Philip Anschutz says AEG sale became ‘a very noisy process’
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, AEG founder Philip Anschutz discussed his decision to pull his sports and entertainment conglomerate off the market, as well as Tim Leiweke’s impending departure from the company. This is an edited transcript:
Question: Tim Leiweke was the public face of AEG in Los Angeles. It’s a surprise to see him leaving so abruptly. What happened?
Answer: I think he made his decision based on the fact that I had terminated the process for the sale, combined with the opportunities that he’s looking at elsewhere as well. So he’s done what he’s set out to do, I think. Going forward, the company is going to be focused on a combination of operating results as well as new growth opportunities. So I think probably all those things combined. And by the way, I might add he’s had a pretty good run here.
Q. Why did you terminate the sale of AEG? A number of big names had been rumored to be interested. Did you not like the prices you were getting?
A. This became a very noisy process. Lots of people, lots of talking heads, lots of unnamed experts and lots of opinions. Many things. I might add, many of them were wrong but that didn’t seem to dampen their enthusiasm. So that was a contributing factor. It just got too noisy. I didn’t like the process.
Second thing: We were very clear from the start. Unless there was the right buyer, the right set of terms and the right price, we might not sell. Oh, and by the way, we might not sell at all.... We haven’t been misleading.
Q. You said you’ll be taking a more active role in the company. Why?
A. All I’ve ever done in my life is work. I’m kind of excited about reengaging, to be perfectly clear with you. This is a pretty nice company.
Q. Does this make it more or less likely that L.A. will get a football team?
A. I think it makes it more likely. One: We’re ready to push dirt. Two: You have the best location in the world. Three: The NFL has said they want to come to California. I would guess it would make common sense for them to do so. Four: You’ve got an owner, a potential owner, who’s got the capital to actually build one. I’m reengaged. And if there’s a profitable investment to be made, I’m up for that. That’s what I do for a living.
We’ve done everything we can to improve the odds … [but] we’re not going to make football happen all by ourselves. The NFL is a player here, they’re not just an observer. They’ve got to decide what they want to do. AEG has got to own all the venue. We’re flexible. We’re open for business to do a deal. This isn’t rocket science. It’s a matter of the parties sitting down and talking. There’s no preset formula. But we won’t be pushed into a deal.
It seemed like to me that a lot of the noise happened to be around football. That, to me, is the tail wagging the dog. The dog is AEG. That’s multiples more valuable than a football team.
What is not, I think, commonly known, perhaps, or at least commonly acknowledged, is the state has stepped up and done their part here. The city has stepped up, the mayor, City Council, they’ve stepped up and done their part. But what’s not commonly known is AEG is the one that spent all the money. We’ve spent $45 million. Written checks for $45 million, plus another $5 [million] to $10 million of indirects on this project. I’m not in the practice commonly of writing checks just for the fun of writing them. That’s a lot of money to be spent on this project. You do that because you see a business opportunity.
The NFL should come to L.A. They should come to this site. And ultimately it’s my view that they will. But, as I’ve said, a couple of things need to happen. I am optimistic, if that helps you, that the NFL is coming to the city. Not only am I optimistic, but I’m willing to back it with considerable money to make it a reality.
Q. How recently have you spoken to the NFL?
A. Eight months or more. I’m guessing the NFL has been sitting on the sidelines, waiting for the [AEG sale] process to play itself out one way or another.
Q. Any discussions with the [St. Louis] Rams?
A. Not about football.
Q. Is there any way you see building a stadium and bringing an NFL team without your being a significant owner?
A. [L.A. Live is] a big financial success. So I sit back and look at that and say, you know, there is some risk in plunking down a football stadium in the middle of that. There you have an asset that’s working extremely well and you put a football stadium in the middle of it. Will that hurt our Kings attendance? Will it impact our hotel attendance? Will it impact our restaurants? We need to have an investment in the arena and the football team if they’re going to be occupying it in the middle of our campus.
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