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Rose Bowl Sends Message

Times Staff Writer

Rose Bowl officials, stunned by the NFL’s sudden infatuation with a stadium concept in Carson, want the league to grant them exclusive negotiating rights by Tuesday and to complete the agreement in 60 days. If not, Pasadena’s offer will be taken off the table.

The deadlines are almost certain to pass without the league taking action.

For the record:

12:00 a.m. May 23, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 61 words Type of Material: Correction
NFL talks -- An article in Thursday’s Sports section erroneously reported that Carson Mayor Daryl Sweeney said he had been aware of informal talks between City Manager Jerry Groomes and Michael Ovitz, who is proposing that a stadium be built for a National Football League team in Carson. Sweeney said Groomes had been talking to the NFL but not to Ovitz.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Wednesday that he doesn’t expect owners to formally discuss the Rose Bowl proposal in the immediate future.

“There’s not a meeting planned. I don’t have any flight reservations. I’m not sending letters out tomorrow,” Tagliabue said. “We don’t have an order of who’s going to meet first. We’re going to move the process along in a thoughtful way with both communities.”

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Asked about the Pasadena deadlines, Roger Goodell, the NFL’s vice president and chief operating officer, told Bloomberg News: “I can’t get 32 owners to commit to a stadium and a team in 60 days. We still have a lot of questions. They say it will cost $500 million. I don’t know if it’s worth that.”

A day earlier, team owners voted almost unanimously to exercise an option on a potential stadium site in Carson, authorizing Tagliabue to advance $10 million to a San Diego-based development company that is working with Michael Ovitz. A few of those owners expressed surprise that the Carson concept gained momentum so rapidly and that the subject of Los Angeles -- which a week earlier wasn’t on the agenda -- dominated the first day of talks.

Rose Bowl officials have spent the last nine months refining their plan and this week got unanimous approval of the city council to seek a deal. The Carson concept was first introduced to owners in March and did not get traction with the league until Ovitz gave up the idea of having an ownership stake in the team that moved there.

“The way the Carson proposal popped up in the mature state it did makes me uneasy about the whole process from the NFL side,” Pasadena Councilman Paul Little said.

In Carson, city officials adopted a wait-and-see attitude about the proposal. Mayor Daryl Sweeney said he and others at City Hall were aware that City Manager Jerry Groomes was in informal discussions with Ovitz and others about the stadium possibility. But Sweeney said neither Ovitz nor the NFL had as yet provided “something we can take to council. I imagine that will be very soon, and then we will have a thorough and public discussion.”

The owners voted, 30 to 1, in favor of exercising the Carson option. The Oakland Raiders voted against it, seeing as they are suing the league over the rights to the L.A. market, and the Indianapolis Colts abstained. The Colts are in negotiations with Indianapolis for a new stadium and are one of three teams, along with San Diego and New Orleans, that could most easily get out of their lease and potentially move to L.A. by 2006.

Colt owner Jim Irsay said he did not vote on whether to exercise the Carson option because he needed further clarification on the proposal. Asked how his abstention might play in Indianapolis, where people think he’s angling for a way out of town, he said: “I don’t see that as something where anyone should be reading into the tea leaves. I just wanted some clarification on things, that’s all.”

The league has a history of propping up multiple sites to create leverage and work out a more favorable deal. That’s one of the reasons a group of L.A. businessmen dropped their plans last year to build a stadium adjacent to Staples Center; they didn’t want to get into a bidding war.

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Bob McNair knows the process well. He paid a $700-million expansion fee in 1999 to land the Houston Texans, staking a claim to a team that otherwise was headed for L.A.

“The whole thing is a political process,” McNair said. “Sometimes people aren’t very responsive if they don’t feel like they need to be responsive. If they just take the situation for granted, maybe an adequate effort is not made.”

As for the current contenders, McNair said the league looks favorably on the Rose Bowl but that Carson is a better site in terms of freeway access and parking. Still, questions persist about the 157-acre parcel that sits on a landfill.

“Is it a pretty site? No,” he said. “Is it a clean site? No. There are environmental considerations. Can you get through all of those? I don’t think anyone knows.”

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McNair, who said there were times in his bidding process when he thought the Houston proposal was dead, compared holding a deal together to keeping grasshoppers in a jar.

“I couldn’t keep all the grasshoppers in a jar forever,” he said. “They’d jump out, I’d put them back in, and they’d jump out again. There’s a limitation to how long you can do that.”

Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard said he would support Pasadena’s pushing forward with its proposal as long as it’s treated fairly by the NFL. He said the city wants the NFL to reimburse it for the costs it has incurred so far, about $1 million.

“Pasadena has proceeded in this manner in an orderly and businesslike way,” Bogaard said. “We owe it to ourselves and to the NFL to continue that approach, as long as the NFL reciprocates.”

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Former Pasadena mayor Bill Thomson, who heads the Rose Bowl’s tenant search committee, said he believes the historic stadium is the best site for the NFL.

Said Thomson: “I’m not worried about being in competition with a toxic dump.”

Staff writers Tina Daunt and Jean Merl contributed to this report.


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