L.A. Coliseum panel drops free-tickets provision from USC deal

The Coliseum Commission manages the Sports Arena, foreground, and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
(Los Angeles Times)

In the heat of a broader financial scandal, the public officials who run the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum have agreed to give up decades’ worth of free Trojan football tickets they negotiated for themselves in a proposed lease that would surrender control of the stadium to USC.

The Coliseum Commission has also relinquished access to a VIP hospitality area at the taxpayer-owned stadium for Trojan contests as well as a possible bounty of free tickets to NFL games there if a professional team someday uses it as a temporary playing field.

The agency’s negotiating committee announced that it had removed the ticket provision from the lease draft in a terse statement on the Coliseum website. That section of the lease would have granted the commission the equivalent of 10 tickets for each of the nine panel members — 90 total — for every Trojan game at the Coliseum, plus parking.

The commission, made up of representatives of the city, county and Gov. Jerry Brown, is scheduled to discuss the proposed lease at its regular monthly meeting Wednesday. It is unclear from the panel’s agenda whether any action on the 42-year pact will be taken.

Attorneys for the commission did not respond to emailed questions late Tuesday about the tickets. The most prominent commissioners are county Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe, and City Councilman Bernard C. Parks.

Critics lashed out at the commission when The Times published a front-page article in April about the free tickets, following months of disclosures by the paper about financial irregularities that occurred on the panel’s watch. Among those taken aback by the planned giveaway was a former commissioner, sports attorney W. Jerome Stanley, who called it “ugly.”

Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor who studies public corruption, said the decision to forgo the tickets was “a good PR move.” The provision would have required USC to try to get the commissioners free tickets to pro games if a new L.A. franchise played at the Coliseum while an NFL stadium was built here.

“To get rid of the benefits and perks that come along with the position is good,” Levinson said. “But it’s different from getting rid of the corruption that happened.”

The multimillion-dollar scandal led to criminal charges in March against three former Coliseum managers, an ex-contractor for the stadium and two music promoters who staged rave concerts at the property.

Former General Manager Patrick Lynch has pleaded guilty to conflict of interest and agreed to return $385,000 in alleged kickbacks from the janitorial contractor, who remains at large. The other defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

The proposed lease would give USC almost complete control of the Coliseum and companion Sports Arena, as well as naming and advertising rights to the Exposition Park venues. The commission sought the new lease as it ran out of money to pay for upgrades to the 88-year-old Coliseum that it promised USC in the current agreement.

USC is pursuing a separate deal with the state, which owns the land under the stadium, that eventually could extend the lease to 99 years.