First he screwed the Vikes with the Herschel Walker deal, and apparently he continues to screw the Vikes 'til today. 10% of all luxury box revenue. For any event in the 'dome. Wow.
When the Vikings move into their new stadium in 2016, at least one former Minnesota resident will miss the confines of the Metrodome. That's because he made a ton of money from a pretty sweet arrangement that's lasted the past 30 years and the past two decades since he left the team.
Make sure to check out this story from the St. Paul Pioneer Press, as author Brian Murphy tells the tale of how former general manager Mike Lynn continues to profit from the team, to the tune of millions of dollars, years after he left the organization.
As Murphy points out, Lynn is probably best remembered as the Vikings executive who dealt a rash of draft picks (seven) and five players to the Cowboys for the opportunity to employ running back Herschel Walker. Dallas went on to win three Super Bowls. Minnesota watched Walker gain less than 2,300 rushing yards in 42 games in parts of three seasons (he did score 20 touchdowns, though).
And while that deal didn't work out so well for Minnesota, Lynn made out fabulously when, early in his 15-year reign as the team's general manager, he negotiated a contract that gave him 10 percent of the luxury suites revenue for every event that occurs inside the Dome. That's not just football games, mind you. Any event that occurs pays him more money. Including University of Minnesota games, Twins games, high school contests, tractor pulls, concerts, etc.
The paper reports that Lynn has profited between $14 million and $20 million for the deal that began in 1982 -- and has continued the 22 years since he left the team. Until the Vikings take leave of the Metrodome after the 2014 season, Lynn will continue to earn between $750,000 and $1 million per year.
So, just how bad has this deal been for the Vikings (and conversely so damn good for Lynn)?
"It's one of the worst sports deals anybody ever did," Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp consulting firm, told the paper. "You can't have somebody taking 10 percent of significant revenue clubs do not have to share with the league. It's untenable and one of the contributing factors for why the Vikings have needed subsidies from teams all these years."
Lynn apparently was offered a buyout from the deal at least once. Not surprisingly, he turned down that offer.
Make sure to read the rest of the story. It's an interesting and well-researched look at how sometimes the NFL owners are the ones who get screwed.
Vikings: How ex-GM Mike Lynn made the Metrodome his sugar daddy
The $975 million stadium the Minnesota Vikings will begin using in 2016 dooms the Metrodome and the gravy train that has enriched Mike Lynn for three-plus decades. It writes the final chapter in the curious tale of an ambitious executive, a paranoid owner, their dubious deal making and the estrangement that continues to haunt the team.
To Vikings fans of a certain age, Lynn is the dupe responsible for one of the most lopsided trades in sports history. The team's general manager from 1975 to 1990 acquired washed-up running back Herschel Walker from Dallas in 1989 in exchange for five players and seven draft choices -- a transaction that helped the Cowboys win three Super Bowls.
But Lynn was no naif. He was a bare-knuckled negotiator who played hardball with players, politicians and power brokers.
The college dropout hobnobbed with Elvis and managed movie theaters before becoming one of the most influential bosses in the NFL. He was the chess master who shepherded Paul Tagliabue's ascension to commissioner in the late '80s and leveraged owners into awarding the Twin Cities the 1992 Super Bowl.
Early in his tenure as general manager, Lynn negotiated a controversial contract with the Vikings that granted him 10 percent of luxury suite revenue for every event at the Metrodome, starting in 1982, an agreement that still compensates him 22 years after he resigned from the club.
Talk about a sweet suite deal.
Negotiated while American hostages were still in Iran, Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Terry Bradshaw was the NFL's reigning MVP, the annuity has paid Lynn between $14 million and $20 million over the past 30 years, according to two people with direct knowledge of the contract who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss a confidential agreement.
Lynn has rejected at least one buyout offer from subsequent Vikings ownership groups and will continue earning between $700,000 and $1 million each year, the people with direct knowledge said, until the Vikings vacate the Metrodome, most likely in 2014.
Now 76 and in failing health, Lynn declined several interview requests from the Pioneer Press.
