The successful beginning of the approval process of AEG's proposal to build a new stadium in downtown Los Angeles means that the NFL is finally on track to return to Southern California. There will be delays, environmental impact reports, opposition by taxpayers, twists and turns galore, but the train delivering NFL football to our region is firmly on tracks that will lead to a new stadium and possibly two new teams.
I have been involved in saving or attracting franchises for many years. In 1992, I was asked by Mayor Frank Jordan of San Francisco to lead an effort to stop the San Francisco Giants from going through with a signed deal that would move the club to Tampa Bay. We needed to convince Major League Baseball to disapprove the move as "against the best interests of baseball."
We needed to advance a new stadium plan in a city with Byzantine fractionalized politics. And we needed to assemble a new group of local buyers. We succeeded, which resulted in being sued by the Tampa Bay group for a billion dollars.
In 1994, I was asked by Mayor Elihu Harris of Oakland to stop the Oakland A's from leaving town. We assembled leading businessmen and developed a "There is no OaklAnd without the A's" program to build local support. We found new local ownership to buy the team.
When Georgia Frontiere and John Shaw threatened to move the Rams to St. Louis in 1994, we created "Save The Rams" with 150 local businessmen and leaders. Former Disneyland President Jack Lindquist and I were co-chairman. We went to municipalities throughout Orange County that would achieve benefits to see if there was a way of taking the sole burden from Anaheim for the costs of a new stadium and practice facility. In conjunction with Mayor Tom Dailey and City Manager Jim Ruth of Anaheim, we helped develop the concept of a new stadium surrounded by a "Sportstown" — a Disneyland of sports with interactive rides, retail and hotels.
This was an attempt to create more economic activity than simply 10 home-date Sunday's for stadium use. We succeeded in getting the NFL to vote against the move at its league meeting in Phoenix. But Orange County went bankrupt in the middle of the process and ruined chances for success.
When the Rams were contemplating leaving, I warned publicly that if we lost the Rams, we would soon lose the Raiders and there would be no NFL franchise in Southern California for years. And I warned that the $140 million price tag for a new Ram stadium would be considered a great economic bargain compared to the future cost of building a stadium and attracting a team.
The responses were: "Good riddance to Georgia and Al Davis," "The NFL needs L.A. for the national television contract," "They need us more than we need them."
We are now into year 17 with no NFL team, a whole generation has grown up without one and the NFL is the most successful sports product in the United States by a wide margin.
The NFL offered an expansion franchise to Los Angeles in 2000, and the political, economic, press leadership was so disorganized and the public so apathetic that Houston was awarded that franchise by default.
Commissioner Paul Tagliabue wanted an L.A. franchise as part of his legacy. The NFL offered to build the stadium around the existing Coliseum structure in 2006. All they asked of the region was a few civic improvements around the site. This was an unprecedented opportunity to build a stadium and return football at a minuscule fraction of the economics other regions had to commit to get teams, and again, Los Angeles couldn't deliver.
I have applauded the efforts of Ed Roski, John Semcken and Majestic to build a stadium in the City of Industry. I think their commitment to the area is long-lasting, their plan can work and should proceed. They have been pioneers. But the entrance into this mix by AEG will bring the NFL back to L.A.
Anschutz Entertainment Group is run by Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz. Locally, Tim Lieweke has been a dynamic, energetic force in reshaping Southern California sports and entertainment. This is the group that built Staples, L.A. Live and Home Depot. They know how to construct state-of-the-art, multiple-use sports facilities.
They own a railroad, Regal Theatres and are building an extensive entertainment complex in London. They have devised a plan to re-energize downtown and bring jobs to the region by expanding the L.A. Convention Center to allow it to attract bigger and more lucrative conventions. The new football stadium will synergize with Staples and L.A. Live and the new Convention Center to create vitality in the downtown area.
We are an extremely tax-phobic area and the deal they are offering Los Angeles has only modest risk and great rewards. This is the best opportunity to bring back the NFL to Southern California in 20 years. There are local persons of wealth and resources lined up from the Daily Pilot offices to the beach in Corona del Mar, who will happily participate in purchasing an expansion franchise.
The revenue opportunities of a new franchise would dwarf those of most areas. Naming rights alone will create a new record — think of the traffic flow in the downtown cloverleaf who will see Farmers. L.A. is the No. 2 television market and a regional sports network would be a Gold mine.
The most expensive luxury boxes would sell first and 15 million people are within two hours of travel time for 10 home games. But the NFL is more likely to want an existing team to move. Jacksonville, Buffalo and other franchises are having trouble competing today in the ancillary revenue opportunities that large corporate communities and fan bases generate.
For those people who couldn't care less about the NFL, you are not being asked to pay for the new stadium. But for those of us with a passion for the NFL back the AEG proposal. A stadium may not be completed until 2016, but a team or two is likely to come several years earlier and play in a temporary facility. I
told you for months in this space that the NFL would play a regular season this year, and now I'm telling you to "GET READY FOR SOME SO-CAL NFL FOOTBALL."
LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or blog.steinbergsports.com.
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