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Column: Would the Forum be doomed if Clippers owner Steve Ballmer buys it?

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is negotiating to purchase the Forum in Inglewood from the Madison Square Garden Co.
Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is negotiating to purchase the Forum in Inglewood from the Madison Square Garden Co.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The e-mail from businessman Irving Azoff to Lakers owner Jeanie Buss and top advisor Linda Rambis three years ago laid out Azoff’s vision for the future of the Forum and the Lakers.

“Here’s my dream,” he wrote in an email reviewed by The Times’ Nathan Fenno. “Rebuild the Forum from scratch. Lakers plus music. Boom.”

Rebuilding the Forum from scratch would have meant demolishing the home of the Lakers and Kings from 1967 to 1999 that both teams left for Staples Center. After Madison Square Garden Co. bought the Forum in 2012 and invested $100 million to renovate it, the arena became primarily a music venue.

The Forum could not house an NBA or NHL team today. It has no luxury suites or club seats, which makes up a significant piece of revenue for teams. Staples Center has 160 luxury suites and 2,500 club seats.

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“The Forum was redesigned as a music venue because they didn’t have to put in any suites and club seats,” said Don Muret, who has been covering sports and business for nearly 30 years and writes for VenuesNow, a trade publication covering live entertainment venues. “It made it easier to make it a pure concert venue without the need to rebuild it with those amenities needed for pro sports teams. That’s contractually obligated income that helps to pay for construction.”

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer is in negotiations with the owner of the Forum to purchase the Inglewood arena, according to a person familiar with the talks.

Azoff’s email about his dream for a new Forum was sent just before Clippers owner Steve Ballmer announced his dream to build a $1-billion arena for his team down the street in Inglewood. It would appear Ballmer’s dream is coming true.

He is in negotiations to purchase the Forum, a move that would expedite his plan to break ground on his arena by next year and have it ready for the 2024-25 NBA season. MSG currently has three pending lawsuits against the proposed Clippers arena.

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The sale of the Forum to Ballmer would all but guarantee a new Clippers arena in Inglewood, but the future of the Forum isn’t certain. Would there be a need to keep the Forum with two modern venues down the street? SoFi Stadium already is booked with major musical acts ranging from Taylor Swift and Tim McGraw to Guns N Roses and Motley Crue.

“I don’t know if three arenas can survive in L.A. when you talk about Staples Center, the new Clippers arena and the Forum,” Murret said. “And that’s not taking into account other smaller arenas nearby. The folks I talked to always wondered how the Clippers would fill their new arena with events and shows apart from NBA games with the Forum there, and now it looks like they may not have to worry about that.”

The idea of Ballmer buying the Forum and demolishing the birthplace of the “Showtime Lakers” has some Lakers fans in a tizzy. It’s understandable, but the Lakers left the Forum in 1999 and had no real interest in buying it, renovating it or moving back. It was used for church services and was losing money before it was sold to and renovated by MSG.

“There’s obviously nostalgic value attached to the Forum for a lot of people in Southern California, but nostalgia alone doesn’t get it done anymore,” said David Carter, executive director of the USC Sports Business Institute. “He has a lot of options with that real estate.”

Ballmer is focused on building the best basketball arena for the Clippers, period. Perhaps that leaves the door open for the Forum to continue as a concert venue.

What happens to the Forum seems to be secondary, though. The most important part is moving MSG and its attorneys out of the way.


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