USC Master Lease Improves Chances of NFL Return to Coliseum

The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has hosted two Olympic Games and two Super Bowls.

The NFL is one step closer to touching down in Los Angeles.

The Coliseum Commission unanimously voted Wednesday to begin negotiations on a master lease with the University of Southern California.

With plans of an NFL team moving to LA and taking root in the AEG-backed downtown stadium, a temporary home will be necessary in the interim while Farmers Field is being built.

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AEG's President Tim Leiweke has expressed strong interest in moving into the Coliseum. Pat Haden, USC's Athletic Director, has also said the NFL is looking to negotiate exclusively with USC rather than the Coliseum Commission.

"In order for them to negotiate with us, we would have to have this long-term ground lease," Haden said.

The university has dealt with road blocks in the past when trying to obtain the master lease, including the Commission's 2007 rejection of USC's offer to pay $100 million in Coliseum repairs instead of paying rent.

The commission has since faulted on the terms of their current lease, failing to complete the promised $50 million in renovations. The university presently also has the veto leverage to block an NFL team from operating at the Coliseum--a move that could cost the city millions in revenue.

Although the promise of an NFL tenant in the Coliseum would assure $20-$50 million dollars in AEG-funded renovations, Haden is still not sure that it's the right move for the university.

"I would prefer to not have an NFL team here," Haden said, "because I know it would affect attendance (at USC games) and because I know it would affect corporate sponsorships."

Since the Raiders' departure in 1995, USC has served as the city's de facto professional football team, consistently selling out games throughout the Pete Carroll years. The arrival of a new team could leave the Trojans playing second fiddle.

"The NFL is the 800-pound gorilla and the corporate sponsors, rather than coming on over to see us, will go to the NFL," Haden said. "It would affect us."

Los Angeles City Council member Bernard Parks had been the lead dissenter in USC's pursuit of a master lease, saying he didn't believe it was in the city's best interest to turn over a public property to a private institution, citing the potential loss of revenue for the city if an NFL team were vetoed.

Councilman Parks was the sole commission member who voted against USC's current lease agreement in 2008 but voted in agreement Wednesday.

"What I voted for was for the [commission] to begin negotiations," Parks said. "There is nothing that obligates us. The process for discussion is what we voted on. You can always have the option of voting against the lease agreement if one should be forthcoming."

While bringing an NFL team to the Coliseum isn't Haden's ideal situation, he does realize its benefits.

"If professional football comes to Los Angeles (and my first choice would be, quite honestly, that it doesn't, selfishly for USC)... I'd really like them to play in the Coliseum. They are going to have to spend some money on renovations and then we don't. But having a team here, they would have to help."

The open lines of communication are definite positive signs for USC as they look to not only restore the Coliseum to its former glory but also create a world-class athletic facility.

"We have a chance to do something really, really special," Haden said.

The Rose Bowl had previously expressed interest in temporarily hosting NFL games during Farmers Field construction--chiefly for the revenue it would bring to the city and the extra funds that would help renovate the historic stadium. The city has since halted communication with the NFL and is focusing on their own renovations.

"At the end of the day, Pasadena decided they didn't want the NFL in Pasadena," Darryl Dunn, General Manager of the Rose Bowl said. "The process [of negotiating stadium lease terms] taught Pasadena to keep reinventing itself, and that's how they got the idea to do the $150-million renovation of Rose Bowl."

Sara Ramsey is a graduate student at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism, which has partnered with KCET-TV to produce this blog about policy in Los Angeles.

The photo used on this post is by Flickr user Wendy McCormac. It was used under a Creative Commons License.

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