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A coin toss on NFL in L.A.

If AEG's Phil Anschutz exits, it could enhance the city's chances to get a new team.

September 20, 2012|Sam Farmer
  • AEG pictures an NFL stadium, to be named Farmers Field , on public land adjacent to the L.A. Convention Center, a $1.35-billion project.
AEG pictures an NFL stadium, to be named Farmers Field , on public land adjacent… (AEG )

In terms of the NFL's possible return to Los Angeles, there are two ways to interpret Phil Anschutz's putting AEG up for sale.

Farmers Field is either going to be fast-tracked or wind up on the conceptual scrap heap with dozens of other failed stadium dreams.

At this point, no one knows which way it will go — not the NFL, and not even AEG.

On one hand, taking Anschutz out of the equation is a good thing. In the eyes of the NFL, his demands were unreasonable. He wanted a big chunk of a team at a deep discount — hey, he'd be providing the stadium, after all — and no owner was willing to do that deal.

Relocation-minded NFL owners aren't going to sell their teams on the cheap, not with all arrows pointing up, including labor and TV deals that stretch over the next decade. Not when the Cleveland Browns sell for more than $1 billion and the Dallas Cowboys are valued at twice that.

And the other owners don't want their fellow owners offering a cut rate, either. That's like your neighbor selling his house for half price. There go the property values.

So if AEG's Tim Leiweke can bring in a new billionaire who's more willing to do a deal that the NFL likes — whether that's Patrick Soon-Shiong or someone else — it greatly increases the chances that L.A. will have a team in the next few years.

There are some interesting clues in this regard. First, Anschutz recently gave Leiweke and his management team five-year extensions. If you're selling your company, wouldn't you want to leave those slots open for the next owner to fill? Unless, of course, you have a good idea who that next owner will be, and that person has signed off on the move.

Soon-Shiong already has met with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, say people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak on the subject, and it wouldn't be a reach to suggest he's met with others in the league, maybe including Commissioner Roger Goodell. Richardson isn't uprooting the Panthers, but he is a heavy hitter in the stadium game.

Say Soon-Shiong takes the handoff from Anschutz and carries the ball across the goal line. It could certainly happen, with the downtown proposal moving closer to getting its environmental approvals.

These stadium proposals are like sharks. When they stop moving, they die. Obviously AEG and the city want to keep Farmers Field alive, but the NFL wants that too. The league is all about competition, and it can grind out the best deal for itself when it's one city against another, one site against another, one future owner against another.

Ed Roski's proposal in the City of Industry is out there. It's been ready to go for years. The NFL doesn't want that to be the only option.

By the way, even if AEG were to have a new owner teed up — and the company is not saying that — it's highly unlikely that massive transaction could take place quickly enough to put a team in L.A. by next season. League guidelines say that any teams interested in relocating have to submit their application to do so in the first six weeks of 2013.

If there's still a hint of uncertainty about Farmers Field, no team is going to announce it's considering relocation, unless it plans to do a rush deal in Industry. As soon as a team announces it's thinking about leaving, it's dead in its current market. It won't sell another season ticket.

Barring a wacky development, there won't be any major relocation decisions at the owners' meetings in March, nor will there be a team playing in L.A. next season.

There is also a very different way to look at the AEG sale. One of the most successful businessmen in the world, Anschutz, looked at the NFL deal and said it doesn't make sense for him. Is that the reason why he's selling the entire company? Probably not. But the NFL deal didn't work for him. That says something.

And if that deal didn't work for Anschutz, is another billionaire going to come along and see something different? Isn't there a chance, a good chance, that person will ultimately say, "It doesn't work for me, either"?

That's what we don't know, and cannot know at this point. The NFL doesn't know. AEG doesn't know.

People can guess, and they can speculate, but until those shovels are in the ground — no, until the first kickoff is in the air — the key to seeing the NFL in L.A. won't be a ticket but a remote control.

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