Mon, Aug

Another Deadline for AEG’s Stadium

GUEST COMMENTARY - Tim Leiweke is whining again. The AEG's man in Los Angeles is threatening to walk away from the downtown stadium deal if the city council fails to sign off on the stadium's complex financing scheme before August 1. "We will know by July 31, one way or another," he told the Los Angeles Times last week.

Phil Anschutz, the conservative Denver billionaire behind AEG (and who famously keeps his distance from Los Angeles), wants the stadium to complete his privatization of downtown's southwestern corner. By design, the stadium would maroon the city-owned Convention Center on a corporate island from which tourists and convention goers (and their wallets) would never have to leave.

Seen not as a destination in itself but as just another venue, the stadium almost makes sense. It would be another big advertisement for AEG's L.A. Live.   And it hardly matters that it would be one of the smallest stadiums in the NFL and certainly the most exclusive. It would be the sports equivalent of a nightclub's VIP room.

Even if the city council approves the financing plan in concept, the stadium's opening day isn't likely until the fall of 2016. That's a year later than Leiweke originally estimated.

So it's getting hard to take Leiweke's ultimatums seriously. And they've become so operatic. Leiweke previously accused the city council of mere timidity. Now he thinks the council members are incompetent. "These 15 folks sometimes don't know how to get out of their own way," he said to the Times reporter.

Presumably, the 15 people who have to agree to a complicated deal that hinges on the city issuing $350 million more in construction bonds will overlook that slap. Given AEG's considerable political juice, a majority of council members will take it and like it.

With no hint of irony, Leiweke thinks the deal's real sticking point isn't incompetence; it's a lack of trust. Leiweke told the Times that NFL owners "don't have a lot of faith" in LA, and that LA "doesn't have faith in the NFL, either."

Leiweke's problem isn't a lack of faith. And it has nothing to do with the relationship between team owners and Los Angeles politicians. Leiweke's problem is the economics of football.

AEG needs a paper commitment from the city council as another bit of leverage with the NFL owners. And it would be good to have the city's commitment soon, before the owners reach a consensus how to resolve their overriding concern - expansion of the league from 32 to 36 teams.

Expansion, not team relocation, was the goal of AEG's negotiations with the league at least since 2009, despite what AEG's Leiweke said. The league doesn't support relocation and sees all 32 markets as viable and capable of delivering new stadiums and other sweeteners to teams said to be willing to relocate. Chatter from team owners about being wooed by AEG is just more leverage for them.

And what's so special about July 31? July 31 is the final date by which a new players' agreement could be signed without canceling games in the fall. Leiweke's deadline isn't about us; it's about the murky business of football.

(D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles every Monday and Friday at 2 p.m. on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. This commentary was posted first at KCET.org) –cw

Tags: AEG, Tim Leiweke, Los Angeles, football, downtown stadium, NFL, sports, Phil Anschutz

Vol 9 Issue 47
Pub: June 14, 2011