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In pitching stadium plan, Tim Leiweke comes off as arrogant as NFL

Tim Leiweke is losing me.

Now in the grand scheme of things, that’s a gnat on the back of L.A.'s big elephant. But he had me.

I covered the departure of the Rams and Raiders in 1994, and every plan suggested since then to bring an NFL team here.

Leiweke’s sounded the best of them all.

But in the last few weeks, the elephant has come off sounding as arrogant as the NFL, and nobody does arrogance better than the NFL.

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In part, that’s why the NFL has turned off so many in Los Angeles and places where they already have teams.

The NFL insists fans pay regular prices for practice games because it can. The league takes a game off local TV if a game is not sold out 72 hours before kickoff. The league puts games on its own NFL Network although most folks don’t have access to it.

Leiweke is now making like the NFL and stomping on anyone who challenges or questions his downtown stadium plan. We are to believe whatever he says because he says so.

On top of that, the guy with all the money, Philip Anschutz, doesn’t deign to talk publicly. “In Anschutz We Trust” just doesn’t have the same ring as “In God We Trust.”

It gets no better out in the suburbs. Ed Roski has his stadium project in the City of Industry, and in a telling move he has allowed his lieutenant, John Semcken, to spew venom.

Semcken seems upset because Leiweke entered the stadium fray after Roski, forgetting that business is business and may the best project win. Instead, Semcken has made it personal.

Roski is not very highly regarded in NFL circles, and Semcken’s attacks have further damaged Roski’s standing.

I don’t imagine many people have suffered all that much around here since the departure of the Rams and Raiders. Sunday TV fare has improved at the very least.

Some people might even take pride in Los Angeles’ unbending position of not spending public money to build a new playpen for an NFL owner. I think of it as a badge of honor and common sense.

Folks elsewhere undoubtedly don’t believe it, but when someone from the Los Angeles area says they don’t miss the NFL, it’s a pretty good guess they really mean it.

But here comes Leiweke to jam a new stadium down everyone’s throats because he says it will be good for L.A.

Maybe so, but the reason I liked Leiweke’s stadium plan from the get-go was because a new stadium downtown was going to be great for AEG. How’s that for motivation to get a deal done after so many aborted attempts?

But on such a basic point, Leiweke gets all huffy and dismissive, as if L.A. can’t handle the truth: Business people do business to turn a profit.

There have been conflicting viewpoints on the success of L.A. Live so far. In a recent interview, Leiweke said L.A. Live is doing just fine, pointing to an 85% occupancy rate for the last quarter in the hotel that opened a year ago.

Others aren’t so sure, and there was this in Monday’s Times: “About 60% of the Ritz Carlton’s 224 condos, which start at $850,000 and hit $9.3 million for a penthouse, have been secured with nonrefundable deposits, AEG said.”

That’s a lot of empty condos, with prices already reduced 10% to 20%. Maybe Leiweke & Co. extended a bit over their skis on this one in these difficult economic times.

A new downtown stadium/convention center would undoubtedly enhance the sales pitch.

No problem with that, but to suggest in heavy-handed rhetoric AEG is doing everyone a favor, what’s wrong with slowing down for inspection? Twice before AEG has pushed to bring a stadium to L.A., and twice before AEG pulled out when the going got tough.

In the early 1990s, Leiweke was a Denver Nuggets executive working with the city to build a new arena on land owned by Anschutz. Anschutz and the Nuggets ended up in court, Leiweke testifying on behalf of Anschutz and then resigning. Later, he went to work for Anschutz.

Things don’t always work out as planned. Just ask any Kings fan.

Leiweke has promised his stadium plan won’t cost taxpayers, but he’s not the guy spending the money and his contract with Anschutz expires next year. Leiweke gets irritated when asked about that.

AEG still provides L.A. with the best chance to bring football back, if that’s a good thing. But right now Leiweke comes across more as the heavy than civic leader.

Leiweke has always been a hard charger, his greatest strength and possibly biggest weakness. Beckham comes to mind. He thought that was a great idea, everyone heralding Beckham’s arrival here as some sort of king before the king became a recluse.

As opposed to what Semcken has said about him, Leiweke is a good guy, just out to lunch at times, with his contention, still, that the Beckham deal was a success as just one example.

He’s always made bold predictions about the long-term success of soccer, and why wouldn’t he? His boss, Anschutz, is probably the top investor in soccer in this country.

Whatever his reason now for making a football stadium happen, he can play tough guy with the NFL all he wants and get applauded here.

But when he starts sounding like the NFL, better check your wallets.

t.j.simers@latimes.com


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