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The volatile mix of the NFL, AEG, Dodger Stadium and Los Angeles

T.J. SIMERS

Tim Leiweke says Magic Johnson wants a stake in the football stadium downtown, but that project reportedly is dead, if you believe the Internet.

April 01, 2012|T.J. Simers
  • It was 14 months ago when AEG executive Tim Leiweke gathered supporters of his corporation's plan to bring NFL back to L.A. to announce the naming rights for Farmer's Field.
It was 14 months ago when AEG executive Tim Leiweke gathered supporters… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

There's an Internet report out there that says the Anschutz football stadium project downtown is essentially dead.

True or not, I'll get to that it in a moment.

There is also speculation the new Dodgers owners might do business with the NFL.

AEG point man Tim Leiweke says Magic Johnson has assured him he still wants a financial stake in AEG's football project downtown.

"Magic Johnson is 100% behind Farmers Field and is part of our group," Leiweke says, "and I speak on his behalf."

As you know, one of Leiweke's specialties is speaking on behalf of others, most notably Philip Anschutz.

But is Magic speaking on behalf of the Guggen-whatever and Frank McCourt, who really control the Dodger Stadium site?

"No," Leiweke says.

But if Magic is with AEG, then we're supposed to believe Guggen and McCourt have no interest in football.

"People who go around saying, 'Dodger Stadium, Dodger Stadium,' here's the reality," Leiweke says. "How long did it take us to get a deal with the city of L.A.? Took us a year. We've just spent two years on an environmental impact report. And we didn't have the neighborhood they have.

"Phil Anschutz has spent $27 million so far in cash on the EIR, which should be a good indication of our commitment."

Leiweke was just getting started.

"Phil has committed a billion dollars privately to build a stadium and is prepared to spend another chunk if he has to buy the majority of a team. You can publicly state that. He's prepared to be a majority owner if that's what it takes.

"[Guggen] just spent 2 billion on a baseball team and a stadium that has to be renovated; their plate is full. If they ever turn their attention to football, on a good day they'd still be three years away."

Like Leiweke, though, who doesn't know what Guggen-whatever really has planned, no one else here does either.

And that's the bigger problem, as we already know when dealing with power brokers removed from the scene.

The downtown football project is controlled by a recluse who finds no need to talk to the folks of L.A.

And now we might be getting the same in the new majority owner of the Dodgers.

We don't know much about Guggen, and no one has explained how the ownership will work.

Mark Walter, who is the CEO of the financial services firm that is buying the Dodgers, has already indicated he will be a background player.

I'd like to know if the Guggen CEO can be fired one day, with someone else taking over the Dodgers. What happens if Guggen goes through CEOs the way the Dodgers did image makers?

We still don't know if it's the Guggen-whatever investors who are buying the Dodgers, or the Guggen CEO.

I happen to think L.A. will be in for a rough and frustrating ride if a Chicago investment firm is left to call the shots in L.A. while propping up Magic as frontman.

Nothing has been spelled out yet, but who doesn't believe the Dodgers, the stadium, the Ravine and who knows what else are in for huge changes here?

Such changes might be for the better, but folks usually work to better themselves first, as the McCourts taught us.

As for bringing football back to L.A., it remains a mess. There's bad blood between AEG and the City of Industry projects, and sometimes they seem to be spending more time tearing down the other project than pushing their own.

It's all part of the NFL's grand scheme to keep as many bidders in the game as it can.

"How many deals have we done in this town?" Leiweke says. "How many things do we own? How many partnerships do we have? Everything we have ever announced in this town for 16 years we've finished. Have faith in us; we'll get to the right place."

Despite a solid track record of success, AEG's every move is still met with suspicion. Maybe that's what happens when Mr. AEG himself seems to always be in hiding.

The report that has the AEG football project dead is based on a clandestine meeting in Denver. It took place in November between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, the mayor of Los Angeles, New England owner Robert Kraft and Anschutz.

A couple of notes on the meeting:

—It was in November, and we're just hearing about it now. If the project is dead, is this some kind of resurrection with AEG releasing a $27-million EIR this week?

—-We know now Anschutz can speak, doing so with the mayor and NFL commissioner. What's he got against the common folk of L.A.?

I read the Internet report as the reporter trying to make a bigger splash than the news he could have offered back in November.

He has one side (the NFL) upset because the other (Anschutz) won't meet its asking price. I believe this is known as negotiating, one side calling it quits until talks resume.

There are no teams for sale now; such a process is more likely to take place before next year's owners meetings in March. If AEG completes the EIR process by then as expected, it will be more alive than dead.

The only revealing thing about the Internet report is that Leiweke, who has done more than anyone other than the guy with the checkbook to get this project going, wasn't at the meeting.

He is the only one we ever hear from, the one making all the promises, but in the biggest football meeting to date, he's not invited.

That's my concern with the Dodgers; everyone is being sold a Magic show when it's the Chicago money guy who really counts. What's his grand plan to get wealthier?

The way things are going, though, what with Magic still working as a vice president for the Lakers, a football owner-to-be and now a baseball owner, putting a good face forward might be all that matters.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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