AEG chief executive Tim Leiweke answers questions about Farmers Field… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
With the Los Angeles City Council clearing the way for AEG's Farmers Field, an NFL stadium next to Staples Center, the nation's No. 2 market and No. 1 sports league inched closer to a reunion. But with Philip Anschutz putting AEG up for sale, how does that impact the likelihood of an NFL return? And how does L.A. billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong factor into the equation?
After Friday's unanimous council votes, AEG President Tim Leiweke spoke with Times NFL columnist Sam Farmer about the Farmers Field vision, and how (and when) he sees the NFL returning.
Question: What does it mean to clear this hurdle?
Answer: It demonstrates to the 32 owners that we now have the ability to finally get this done. We have an ability now to create a long-term play for the NFL where they might be able to create one of the most successful franchises in the league, and they won't have to ever worry about L.A. again.
Q: How long had biotech investor Soon-Shiong been aware of the pending AEG sale?
A: Patrick and I have known each other for a long time. Patrick and I have been talking about this for the last three or four weeks — just that short a time — because this is not something that Phil decided he wanted to do until the last four to eight weeks.
Q: Was Anschutz ever really interested in the NFL? Why did he walk away from this deal?
A: No question that the NFL has been a management push. But you don't spend $40 million, use that kind of time and energy, put yourself in these kinds of public negotiations without him being fully on board. He was always on board with it. He'll be the first to acknowledge the next investor that steps into this role will be far more passionate probably about football, owning a team, and being a part of the NFL. And Phil's OK with that.
Q: Will Soon-Shiong be that next investor?
A: I think Patrick is going to be one. There's a half-dozen people that Mr. Anschutz has heard from already. There are going to be many people that look at it with a view to do it.
Q: Have you met with the Guggenheim group regarding the NFL?
A: We talk to them about a lot of different things, including football. I can't speak on their behalf, but I can tell you I hear the same rumors you do, and my job is to field all comers in order to protect the best interest of AEG and Phil. It would be great if they had an interest, and I hope they do.
Q: There's no groundswell in L.A. for an NFL team. Does that concern you?
A: That's L.A. People said we weren't a great hockey town until we made our playoff run, and now we're the greatest hockey town in the United States, and we're sold out every night — if we could just start playing again.
Q: Do you expect an NFL team to apply to relocate during the league-required window of the first six weeks of 2013?
A: In order for us to play in this game, we have to be prepared to be able to accept a team next year.
Q: When is the last time you talked to the Chargers?
A: I haven't talked to Dean Spanos [the team's president and chairman] in a long time.
Q: Have you talked to the Rams?
A: I'm not going to talk about teams. We've been really good at following the lead of [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell.
Q: Would a new AEG owner still require a piece of a team at a discount?
A: My guess is a new owner will be flexible in their thinking as to the kind of deal they will make.
Q: Would an AEG buyer need a controlling stake in a team?
A: No. There's a large amount of flexibility with the way we structure that deal.
Q: Where does Casey Wasserman, the chief executive of sports and entertainment agency Wasserman Media Group, fit into all of this?
A: The idea for the location for Farmers Field was Casey's. He's always been a partner. When a team comes here, Casey's going to be a partner in it, if he so chooses, and I think he will.
Q: What's the timeline for a team returning to L.A.?
A: Even if there's a legal challenge, that will be resolved before the league meeting [in March]. So we have complete certainty, which means that a team could be playing here next September. Do I think that's going to happen? That's up to the league.
Q: Is the 50th Super Bowl in 2016 still in play for L.A.?
A: No. If we're going to create a moment of truth for a billion people to watch, I'd rather do it with L.A.'s best foot forward, and showcase the best of L.A. That means Farmers Field. So I'd prefer to talk about 2018.
Q: Would USC be a potential Farmers Field tenant?
A: No. We have a great relationship with USC, and our conversations with them have been solely focused on a temporary agreement at the Coliseum for some period of time for an NFL team.
Q: What are your thoughts on the City of Industry as competition for Farmers Field?
A: I never needed them to go away to make Farmers Field work. They were the ones that wanted us to go away to have a shot. We're not going away.
Q: Anschutz is leaving, are you?
A: I'm committed. New contract for five years. I want to get Farmers Field built. That is a legacy project. I love the ctiy; I love L.A. Live; I love what we've done here. We're going to get it done, and I'm not going anywhere.