He lives in an antebellum mansion in northern Mississippi, assessed at $1.03 million, which he and his wife, Jorja, restored to its original state and opened for tourism. And he has been president of the Oxford University Club at Ole Miss since 2000.
Lynn's legacy deal with the Vikings has hung like an albatross around the franchise, which ranks 31st among 32 teams in stadium revenue, according to the NFL.
Minnesota relied on $15 million in handouts from other teams in 2011 to make up for the disparity, a central argument the team made in lobbying for the state to finance $348 million for the new stadium.
The legislation Gov. Mark Dayton signed last month authorizes the Vikings to secure naming rights and recoup "all NFL and team-event related revenues, including but not limited to, suite revenues."
Until they move out of the Metrodome, however, the Vikings are unable to seize revenue Lynn continues to draw despite not working for the team since 1990.
"It's one of the worst sports deals anybody ever did," said Marc Ganis, president of Chicago-based SportsCorp consulting firm.
"You can't have somebody taking 10 percent of significant revenue clubs do not have to share with the league. It's untenable and one of the contributing factors for why the Vikings have needed subsidies from teams all these years."
One team's money pit is another man's windfall.
"That agreement has been very, very good to Mike Lynn," said former team president Gary Woods.
The back story of Lynn's deal, chronicled in reams of musty transcripts and court filings from a bygone brouhaha, is as rich as the suites themselves.
The deal was a bone that original Vikings owner Max Winter tossed Lynn in 1979 to reward his protege for helping deliver the publicly funded Metrodome under budget and, possibly, to protect his flank from a ruthless subordinate.
"Mr. Lynn is the most complex human being I have ever met in my life," former team lawyer Sam Kaplan testified in 1986. "He was unpredictable, and I thought that an insecure Michael Lynn was not in the best interest of the Minnesota Vikings."
Long before Lynn built NFL rosters, he worked retail at a Dixie-Mart and managed a movie theater in Memphis, Tenn., where he boasted about hosting Elvis Presley and his entourage with late-night showings.
His dream, though, was to work for a professional football team.
In August 1974, Lynn, then 38, wrote Winter a letter asking for a job with the Vikings. Winter was impressed by Lynn's gumption and hired him as a personal assistant.
Lynn worked for 10 months without a contract for $30,000 before Winter named him general manager on June 1, 1975, at $65,000 a year, according to court records. Three years later, Lynn signed a six-year contract at $125,000 per year. Winter trusted Lynn enough to name him executor of his will.
"He wanted a higher spot in his life," Winter testified in 1986, 10 years before he died. "He did a good job, and I appreciated it. Our relationship was a complex relationship. It really was like a father-and-son relationship. We had our good times, and we had our bad times."
By 1985, it was all bad. Lynn and his mentor were feuding, and a palace coup was roiling the front office.
BATTLE FOR CONTROL
Lynn, who ran football operations after being promoted to president in 1984, teamed with the heirs of Vikings founders Bill Boyer and H.P. Skoglund to form a majority coalition that marginalized Winter's controlling interest in the team.
Winter fought back, recruiting Twins owner Carl Pohlad and corporate raider Irwin Jacobs to buy out his partners and reclaim power. Lawsuits and countersuits flew, and the corporate divorce spilled out of the boardroom into the courthouse, where it churned out headlines for several years.
Buried among a half-dozen dust-covered boxes in the basement of the Hennepin County Courthouse is Exhibit No. 141. It is a copy of the Box Suite Agreement, which Lynn signed Dec. 7, 1979, while the Metrodome was being built.
The Keyser Soze of Vikings documents, elusive as the cinematic villain in "The Usual Suspects," is 11 pages of bland contract language that entitles Lynn to his cut for rendering "indispensable and invaluable service" for developing the Metrodome.
To keep the project from exceeding its $55 million budget, the Vikings agreed to pay for construction of 100 luxury suites. Lynn's contract, which Kaplan negotiated on Winter's behalf, named him president of Vikings Development, the subsidiary responsible for managing the private boxes.
