Governor, Mayors Make Pitch
Come back to the Los Angeles area, but understand there’s no public subsidy for a sports palace, the governor of California and mayors of Los Angeles and Anaheim told an 11-member committee of NFL owners Tuesday.
Understood, league officials said, forging ahead after presentations from backers of the Coliseum and Anaheim with plans for a return to the nation’s No. 2 television market but stressing that the economics of doing business in Southern California must, as several government and league officials said, “pencil out.” Stadium costs alone are projected at $800 million.
The league had been pointing toward resolution -- one site or the other -- at a May 23 meeting in Denver of all 32 NFL owners. While that remains possible, Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Tuesday’s presentations left “a lot to digest,” perhaps too much for just three weeks.
He added, “I’m not going to rush. But I’ve also emphasized that this is the year for us to make some decisions, up or down. We’re not going to keep moving sideways.”
An ebullient Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said after the meeting he believed decision time was drawing near: “If you saw us when we walked out, there were smiles and handshakes and practically hugging.” Echoed Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle: “We felt very positive about the presentation and the outcome.”
Also appearing Tuesday were interests from Pasadena and the Rose Bowl, considered a longshot.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who in an interview in November noted he is “from Los Angeles” and the Coliseum is a “great state property,” suggested there was “enough room” in Southern California for two teams.
Tagliabue said later the NFL’s immediate focus is one team in the Los Angeles area. No hint was offered about which site, Anaheim or the Coliseum, might be preferred. The area has been without a team since after the 1994 season, when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders returned to Oakland.
Schwarzenegger, in a light-hearted comment, underscored the ongoing drama since 1994. Referring to his movie roles, he said his four children -- ages 16, 14, 12 and 8 and eager for NFL football -- “think that I can do anything, that I would just come here and make this happen.
“Because they’ve seen the movies, blowing up buildings and wiping out armies and conquering witches and even the devil and they think Daddy is going to just go there and ... bring some teams back.”
The governor also told reporters, “We are not talking about tax money. This can be done through private financing.”
The thrust of the Anaheim and Coliseum projects is to draw upon no general-fund money.
The league would develop the stadium, then find an owner -- or owners -- to pay back the construction loans and other costs through naming rights, luxury boxes and other revenue.
Tagliabue said Tuesday the league wants to see significant Southern California business support, saying it could serve as a “surrogate” for the “public investment of tax dollars.”
It remains unclear whether the league would expand or move another team to the Los Angeles area.
The NFL is in prime position to deal, fueled by new television contracts that assure the NFL of billions in revenue, an agreement with the NFL players’ union that buys labor peace through 2011 and Tagliabue’s announcement in March he will retire in July.
Tagliabue has long promoted Southern California as a first-rate Super Bowl site. Sentiment is strong to make a move while Tagliabue is still in command.
Moreover, Anaheim has given the league a May 31 deadline. After that, the city intends to explore other options for the land, a 53-acre parcel in the parking lot next to Angel Stadium. Asked about that, Pringle said Tuesday, “Nothing has changed.”
For all those reasons, the interest and intent on all sides has in recent weeks ramped up. A series of conference calls among the 11-member committee is due in the coming days; visits to Los Angeles and Anaheim to gauge corporate support are possible; and Tagliabue intends to reassemble the 11-member committee in Denver on May 22, the day before all 32 owners convene.
Steve Tisch, chairman and executive vice president of the New York Giants, said, “I don’t feel this process has ever gone as far as it is today and clearly leading up to Denver it’s going to go even further,” adding, “If we have not crossed the goal line by the time Paul’s successor takes over I feel we will hopefully be deep in the red zone.”
Anaheim would sell the parcel to the NFL for about $50 million. The league would have the option of putting the stadium amid a “sports and entertainment complex,” with 750,000 square feet of commercial space, 500-unit hotel and, if the Angels’ lease could be changed, up to 700 residential units.
The chance to own the property distinguishes Anaheim’s pitch from the Coliseum, where the league would enter into a 25-year lease that could be extended to 55 years. The Coliseum would be rebuilt around the famed peristyle end, the 92,000-seat bowl reconfigured to seat 68,000, up to 80,000 for Super Bowls and USC games.
Anaheim’s presentation highlighted what Pringle emphasized were “many of the pieces of the deal” but did not go where the Coliseum’s did -- through numbers that, according to investment banker Bill Chadwick, who is a state representative on the Coliseum Commission, showed that any would-be owner could turn a profit, even if a Coliseum remodel cost $800 million.
Naming rights estimated at $50 million and the sale of personal-seat licenses worth a projected $100 million would drop the debt service from $800 million to $650 million, or from an estimated $56 million to $45 million annually.
If 188 luxury boxes drew $350,000 apiece, or $65.8 million annually, 17,000 club seats were sold each year for $3,500 each, or $59.5 million, and advertising inside the stadium drew $30 million each year, that’s $155.3 million annually -- or about three times the $45-million annual nut.
It remains unclear if those figures are attainable.
Seattle owner Paul Allen, emphasizing that he was not speaking about any particular set of figures, said it seemed “inevitable” the league would one day find its way back to L.A.
For now, “if you look at the numbers, you say there’s the potential for this to be done. But these are big numbers.”