The NFL and the Battle of Los Angeles

Posted: February 14, 2011 in Football, Los Angeles, NFL, Relocation/Expansion, Stadiums/Arenas
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

The Battle of Los Angeles is more than just a Rage Against the Machine album and an example of wartime paranoia.  It is a struggle between two competing multimillion dollar development projects centered around using rampant public support for a return of the NFL to the City of Angels for their own ends.  The second largest market in the United States has been without an NFL franchise since 1995, when the Raiders moved back to Oakland and the Rams moved to St. Louis.  While the reasons for these moves were many and diverse, and the fact that a team hasn’t moved back to L.A. in the 15+ years since then have raised cynical questions about whether or not the city really is a strong professional football market, there can be no denying the apparent strength that both stadium plans over the options several teams face in their current home cities.

The City of Industry plan, so named for the fact that the proposed stadium would be built in the east L.A. suburb of Industry, was the first major NFL stadium project to gain serious traction in Southern California in years.  The City of Industry plan is backed by Edward P. Roski, areal estate developer ranked as the 163rd wealthiest American in 2008 with a net value of $2.5 billion.  Roski is a major player in various Los Angeles circles, owning over 70 million square feet of urban property in L.A., Las Vegas, Denver, and Dallas and is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA and the Los Angeles Kings of the NHL.  With very deep pockets and strong connections to innumerable business owners, construction firms, and state, local, and federal politicians in California, Roski’s plan seemed like a slam dunk of sorts.

Roski's City of Industry plan. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia and losangelesfootballstadium.com)

The Los Angeles Stadium (yet to receive a corporate naming-rights deal) would be an $800-million, 75,000-seat open-air facility and act as the centerpiece of a 600-acre development project promised to create thousands of jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual revenue.  The state legislature and former Governor Schwarzenegger showed their whole-hearted support by passing a law specifically exempting the City of Industry plan from state environmental laws and potential nuisance suits in October, 2009, effectively quashing a lawsuit filed by several local residents worried over the increased traffic and noise concerns that would invariably result from such a plan.  Executives attached to the City of Industry plan were obviously so enthused with the project’s outlook that they already began acting as if they had everything in the bag.

In December, 2009, John Semcken III from Majestic Reality, the director of development of the stadium project, spoke in no uncertain terms by promising the return of the NFL to Los Angeles in the very near future. In the course of an interview with a local Fox affiliate, Semcken explicitly stated that there was a 50% chance of an NFL team returning to Los Angeles in time for the 2010 season and a 100% of a team’s return by the start of the 2011 season (at a temporary home in either Los Angeles Coliseum or the Rose Bowl while the Los Angeles Stadium is constructed).  What’s more, Mr. Semcken seemed to strongly indicate that there was potential for not only one team returning to Los Angeles in that time frame, but two.

In the 14 months since he gave that interview however, events almost seemed to have turned against the City of Industry plan.  The 2010 season came and went without a team even so much as hinting that they were interested in moving to Los Angeles, and with negotiations over the current collective bargaining agreement in the NFL reaching new heights between the players association and the owners, the likelihood of a team moving to L.A. in a year when there could very well be a lockout seems increasingly unlikely.  During that same time period, a second stadium plan was unveiled to directly compete with Roski’s seemingly-moribund City of Industry plan.

In 2010, the president of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), Timothy Leiweke, and Casey Wasserman, the former owner of the Los Angeles Avengers of the Arena Football League, formed a partnership to develop a competing stadium proposal to Roski’s City of Industry plan.  Rather than basing their project in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Leiweke and Wasserman intended instead to construct their stadium right in downtown L.A., right across the street from the renowned Staples Center, home of the Lakers and the Clippers of the NBA and the Kings of the NHL.  While obviously somewhat annoying to Roski, given the fact that the competing proposal was being planned right across the street from the homes of two teams that he partially owns, at first glance everything seemed to favor the City of Industry plan. Roski already had a deep connection in the American sports world, had already been given the green light by local and state officials to construct his stadium plan, and was (allegedly) already in the process of discussing terms with several NFL franchises to relocated to his stadium.  Additionally, despite Wasserman’s deep social connections in the Los Angeles area and Leiweke’s experience at the helm of AEG, which currently owns several Major League Soccer (MLS) teams, the plan seemingly had its legs kicked from underneath it when Philip Anschutz announced that he was not supporting the project. Mr. Anschutz is not only the owner of AEG and Timothy Leiweke’s direct boos, but also the partial owner of the Staples Center, the Kings, the Lakers, and a number of other professional teams across the United States.  Without Mr. Anschutz’s involvement, a significant amount of assumed support for the downtown stadium plan was seemingly lost.

Farmers Field in Downtown L.A. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia and farmersfield.com)

However, the downtown L.A. plan received a huge boost in February, 2011, when Farmers Insurance Group signed a staggering 30-year, $700 million naming-rights plan that would name the stadium Farmers Field should construction of it move ahead. Almost overnight, the downtown stadium proposal, which would be a $1 billion, 68,000-seat retractable roof facility appeared to overtake the City of Industry plan as the odds-on favorite, even without Mr. Anschutz’s support, thanks to the guaranteed money significantly reducing the project’s potential cost risk.

In the days that have passed since the initial announcement, both sides of this titanic development battle have mostly been forced to sit on the sidelines waiting for things outside of their own control to progress before they can move ahead.  Bitter labor negotiations between the league owners and the players association is continuing, with reports of the two sides repeatedly bumping heads being repeated ad nauseum on ESPN and on sports talk radio since even before the extremely high-rated Super Bowl. The logistics of moving a franchise to L.A. and the risk of the league in alienating an entire market for allowing a team to uproot are both very difficult barriers to overcome as well.  And, perhaps most importantly, there remains questions over which, if any, team is really interested in moving.  While potential targets for a move to L.A. are open to speculation (and which might be discussed in a later article, as this one is already far too long to prolong even further!), the fact remains that while there appears to be plausible consideration among a number of teams to consider a move to Los Angeles, the threat of moving appears to be just as equally as powerful in forcing government support in the funding of new stadium construction plans.  This is perhaps most evident by government support that the Colts were able to receive following a well-publicized visit to Los Angeles, which stoked fear in Indianapolis that their beloved Colts were considering a move if they didn’t receive support in building a replacement to the outdated RCA Dome.

Regardless, there are going to be no clear winners and losers of this battle no matter how it turns out.  There remains the risk of alienating an entire fanbase, either through disappointing waiting Los Angeles fans if a team doesn’t materialize or angering fans if their beloved team abandons their home.  Supporters and detractors of both stadium plans continue to bump heads and argue, potentially jeopardizing the entire process of luring an NFL team to the City of Angels if teams are planning on waiting to see which one receives the most support.  And even if the NFL doesn’t move to Los Angeles by the promised-2011 start date given by Semcken, the debate over when (or if) a team moves to L.A. will continue for years to come.

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