The deal not only rewarded Lynn with 10 percent of the "adjusted gross income" from all Vikings games but also for all University of Minnesota football games through 2006 and Twins games through 2009. Plus every concert, tractor pull and high school game for which fans have rented suites.
The Vikings, citing confidentiality agreements with their contractors, declined to comment about the Lynn agreement.
Two clauses in the agreement have been deemed invulnerable by lawyers for the two regimes that owned the team prior to current owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.
Section 4, Paragraph C says "such compensation shall be payable to Lynn for the entire period Vikings Development, or its affiliates, successors and assigns, shall be entitled to manage and lease/sell private box suites in such stadium."
Section 9 goes on to say that the contract is binding "irrespective of a future sale of the capital stock or assets of Vikings Football. In event of Lynn's death prior to the conclusion of the term, such compensation shall thereafter be paid to such person or persons as expressly designated in Lynn's Last Will and Testament.
"This agreement shall be binding upon the parties hereto, their respective affiliates, heirs, successors and assigns."
Roger Headrick, who succeeded Lynn in the Vikings' front office in January 1991, said the so-called "Gang of 10" ownership group that controlled the team at that time determined the deal was "bulletproof."
Gary Woods, team president during Red McCombs' 1998-2005 ownership reign, said the Vikings offered Lynn a lump-sum payment in 1999 in an effort to secure all suite revenue but the sides could not reach an agreement.
"We had to consider it the cost of doing business," Woods said. "The Wilfs looked at it the same way when Red sold to them. They didn't like it, but it was the cost of doing business."
Lynn's son, Robert, along with Rusty Cooper, manager of the Oxford University Club, said Lynn was seriously ill and unable or unwilling to discuss his suite agreement.
Kaplan, the former Vikings lawyer who negotiated the suite agreement, is the U.S. ambassador to Morocco. He declined an interview request made through the State Department.
LYNN OPPOSED DOME
It is impossible to know whether Winter envisioned how long Lynn's gold-plated contract would influence the team he founded or how it might have influenced one of the most significant public investments in Minnesota history.
But clues to his motivation can be found in testimony from the court record.
Winter aligned himself with the old money of Minneapolis to move the Vikings into a multipurpose dome downtown from their open-air stadium in Bloomington. But Lynn was pushing hard for the club to remain outdoors in the suburbs, fueling anxiety that the Vikings might relocate to Phoenix without a new stadium deal.
That infuriated Winter, who was pressured by pro-dome backers to harness Lynn and keep the project on target for Minneapolis. Winter liked Lynn's talents as a general manager, but his scheming clearly unsettled him.
Motivated by respect and fear for Lynn, Winter had Kaplan draw up the Box Suite Agreement.
"It was like the relationship between a father and son who loved one another but didn't trust one another," Kaplan testified during the Winter-Lynn trial.
"From time to time, Mr. Winter acknowledged (Lynn) was the best thing that had ever happened to him, that indeed Mr. Lynn was the best general manager in football, and perhaps the best one that had ever come along in football. And at other times he would say that Michael Lynn scared him."
Winter prevailed in his lawsuit over Lynn and eventually sold his Vikings stock to Pohlad and Jacobs, who sued Lynn and accused the general manager of engineering an illegal power play to enrich himself against the interests of the team.
Pohlad and Jacobs fought for six years in court for control of the team. Lynn eventually sold his Vikings stock to them before Pohlad and Jacobs accepted a $52 million buyout from Headrick's group, which assumed control in 1992.
In his final Vikings contract, which expired in January 1991, Lynn had negotiated $1 million in deferred compensation, which the club paid out through 1994. By then, Lynn was two years removed from jet-setting around Europe as the NFL's point man on the World League of American Football, which folded after two seasons.
He settled down in Holly Springs, Miss. Lynn told a newspaper interviewer in 2007 he plowed his investments into restoring the mansion that Jorja, a former Ole Miss beauty queen, told him he would buy her when the couple married in 1968.
The Walter Place Estate, named after a southern railroad baron, was built in 1859 on 15 acres and features two cottages and a botanical garden.
About 900 miles separate that plantation from the Metrodome, but the structures remain intertwined with the man largely responsible for their existence.