Nice pep rally, but are we closer to LA football?
By MATT "MONEY" SMITH
FOXSportsWest.com | PRIME TICKET
Feb. 2, 2011
It wasn't a chrome shovel and some loose dirt framed by a couple fancy wood posts that I've been looking for to acknowledge the NFL could finally be returning to Los Angeles. Instead the event that took place at the LA Live campus Tuesday that detailed the AEG vision for building a new downtown stadium, and with it's construction, bring an NFL team back to LA, was certainly celebrated as though it were. (Click HERE for photos from Tuesday's event).
AEG president Tim Leiweke said "This is as close as we've been in 15 years." I don't know if that's exactly true, if it's even debatable, or if there were some way to quantify or qualify that it is indeed the case. This being the closest Los Angeles has come to having the NFL return to the second-largest media market is relative to how close we've been in the past. I can tell my friends I have the nicest house in my neighborhood, and if it's an exclusive area chalk full of affluence, great. But if I'm set up in a Shanty town with a few panels of corrugated plastic and surrounded by cardboard boxes, my house is in fact still the nicest one around, but I'd probably keep that to myself.
So why is AEG bragging? What did they announce Tuesday that would lead Leiweke to say publicly, after months of private meetings, that "today was our coming out. Here's our vision. Today was about the largest naming rights deal ever, and it shows we have a partner and a process where we can take this thing private and not have to ask the taxpayers for a dollar and make it work". It's not quite four panels held together by a roll of duct tape, but it's not a $30 million mansion in Newport Coast either.
I'm not going to belittle a $700 million naming rights deal, after all, as Leiweke said it is "the largest such deal of its kind." But it's not really an official deal yet. Farmers Field doesn't exist. Not a single dollar has exchanged hands. The agreement will only be executed if the stadium is built and an NFL team decides to leave their current city in the lurch for the sunnier skies of Southern California. And we've yet to figure out what the likelihood of that happening in the near future might be.
According to Leiweke, though, it's very, very likely.
"We've been quietly visiting with teams over the last six months, we've spent a lot of time with the NFL, and we are very, very confident that we are going to have one, and maybe two teams that want to come back to the city." That of course leads to the follow up question that he can't answer due to the sensitivity of the matter; which NFL team is willing to move?
This is where the problem has always come into play. Los Angeles has been the ultimate threat for the NFL to get stadiums built in current NFL cities, and Tuesday that threat got much more serious for the cities of San Diego, Jacksonville, Minneapolis, St. Louis, San Francisco, Oakland and Buffalo. While states are going broke, and owners are looking for public handouts that currently don't exist, AEG has given them an position of power to take with the local government. Help us out, or we're going to get a piece of this $700 million that Farmers is paying. It might work in some cities, and backfire in others.
Any logical politician ought to ask why his or her state has to fork over cash from their general fund when it's all private money that's building Farmers Field in Los Angeles. Mayor Villaraigosa acknowledged that he met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the ownership group of one NFL franchise (I would guess the Chargers) about moving a team to Los Angeles. And when I talked with Leiweke, he even provided a time frame on how and when all this will play out "We have a vision, and now we have to put our heads down for six to eight months and get it done." Six to eight months is little more than a blink compared to the 15 years of no football in Los Angeles up to this point. Certainly it was a production worthy of notice. It not only was covered front to back by Fox Sports West, but local news, and even national news paid attention as "The Today Show" showed a bit of the proceedings.
With this being Super Bowl week, NFL owners were busy huddling in Dallas to discuss the future of their league with an expiring Collective Bargaining Agreement. Actually have a league that's operating in 2011 is clearly is the most important item on their agenda, but Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took notice all the way from Texas. "Certainly the kinds of things they're doing, with in the framework of the financial dollars that I'm seeing and hearing about, should work."
I asked Leiweke which is the tougher part of the process, the entitlement and $350 million bond issue from the city to build a new convention center before tearing down the West Hall, or finding an NFL owner willing to move his team to Los Angeles and give up a percentage of his franchise. Leiweke answered "long before we start the process of constructing Farmers Field, we're going to have a team committed." He added that he expects this to be a similar situation as what they went through with STAPLES Center. "Mr. [Philip] Anschutz is prepared to invest in the team and own a piece. That's exactly the deal we did with the Lakers, we own 30 percent of the Lakers. We're prepared to have some percentage of the team, it doesn't have to be the majority, but it's important to have local ownership"
Looking back 15 years there was the same skepticism surrounding the construction of STAPLES Center, that a downtown arena couldn't possibly be a viable destination. AEG proved those critics wrong. Doing so a second time, and actually bringing the NFL, the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Fours will require a lot more hard evidence...and a little less pomp and circumstance.
Matt "Money" Smith can be heard Monday-Friday on The Petros and Money Show on FOX Sports Radio's KLAC-AM 570 from 3 pm to 7 pm (PT).