AEG sale halted; Anschutz to retain control

Billionaire Philip Anschutz said Thursday he has decided not to sell AEG, the entertainment giant that controls the Staples Center, LA Live, and the Los Angeles Kings, and late confrimed that the company is still interested in working out a deal to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles and that he was “optimistic” that would happen.

In a rare, wide-ranging interview with The Times, that while AEG, the city and state have all done what was needed to build a new stadium on the LA Live campus downtown,  the NFL now needs to be an active fourth party.

“We’re not going to make the NFL happen by ourselves,” the 72-year-old AEG chairman said. “The NFL is a player here. They have to decide what they want to do.

“We’re open for business to do a deal. It’s not rocket science…. We’ll do a reasonable deal, but we won’t be pushed into a deal.”

Anschutz will be taking a more active role at his sports and entertainment powerhouse AEG without his longtime chief executive, Tim Leiweke.

“We appreciate the role Tim has played in the development of AEG, and thank him for the many contributions he has made to the company,” Anschutz said in a statement.

Leiweke has played a crucial role at AEG for years and has been the company’s point person in negotiations with Los Angeles city leaders over luring an NFL team to the city and building a downtown stadium.

Anschutz said Dan Beckerman, AEG’s chief financial officer, will take over Leiweke’s role as president and CEO.

In a statement, Beckerman said the pursuit of a downtown football stadium adjacent to L.A. Live remains a top priority.

“Priority projects going forward include the development of Farmers Field adjacent to our L.A. Live campus and the pursuit of our plan to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles,” Beckerman said.

Anschutz said that AEG would need to have an ownership stake in any team that moves to L.A.,  an area that has been without an NFL team since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

There have been no talks between Anschutz and the NFL for about eight months, he said, for about the time that the company had been up for sale. Ultimately, Anschutz said, he decided to terminate the sale process and become more involved with the operation of AEG in part because it had become a “noisy process” with inaccurate speculation about potential buyers often being publicized. Anschutz is extremely private and rarely gives interviews.

This all comes after he announced in September that he was seeking bidders in a sale that some insiders said could fetch $7 billion.

Potential bidders for the company were said to be Los Angeles billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, and well-known names such as Mark Cuban and powerhouse Santa Monica investment firm Colony Capital. Guggenheim Partners, which recently led a consortium that bought the Los Angeles Dodgers, was also said to be interested in acquiring AEG.

“From the very beginning of the sales process, we have made it clear to our employees and partners throughout the world that unless the right buyer came forward with a transaction on acceptable terms we would not sell the company,” Anschutz said in a statement.

— Ricardo Lopez, Chad Terhune and