Philip Anschutz doesn’t get pushed around. He’s a billionaire who makes business deals with his head, not his heart. When he sets his mind to something, he stands firm.
In other words, he’s not likely to bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles.
Throughout the Farmers Field process, it was Tim Leiweke, then president of AEG, who was keeping the concept alive, scrambling to keep all parties engaged, always selling the notion that a downtown L.A. stadium would not only work but would be the gem of the NFL.
Without Leiweke as a buffer, we have two behemoths of business — Anschutz and the NFL — poised to bang heads again, each with distinctly different ideas of what a fair deal is.
Anschutz told The Times that his decision to pull AEG off the sales block actually makes it more likely a team will return, not less. But he also gave no indication he’s willing to soften his position with the NFL. If anything, he sounded more resolute about where he stands.
“Why would I go to all the trouble, spend all the time, spend all the capital, tee all this up, and give someone all the upside?” Anschutz said. “I mean, my friends would think I should be committed.”
Makes perfect sense, but that kind of thinking doesn’t play big with the NFL, which has done just fine without L.A. and in fact has done an exceptional job of using a team-less L.A. as a hammer to hang over the heads of cities it views as insufficiently committal.
If Anschutz won’t budge, neither will the NFL, and that would be a short conversation.
There are plenty of reasons for Anschutz to stand his ground. He would have to write an enormous check for the stadium and take on a staggering amount of risk in a city that, for various reasons, has already lost two NFL teams.
There is no overwhelming, unified push for a team to return to the market, and the NFL faces the significant challenge of attracting fans to live events, as opposed to their watching on TV. Also, no one is sure where the concussion issue will lead, or how that will affect the value of teams and the league.
So if an investor is “conservative” and “skeptical” — words Anschutz has used to describe himself — it’s hard to imagine him very eager to talk to the NFL. By his estimate, it has been at least eight months since his last stadium-related discussions with anyone from the league.
All that doesn’t necessarily mean the idea for a downtown stadium has flatlined, although there’s nothing happening on that front at the moment.
There’s always a chance that after the dust settles on this non-sale, someone could circle back and make another run at Anschutz to buy AEG. Might Guggenheim quietly get back in the game? Or maybe Anschutz could break off the Farmers Field opportunity and sell it separately.
He estimates he has spent $45 million on the endeavor so far, plus $5 million to $10 million more on “indirects,” and AEG expended a lot of political capital to get the support it has from City Hall. Hard to imagine all of that going away in a poof.
“I’m not in the practice of commonly writing checks just for the fun of writing them,” he said.
In the end, though, unless one of the billion-dollar behemoths backs down, that might just be the cost of doing business.