AEG, Guggenheim, Majestic: Who Can A Fan Love?

The Cheering Stopped
The Cheering Stopped | Library of Congress

I spoke with Warren Olney of KCRW's Which Way L.A.? on Monday afternoon as more news of L.A.'s sports business was breaking. Tim Leiweke, frontman for Denver's Phil Anschutz, had earlier told Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times that Anschutz was prepared to buy a "majority" share of an NFL team, if that's what the league owners demanded.

Farmer passed on that news while on the air with Olney.

Leiweke's new negotiating position came in response to web and print speculation (since confirmed) that Anschutz and the league had abandoned active deal-making in December and seemed to be drifting even further apart. By the end of a confusing day, Anschutz's offer to buy a "majority" stake in a football team had become Leiweke's pledge (on behalf of his boss) to buy a team outright.

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A check for a team and a stadium was waiting to be signed, Leiweke told the Times, as long as the NFL was ready to accept a "reasonable" offer.

But why should NFL team owners be reasonable? As Leiweke was frank to point out, Anschutz, the NFL, and Guggenheim Baseball Management, owners of the Dodgers, were already in discussions, presumably about the location of a football stadium in Chavez Ravine rather than downtown. (That puts Magic Johnson in the curious position of being a player for both sides, since he is part of the Guggenheim consortium as well as a participant in the Anschutz proposal.)

Even Ed Roski's stalled plans for a stadium in the City of Industry (as part of 600-acre "entertainment zone") showed signs of life, further complicating negotiations with the NFL.

But as Farmer quipped to Olney, the NFL encourages anyone with any plot of land to consider building a football stadium, since all relocation talk -- however unrealistic -- is leverage for any team owner who feels abused by his hometown's lack of taxpayer generosity. Farmer pointed out that no NFL team is currently for sale, that the league has no incentive to act quickly, and that it will be a long time before this game of musical chairs ends.

But for Mayor Villaraigosa, time is already up. If the 13,000-page, $27-million environmental impact report for Anschutz's downtown stadium (to be released on Thursday) sails through without a hitch . . . if the NFL owners' meeting next March announces that a team owner is ready to sell . . . if Anschutz swallows what will surely be an unpalatable stadium deal from his perspective . . . if the NFL is satisfied that the deal has extracted every possible concession from the city . . . if all these stars align and more, the mayor will still get only a muted going away present as he leaves office in 2013: no stadium, possibly no NFL team, and worse, the mayor's fingerprints all over the deal-making process as it soured in December.

Despite their falling-over-each-other eagerness since 2008 to back a football stadium at Anschutz's L.A. Live, the mayor and city council turn out to be bench sitters when the corporate game of big sports gets rough.

Sure, the city got a better deal in 2011 than the one Anschutz initially offered, but it's no worse than the kind of profitable bargain Anschutz typically drives. City Hall let itself be bullied and buffaloed by the hasty Tim Leiweke and was oddly unaware of the pending implosion of the Dodger franchise or the likelihood that new owners would have reasons to monetize their empty acres of parking lot with another sports franchise.

Only a little patience would have given the city that much more leverage for a better deal.

For sports fans and taxpayers, there's not much to love in any of this. To know if Los Angeles will ever have an NFL team, we'll have to wait for the NFL owners to count their take from the city and Anschutz or Guggenheim. To know how the Dodgers will be doing in the next couple of years, we'll have to look to the SEC filings of Guggenheim Baseball Management. And to know just how little fans and the taxpayers matter, watch how Anschutz, Guggenheim, the Dodgers, and the NFL play corporate sports in the months ahead.

It's time again for the classic L.A. brush off: "Forget it Jake, it's just another real estate deal."

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