of this guy, i hate him, he is stupid, face it, what a total embarresment.

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