‘United front’ announces stadium naming-rights deal
At a stadium naming-rights announcement that took on the life of a pep rally, complete with a giant airship and mock football field, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Los Angeles sports legends, and other business and city leaders did everything they could Tuesday to convince the converted that the NFL was coming back to Los Angeles.
It was a morning of self-congratulatory speeches, videotaped messages and even a claim that building a downtown stadium would “save lives.”
Villaraigosa, who had previously been silent on the proposed Convention Center stadium project, made his position known.
“It is very clear football is coming back to Los Angeles,” he said.
The reason for the revelry was to announce the name of the proposed 70,000-seat retractable-roof stadium as Farmers Field. The 30-year naming-rights deal with Farmers Insurance is worth $700 million, with the possibility of growing to $900 million if two NFL teams relocate to the proposed stadium.
No questions were permitted at the announcement until Los Angeles Rams legends Deacon Jones and Rosey Grier, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, Lakers legend Magic Johnson and boxer Oscar De La Hoya finished their photo-op holding footballs on a Convention Center stage.
Johnson, the first speaker, said the show of unity was orchestrated by AEG President and Chief Executive Tim Leiweke.
“That’s the most important message we can send,” said Johnson, who would like to own a piece of whatever team would move here. “In years past, we were not united and it cost us. We’re united — the public and private sectors, the City Council, the unions, business leaders and the community.
“That’s the sentiment all over the city. It’s not just us up here, but the fans … want it bad. It’ll take all of us. We’ve sent a clear message that we’re a united front and this is what we can do now.”
Bold statements booming into microphones defined the announcement, as Villaraigosa and Leiweke repeated the claim that not “one dime” of taxpayer money (from the city general fund) will be used to tear down and rebuild the aged L.A. Convention Center’s West Hall and construct the $1-billion stadium on the dime of AEG’s billionaire owner Philip Anschutz.
What about traffic jams? “Nonsense, false,” touted a transportation official, showing video coverage of cars speeding along the 110 on two recent Sundays.
One labor authority projected 7,000 construction jobs will be created by the effort and vowed to get the work done “on budget, on schedule, right the first time,” adding 8,000 more permanent jobs will be generated by the existence of Farmers Field.
In the context of hyping the appetite-whetting jobs claims in this economy, someone claimed the stadium will “save lives.”
“I’ve seen quite a few stadium economic reports, and I’ve never seen that high a number,” said Marc Ganis, a stadium expert and president of Sportscorp Ltd. in Chicago. “It’s very hard to take these numbers at face value. They’re never as good as the promoters claim and never as bad as some academics suggest.
“People might assume the 7,000 construction jobs mean those on the ground in L.A. building the stadium, but there might be subcontractors and some other manufacturing jobs done out of the area.”
Such details were intended to be glossed over Tuesday. Leiweke, in a nod to critics of his project, including Ed Roski’s group that aims to build a stadium in the City of Industry, said, “It’s easy to shoot darts and cast fear.” He pointed instead to AEG’s success in building Staples Center and LA Live.
Roski was unavailable for comment, however, partner John Semcken, vice president of Majestic Realty, said: “We firmly believe that our stadium proposal, which is modeled after the most successful stadiums in the league, is best suited for the NFL and the entire Southern California region.”
Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry touted the downtown stadium project in her 9th District as “our own economic stimulus package … [to] generate tax dollars that our city desperately needs.” Perry added, “If anyone can do a project of this magnitude, it’s AEG.”
Councilwoman Janice Hahn was among those poised to play a role in bringing the city an NFL team more than 50 years after her father, Kenneth Hahn, helped broker the Dodgers’ move west. She vowed to preside over a “transparent” process that will include financial scrutiny by a City Council working group, an independent financial analyst and a ceremonial “blue-ribbon committee” that the mayor announced Tuesday. The project will require a $350-million bond for work on the convention center’s West Hall.
Villaraigosa’s blue-ribbon committee, including Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton, Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio, former Gov. Gray Davis and film producer/philanthropist Sherry Lansing, will advise him on the merits of the “Downtown Events Center.”
Hahn said that was the only way “to convince the public the second largest city in America needs a football team. I say, let’s huddle.”
“The naming rights are a big deal, a game-changer,” Villaraigosa said. “It dispels the notion we’re not going to build — or can’t build — a new stadium.”
At least one NFL team would have to agree to move to Los Angeles before the stadium is built. Of course, this being Super Bowl week, no NFL owners were at Tuesday’s event.
However, influential Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took notice of it from Texas.
“To me, that is a major indication of the viability of a franchise in Los Angeles,” Jones said. “They’re a very credible group there that is attempting to build a stadium, and certainly the kinds of things they’re doing, within the framework of the financial dollars that I’m seeing and hearing about, should work.… I’d say that’s a very serious, positive thing that they have there.”
Villaraigosa revealed he met secretly with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in December to discuss the NFL-to-L.A. situation, and added that he’s met with at least one league ownership group interested in moving.
The mayor declined to name who but noted, “You saw the pictures,” in reference to a Tuesday video montage that included scenes of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and roaring San Diego Chargers fans.
The Vikings, Chargers, Jacksonville, St. Louis, San Francisco, Buffalo and Oakland are the teams believed most likely to move based on current stadium leases or lagging attendance. Leiweke said he’s been in talks with the Rose Bowl and Coliseum about serving as a temporary home to a team that would move.
“There’s a little bit of putting the cart before the horse here without a team,” stadium expert Ganis said. “The unquestioned key is getting a team. Is there a team that will move?”
Leiweke insisted Farmers’ investment will help sway an NFL owner: “I talk to them every day. They’re all aware they get a piece of this if they move here.”
Times staff writer Sam Farmer contributed to this report.
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