Seven years after paving the way for an NFL return to Baltimore, John Moag is determined to bring pro football to the Rose Bowl.
Moag, chairman of a Maryland-based sports investment banking firm, has been hired by Rose Bowl officials to assemble a realistic financing plan and promote their stadium as a potential NFL site. The hiring, which in many people's eyes elevates the Rose Bowl from lightweight to legitimate player, was unanimously approved Monday night in a vote by the Pasadena City Council.
"Having somebody of John Moag's character on board really boosts our effort," said Rose Bowl General Manager Darryl Dunn. "He gives us the expertise that we need to be successful."
Moag was chairman of the Maryland Stadium Authority in 1995, when Gov. Parris Glendening appointed him to find a replacement for the Baltimore Colts, who'd left 11 years earlier. Moag helped broker the deal that brought the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore a few months later.
That was essentially volunteer work for Moag, and--unless he lands an NFL team--so is the Rose Bowl job. His firm will receive as much as $5 million from Pasadena only if the city secures a commitment of 15 years or longer from an NFL franchise by Aug. 1, 2007.
"I would not be devoting my or my company's resources to this if I didn't view this as a highly viable project," Moag said..
Moag is stepping into an L.A. picture that has been hopelessly muddy since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season. L.A. almost landed an expansion franchise in 1999--a team that would have played at the Coliseum--but was outbid by Houston billionaire Bob McNair, who paid $700 million for his Houston Texans and next month will watch them kick off their inaugural season.
Earlier this year, a coalition of power brokers backed by Denver billionaire Philip Anschutz proposed building a football stadium next to Staples Center but pulled out in June for a number of reasons, including stepped-up competition from the Coliseum.
In February, the Pasadena City Council unanimously approved a three-year business plan submitted by the Rose Bowl Operating Co. centered on attracting an NFL franchise. The stadium stands to lose about $500,000 in annual revenue with next year's departure of Major League Soccer's Galaxy, which is headed for the Anschutz sports complex under construction in Carson.
Pasadena has invested $32 million over the last 10 years in improvements at the 80-year-old Rose Bowl. The adjoining city-owned Brookside golf course pays the bond debt for that renovation, which is about $2.5 million a year.
The Rose Bowl has hosted five Super Bowls and, when the Sept. 11 attacks forced the NFL to reschedule its championship game last season, Pasadena emerged as the No. 1 alternate if New Orleans was unable to accommodate the league. Securing Super Bowls is a vital component for any group trying to bring the NFL back to L.A.
To become NFL-ready, the Rose Bowl must clear a slew of hurdles--among them the stadium's size (92,000 seats is far larger than the NFL wants), historical-preservation issues, insufficient freeway access and neighborhood concerns.
Moag is convinced all those challenges are surmountable.
"The obstacle here is money," he said, "not what this project normally gets slammed for."
Although Moag has only started to put together a financing model, he understands public funds are essentially untouchable. Keeping the facade of the Rose Bowl and building a new stadium inside would cost between $300 million and $400 million, he said, and would be paid for in large part by sales of luxury suites and club seats, as well as a $150-million "G-3" loan granted to a relocating team. That's similar to the proposed financing plan for the renovation of the Coliseum.
Moag said he visited the Rose Bowl for the first time in May and immediately reevaluated his beliefs about the stadium.
"My perceptions of it were bad traffic, run down, nasty neighbors," he said. "I came away from it with a 180-degree-different view. The first thing that hit me was, wow, this is a gorgeous place. What awesome potential this has."