As a second L.A. stadium project moves toward securing the ability to begin moving dirt, the man in charge of the effort believes that the NFL is indeed ready to move back to Los Angeles.
AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke told PFT by phone late Wednesday afternoon that he believes the NFL wants to return to the nation’s No. 2 TV market.
Leiweke said that AEG has a working relationship with a majority of the NFL’s owners, and that he has heard concerns from many owners and network executives that, while the NFL currently is doing fine without a presence in Los Angeles, the league’s interests are better served if it can avoid having multiple generations of fans growing up in L.A. without a local team.
On the eve of the publication of AEG’s Environmental Impact Report for the venue that will be named Farmers Field, Leiweke said that securing full approval of the EIR represents the last obstacle that falls within AEG’s direct control. The only remaining hurdle is one that Anschutz will try to overcome, via the location of a team that will sell him all, most, or part of the franchise and relocate to Los Angeles.
“[Anschutz] didn’t think we’d get political deals with Los Angeles, political deals with the state, approval of the EIR,” Leiweke said. “He didn’t think we’d get the largest naming-rights deal for a stadium that hasn’t been built.”
Now the question becomes whether Anschutz can lure a team that will sell him at least enough of the asset to justify, via the ongoing growth in franchise value, the billion-dollar investment Anschutz will be making in the stadium. “If he can own a piece of the asset that will substantially grow in value,” Leiweke explained, “that makes the project a better bet.”
Leiweke said Anschutz has not yet identified the specific minimum percentage he would need to buy, and that AEG currently is pursuing no teams. Instead, AEG is deferring to the league office.
“We follow the lead of the Commissioner,” Leiweke said, adding that Roger Goodell plays “no games,” that he’s straightforward, and that AEG prefers it that way.
That said, AEG remains leery of the prospect of being caught in a leverage play, with AEG and another project being played against each other in the hopes of the NFL getting the best possible deal. In this regard, Leiweke seems to be most concerned about the league flirting with a possible stadium location in the vicinity of Dodgers Stadium.
Leiweke said that any effort to build at Chavez Ravine will require four years to get to the point that the AEG plan now occupies. And that could be why Leiweke is now making it known that, four years from now, Anschutz and AEG will be out of the NFL stadium business.
Though the specific drop-dead date remains unclear, it arises at some point in the next two years and nine months.
“It’s safe to assume if we’re sitting here in 2014 and chasing a team, that our interest not only wanes but probably disappears at some point during that year,” Leiweke said.
Leiweke also conceded that he’s “very” concerned about the imposition by the other 31 owners of a relocation fee that would disrupt the economics of the plan. Though he didn’t identify the specific amount that would kill the deal, Leiweke said that a $1 billion relocation fee will not be paid.
Despite the fact that no team is for sale and that no team is apparently ready to load up the Mayflower trucks and move to California, Leiweke sees the to-be-constructed stadium as half full. Or more. “I’m a very optimsitic,” Leiweke said. “If I was with Custer I probably would have told him, plow straight ahead. . . . . Everyone thought we were crazy at L.A. Live. . . . We have always been told ‘no.’ I like hearing ‘no,’ because it makes us more determined to get to the ‘yes.'”
Although AEG needs to hear “yes” several more times before ground is broken, the biggest “yes” hinges on something that hasn’t happened in 16 years: The movement of a team from its current home to Los Angeles.