“If it snows in L.A., I predict the same thing will happen,” says Leiweke, sitting in a hotel lobby. “Everything will come to a grinding halt. I know they have more snow plows than we do.”
Leiweke, CEO of entertainment giant AEG, believes he is a step closer to ultimately getting a Super Bowl back in Los Angeles as a fast-track stadium project was bolstered by the 30-year, $700 million naming rights deal announced on Feb. 1.
“A Super Bowl in L.A. would be like one-stop shopping,” he said, referring to the proposed new convention center and hotels that would surround a new stadium. “We won’t need golf carts, buses, cabs — even if there isn’t a strike.”
Backed by billionaire Philip Anschutz, AEG is the latest player in the vision for an NFL return to the nation’s second-largest market. A rival group headed by Ed Roski has plans to build a hillside stadium in Industry, about 15 miles east of Los Angeles.
“Who’s in the lead on this thing? They’re on different fields,” says Marc Ganis, a franchise consultant and president of Sportscorp.
Ganis points to AEG’s impressive track record. It built the Staples Center, Nokia Theatre and the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on a 100-acre downtown site known as LA Live.
“They know the players,” Ganis says. “They’ve worked with a lot of the architectures are designers. They understand the traffic issues in L.A. But even with the naming rights deal, in football parlance they’re at their own 20-yard line. They have a long way to go before they score a touchdown.”
Despite a surge of momentum that includes the backing of mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and city council members and star power —Magic Johnson and Deacon Jones were among luminaries at Tuesday’s news conference — there’s always reason to pause when considering an NFL return to a market without a franchise since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1995 season.
Several groups and plans over the years have failed.
“That’s the billion-dollar question — literally,” says Leiweke, who sat in Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’ suite during Super Bowl XLV. “Why are we different?”
Leiweke contends that private financing is crucial, although the city would be saddled with $350 million in bonds that AEG has pledged to pay the debt service on. The plan includes tearing down the existing West Hall of the Convention Center and building a new center nearby.
The next step is getting city approval.
“We’ve been working with these people for 12 years,” Leiweke said. “Here’s what we know: Don’t ask for a penny, because they don’t have it. Don’t expect anything out of the taxpayers, because they’re not going to give it to us. And don’t put any additional risk on the general fund. We know those are the rules.”
Sports agent Leigh Steinberg, who is based in Newport Beach, Calif., and once chaired the Committee to Save the Rams, has been skeptical about various proposed Los Angeles stadium deals. But he thinks the NFL will recognize AEG’s plan as legitimate.
Says Steinberg, “This is the one we’ve been waiting for.”
Well, not everyone. Roski’s group has been working its plan for 15 years. John Semcken, vice president of Majestic Realty, said the competition from AEG has simply underscored the urgency for finalizing their deal with the NFL and landing a franchise.
When asked about the naming-rights deal, Semcken indicated that their plan includes seeking competitive bids.
Leiweke sees the naming rights deal as a priority that didn’t need to wait on city approval, NFL approval or a new NFL labor deal.
“One of the things Jerry taught us here,” he said of the Cowboys’ $1.2 billion stadium, “is that he generated an enormous amount of money up front that covered a lot of risk.”
Los Angeles still isn’t a priority for the NFL, although Jones called the naming rights deal a huge plus and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reiterated Friday that he expects the league will return to the market within five years.
“Without a proper CBA, I’m having trouble getting Roger (Goodell)’s attention — even with the naming rights deal,” Leiweke said. “They need to go fix that.”