December 2 may have been the day any chance of NFL football in downtown Los Angeles died.
(San Diego? You can exhale now)
That was the day FIFA awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, scuttling a concerted U.S. bid to host the tournament. One of the American bid’s primary backers was billionaire Phil Anschutz. Anschutz is the founder of the sports and entertainment company AEG, which built the Staples Center and the new L.A. Live downtown development.
(No NFL in LA? Blame Qatar)
In addition to his current L.A. business interests, Anschutz also happens to be one of soccer’s biggest proponents in the United States. Had the U.S. secured the 2022 World Cup, Anschutz was said to be more enthusiastic about pledging his personal, financial support to a newly-proposed Los Angeles downtown stadium fronted by AEG CEO Tim Leiweke and local sports business mogul Casey Wasserman.
That stadium in turn would’ve hosted 2022 World Cup games, including perhaps the final.
So in the aftermath of the Qatar announcement, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that AEG’s Leiweke, who since April has been subtle in his public pronouncements about the project, today issued a somewhat startling ultimatum to AEG’s possible stadium partners.
Speaking at a downtown L.A. business development luncheon today, Jon Regardie of LADowntownNews.com reports Leiweke essentially set a three-month deadline for the NFL to make some manner of commitment to the downtown stadium project.
More specifically, Regardie reports Leiweke outlined “three things” that would have to happen by the end of February for AEG to move forward with a plan to build a $1 billion retractable roof “events center” in downtown Los Angeles.
Leiweke laid out a scenario to bring football to South Park, though he said three things must happen by next February.
First, he said, negotiations already under way with the city have to be finalized. L.A. officials, he said, are in talks regarding the plan to tear down the West Hall of the Convention Center. He said he expects to reach an agreement on those issues early next year, and to begin the entitlement process for the stadium in January.
The other things he said must happen involve the NFL. He said AEG is in frequent conversation with numerous NFL owners, who would ultimately have to approve a deal to return football to L.A.
He also said AEG wants to identify a team that would move to Los Angeles. He said the goal is not to “steal” a team from another city, but to target franchises whose financial situation will require a move. He added that AEG, which owns the Los Angeles Kings and has a one-third stake in the Lakers, is prepared to “invest” in a football team.
The first requirement, as it pertains to the city of Los Angeles, will likely be easily attained by AEG.
But unless Leiweke knows something we don’t, saying he needs the NFL in the next three months, to “approve a deal to return football to L.A.” in addition to the league identifying a “team that would move to Los Angeles” in order to get a stadium deal done is essentially saying the stadium deal is dead.
Again, that’s unless Leiweke knows something we don’t. As in, he’s aware that there’s at least one NFL franchise that would currently commit to such a plan for Los Angeles.
Maybe there is.
But even if such a commitment was procured in the next three months, it would almost certainly have to be made public as it’s a virtual lock that the stadium project will involve AEG availing public funds. (See full disclosure.)
So what would the team that commits to L.A. do in the meantime?
As I’ve said many times, I have nothing but respect for Leiweke, Wasserman and Anschutz, but publicly pushing the NFL - as it braces for labor strife - to make a commitment in three months to a stadium that isn’t guaranteed to be built isn’t just unrealistic, it’s disingenuous.
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