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Q&A WITH CASEY WASSERMAN

He Has Vision, but NFL Still Lacks Site

June 16, 2004|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

It's a rite of spring. The NFL flirts with Los Angeles. L.A. flirts back. The infatuation lasts a few months, then fades. Another football season passes, another year goes by without an NFL team in the nation's second-largest market.

Casey Wasserman wants to break that trend. The 29-year-old owner of arena football's L.A. Avengers aspires to owning an NFL franchise here. Two years ago, he helped put together plans for a football stadium next to Staples Center. Those plans fizzled -- partly because of stepped-up competition from the Coliseum -- and now Wasserman says he's aiming to "change the dialogue" between the league and the city.

At the league meetings last month at Jacksonville, Fla., NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said owners planned to decide on one of the three competing Los Angeles sites -- the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and an as-yet unbuilt stadium in Carson -- by next spring.

Also last month, the league presented the Coliseum with a term sheet, the framework of what a stadium deal might look like, and it's believed to be the only such document extended. The league hopes to have a team in L.A. for the 2008 season.

These kinds of time lines are nothing new, though, in the so-far futile attempt to bring NFL football back to Los Angeles for the first time since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season.

Question: The NFL says it will decide on an L.A. stadium site by next spring in hopes of putting a team here by the 2008 season. We've heard this kind of stuff before. Is there any reason to think this time is different?

Answer: People in L.A. historically are, and probably should continue to be, cynical. Having said that, the fans of L.A. have also shown that when you prove to them that it's real, and do it correctly, they're as good as fans anywhere else in the country. I would expect nothing else, but, especially in this process, the fans continue to be cynical. But I don't think an owner should be scared of not selling out a stadium.

Q: The NFL is looking at the Rose Bowl, Coliseum and Carson. You haven't jumped behind any of those sites. Why?

A: The discussion has always been either city versus city, group versus group, location versus location. And it's also been L.A. versus the NFL, the NFL versus L.A.

To me it's clear, the NFL doesn't need L.A., L.A. doesn't need the NFL. It's a mutually beneficial thing. So once you get over who needs who more, then it's forget about locations. It's all about, what is the way to make it happen? How do you get a team to L.A.?

The way that happens is putting together a stadium situation that allows that team to be the most competitive it can be in the given NFL economic system. That's all it comes down to.

Q: What kind of hoops would you jump through to be the controlling owner of an NFL franchise in L.A.?

A: I've taken it seriously to the extent that I think I really understand the NFL. I've tried to create a good reputation for myself in the [Arena League] as an owner -- we've got, now, 10 NFL owners who own AFL teams. I think I understand what it takes to be successful in L.A. And, having gone through the process of trying to promote our own site, I understand the challenges. And in this situation, I believe that knowledge is as important as anything.

There's a lot of people with money, a lot of people capable of coming together to buy a team. Clearly, if that were all that was necessary, we'd have a team here. It's not that simple.

Q: Did you feel burned by the way things fell apart so quickly with the downtown stadium concept?

A: No. I mean, I still believe it was the right place. I still believe it was the right time, or we wouldn't have done it. People get obsessed with locations, whose turf it's on, who's it helping and who's it hurting. This is a much bigger concept, I believe, than whose council district it's in, or what city it's in, or who's paying for it.

This is a 30-year economic engine, a big decision for the NFL because they're going to be more supportive from an economic perspective than they ever have been. But, obviously, I was frustrated.

Q: Commissioner Tagliabue has said it's very possible the league might add a 33rd team in the case of L.A. The last expansion team cost $700 million, not to mention the cost of the stadium. Doesn't that make the total cost unrealistically high?

A: It can. But the expectations of a relocating owner can be unrealistic too. Any team that moves here will be entirely re-branded. And any team that moves here has to have strong local ownership with very deep local ties, so that there's not even a hint of a threat to the people of L.A. We've had two teams leave. We cannot have another leave....

Now, if a team relocated, would fans immediately adopt it as L.A.'s team? Probably not right away. But I think people have adopted the Dodgers and the Lakers just fine.

Q: Why should L.A. fans want an NFL team here anyway, seeing as you get better games on TV without a team here?

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