AEG, the Dodgers, and the Industrialization of Fun in L.A.

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"You'll have a seventy-thousand-seat football stadium, a twenty-thousand-seat arena, a seven-thousand-seat theatre, a two-thousand-three-hundred-seat music club, a fourteen-screen cinema. You'll probably have five thousand hotel rooms right next to the campus by the time we're done here, twenty-four restaurants, night clubs, bars, and bowling alleys, the Grammy Museum, and public space for festivals and parties. And then you'll have a convention center next door. If you're the Super Bowl, if you're the N.B.A. or N.H.L. All-Star game, if you are ultimately anyone that wants to be big and important, it will be a hundred-acre campus and the only one of its kind." He paused for breath. "There's nothing like it in the world."

That's Tim Leiweke's breathless aspiration for AEG's L.A. Live, as laid out in a recent New Yorker profile. If it were 1900 and this were Chicago, he would have been talking about a new meat packing plant. In Leiweke's future of fun, fans enter the L.A. Live "campus" at one end, are broken down by their amusement preferences while efficiently stripped of revenue, and exit the other end, perhaps with the sensation of that they've had a corporately defined good time.

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Disneyland -- which is consciously the model Leiweke references -- is kind of sweet by comparison: no liquor, no trash talking, no violent confrontations between really big guys, and no testosterone-loaded allusions to other adult interests.

Guggenheim Baseball Management, the new owners of the Dodgers, can only hope to match the income potential in Leiweke's cynical view of industrialized amusement. But the Dodgers must, if they want to make good on their $2.15 billion purchase. And they'll have to get there by means that AEG has pioneered: the integration of city hall politics, pay TV, and relentless cross-marketing.

To make their deal work, Guggenheim Baseball Management will have to extract every possible dime from their McCourt-tattered asset. As the Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik recently pointed out, the auction of cable TV rights to Dodger games will have to be phenomenally sweet, socking all cable subscribers -- fans and non-fans alike -- with the added cost. The Times damned an across-the-board cable subscription increase, calling it a "Dodgers tax." According to the paper:

One estimate (of higher cable fees) pegged the likely increase at $3.50 per home per month. That's on top of the more than $10 that sports channels already collect, and the estimated $3.50 that Time Warner is expected to seek for its Lakers programming.

Guggenheim Baseball Management also must remake Chavez Ravine just as AEG transformed its chunk of downtown: with the purchased support of city hall, at least some direct taxpayer subsidies, and a lot of publically financed infrastructure improvements.

It will be disheartening to watch the Dodgers morph into something AEG-inspired, but it's inevitable. As David Carter, a sports business expert at USC quoted by Hiltzik, points out, Dodger Stadium isn't a sports venue anymore, it's an "entertainment platform." And our home team is destined to be just another "anchor tenant" in a sports themed mall.

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 on KCET's SoCal Focus and 1st and Spring blogs.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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