Lakers Tickets Helping Broker NFL Stadium Deal?

Last month, along with Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk and Sam Farmer of the LOS ANGELES TIMES, I reported on an intriguing new downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium plan in the works. The proposed $1 billion retractable roofed facility would be financed and built by Tim Leiweke-fronted AEG and Casey Wasserman - both serious Los Angeles sports power brokers.

Lakers Tickets Given To L.A. Mayor In Exchange For Help On NFL Stadium Deal?

My instincts at the time told me the downtown plan had a very serious chance of succeeding. Now thanks to a FOX 11 newscast this week and a recent L.A. BUSINESS JOURNAL poll, it appears my initial reax was on track.

Early this month the L.A. Business Journal ran a poll asking readers which potential L.A. NFL stadium site they preferred: The proposed new downtown site or Ed Roski’s longtime City of Industry location 25 miles east of the city center. While the Biz Journal normally gets around 100 votes for its online polls, the stadium debate elicited nearly 30,000 responses.

Alfred Lee of the LABJ noted the poll results last week:

Downtown received about 45 percent of the vote; City of Industry, 40 percent. However, 15 percent said they didn’t want a football team at all. The votes appeared to be individually cast, although multiple votes were allowed early in the process, according to the Business Journal’s tech team.

Why so many votes? Lee reports that Roski and the Leiweke-Wasserman camp each initiated email campaigns to try to pump up polling support for their sides. Though from my perspective, had Roski not pushed his people to vote in the poll, the downtown location would’ve likely won in a landslide. (15 percent who voted for no NFL team? So that explains the recent carpal tunnel outbreak in the USC football office.)

While the LABJ poll is a sign of the seriousness and popularity of the downtown Los Angeles NFL Stadium bid, a local L.A. news report Wednesday perhaps gives an even clearer indication that AEG is now actively greasing the local political machinery to facilitate the project.

John Schwada of FOX 11 in Los Angeles reported Wednesday that second-term L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has recently been spotted in courtside Lakers seats for the multiple NBA games at Staples Center. Face value for those seats is $3,000, and Villaraigosa has been seen attending games with girlfriend Lu Parker and Dreamworks executive Jeffrey Katzenberg.

When confronted this week by Fox 11’s Schwada about the tickets on camera, Villaraigosa said he did not pay for the seats. Schwada then noted, in Villaraigosa’s presence, that the mayor had failed to report the tickets as gifts in ethics filings.

Villaraigosa’s response? He said he didn’t have to report the thousands of dollars in Lakers tickets that he used because he was at the games on official business.

That “official business” turned out to be giving academic awards to local high school students at Lakers games on multiple occasions. (Uh, oh-KAY. Whatever you say Mr. Mayor.)

Though Villaraigosa played off the gifts like they were no big deal, he refused to reveal who gave him the seats.

Now who do you suppose would have inside access to such coveted seats and stand to benefit the most from gifting them to the mayor? How about the company that owns and operates the Staples Center, AEG. AEG also happens to be the same company run by Tim Leiweke, who is overseeing the downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium bid.

Leiweke has yet to confirm if he was the one to give Villaraigosa the $3,000-a-throw Lakers tickets, but if you know anything about how Lakers fans and the people of L.A. feel about Villaraigosa personally, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that none of them were behind the high-dollar gesture.