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For Pro Football in Los Angeles, It's 'Groundhog Day' All Over Again

While I'm spending some time with family and friends - as I hope you will - I've returned to a few of my favorite pieces from past years to reconsider.

I hope you'll enjoy this updated summary of pro football, money, and politics in Los Angeles.

From 2011 through 2014, the prospects for an NFL team returning to Los Angeles after two decades brightened and dimmed with the regularity of the seasons. Prospective sites for a stadium moved around Los Angeles like a floating crap game -- downtown, the Coliseum, Irwindale, Dodger Stadium, Carson, Anaheim, and Hollywood Park. On the strength of hints from the dark lords of the NFL, political credibility rose and fell.

Anyone remember Tim Leiweke, AEG's former front man for Farmers Field?

February 15, 2015 is the next dateline in this story and it will be just as disappointing as the last four. According to the NFL's website (posted Sunday), "Despite earlier optimism that the NFL would put one or two teams in Los Angeles in 2015, league sources say the chances of any team filing a relocation application when the window opens on January 1 are between slim and none."

But what about 2016? The chatter says a team for Los Angeles is "inevitable." Maybe.

[Update 01/06/15: But what about St. Louis and the Rams? LA can wish, but I remain skeptical when I read stories like this one.]

While Los Angeles football fans wait and NFL owners plot, perhaps Los Angeles taxpayers might want to reflect on some inconvenient history.

In 2012, as hopes for a downtown stadium deflated, I wrote: "The hot air of ballyhoo has almost entirely leaked out of AEG's $1.2-billion football stadium, leaving behind the usual regrets. As Jim Newton laments in the Los Angeles Times, taxpayers were wrong to listen to city council members in 2011 when they promised to get a deal that would actually benefit the city.

"And it's hard to find anyone who accepts the 'greenwash' that AEG has applied to the stadium's environmental review -- including the claim that nearly 30 percent of all attendees will take public transit to get there. Councilman Dennis Zine, a stadium supporter, told Frank Stoltze at NPR, 'I think that number is way too high. I don't think people are going to do that. ... We are going to be congested with traffic. We're not going to take people out of their cars.'

"The coat of green on Farmer's Field is so transparent that both the state Legislature and the city council were forced to crank up the environmental review process with unseemly haste. According to Stoltze, 'Some community activists complain the well-connected Leiweke has railroaded city officials -- the public had only 45 days to review and comment on the 10,000-page environmental impact report. Elected leaders deny that, but concede they wanted to accommodate AEG's timeline. It wants to break ground next year and start playing football in 2017.'"

Well, that won't happen. And Farmer Field doesn't seem to be the NFL's first choice tor a stadium anyway, although that might be just another negotiating tactic to get AEG to knuckle under to the league's financial demands.

Smoke and Mirrors
Smoke and Mirrors | Photo courtesy of USC Digital Library

In 2013, as AEG sought a buyer and then abruptly decided not to, I complained: "Phil Anschutz, AEG's owner, wants to take his ball and go home. As yet, no capable buyer has stepped forward to option AEG's $6-billion portfolio of sports teams, event venues, booking services, and the still unbuilt Farmer's Field next to Anschutz's Staples Center and LA Live entertainment complex.

"Tim Leiweke, an otherwise indefatigable promoter of Farmers Field, has become subdued. He told the Daily News this week, 'I haven't been made aware of any team that is going to file for a move in 2013.' He speculated that the reluctance of team owners to relocate was tied to the uncertain future of AEG.

"Leiweke avoided the other reasons why no NFL team owner has rushed to embrace L.A. Los Angeles without a team is worth more to NFL owners than Los Angeles with a team. The threat of moving to Los Angeles has extended hometown subsidies to down-market franchises more than once since the Raiders fled to Oakland in 1995."

In fact, the threat of Los Angeles prompted another round of deals for teams that not only got several of them a new stadium but also richer revenue streams that made even less economic sense for cities that spent big to keep team owners and the league management happy.

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Earlier this year, I noted how football, the Convention Center, and tax subsidies for hotel construction were linked: "What downtown Los Angeles doesn't have, say the consultants that City Hall pays to speak the obvious, is enough hotel rooms to justify building a bigger and better convention center ... or was it a bigger convention center to justify building more hotel rooms?

"This conundrum had an answer in the scheme of the Anschutz Entertainment Group to bring pro football to the neighborhood of LA Live, AEG's sports and nightlife complex. AEG offered to modernize and operate the underperforming Convention Center (via some peculiar fiscal magic) as well as build the Farmers Field stadium. We all know how that worked out.

"That leaves the 40-year-old convention center as the city's orphan asset. It's generally regarded as dowdy, too small, and poorly designed. It's also burdened with service on nearly $325 million in debt backed by the city. Meanwhile, AEG has four years remaining on a five-year operating agreement.

"Los Angeles has a history of giving away tax revenue to build hotels so that larger trade shows will come to the convention center (justifying the subsidized construction of hotel rooms). According to the Los Angeles Times, more than $500 million in subsidies and tax rebates will eventually be returned to downtown hotel developers. Naturally, they have come to depend on the city's tax rebates -- many lasting up to 25 years -- to make their projects profitable.

"This is the irony in creating a downtown economy based on hotels, a convention center, and an entertainment complex (that might include a football stadium) every element of which requires giving away city revenues in one form or another."

And as it turns out, an NFL stadium wasn't needed to keep downtown's hotel boom going.

Today, as Sam Farmer in the Los Angeles Times noted this week, "As it is, the six-month extension Mayor Eric Garcetti gave AEG on Farmers Field -- along with Garcetti's announcement in October that an NFL return in 2015 was 'highly likely' -- are moot. For anyone who has followed this over the years, it's simply Groundhog Day."

That's how we play pro football in the City of Angeles.

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