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Has the NFL given up on AEG?

March 05, 2013|By Sam Farmer
  • Rendering of the proposed Los Angeles stadium sponsored by Farmers Insurance.
Rendering of the proposed Los Angeles stadium sponsored by Farmers Insurance. (Handout )

In a story posted Monday, Yahoo’s Jason Cole reported AEG’s proposal for a downtown NFL stadium “is essentially dead” to the league, citing two NFL sources who say the numbers don’t make sense.

For months, the league has made it clear it will only return to L.A. when the right deal is on the table, and that deal has yet to materialize. I wrote about that in August.

But the most intriguing aspect of the Yahoo report is that it is counter to the way the league has operated throughout the 18 years L.A. has been without a team.

The NFL has consistently resisted driving a stake through proposals, even ones that didn’t seem to make sense. The Coliseum kept its NFL bid alive for years, for instance, even though it was abundantly clear the league didn’t want to come back to that stadium. But the NFL was always careful not to officially squash that dream.

And why should the NFL declare any L.A. proposal dead? It behooves the league to keep as many options on the table as possible, grinding competing sites against each other to ultimately produce the best deal, just as it pits potential owners, and cities against cities (remember how it drove up the price of the 32nd team by creating an auction between L.A. and Houston?)

So, why now? Why float the notion that downtown just doesn’t work, even though New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft liked the site when he toured it two weeks ago, and others, among them Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, have effusively praised it?

One reason: The league doesn’t want AEG owner Phil Anschutz or chief executive Tim Leiweke to over-promise a deal with the NFL when trying to sell the company. Again, the league has yet to see a downtown deal it likes — or any L.A. deal it likes, including the one in City of Industry. The NFL wants to ensure it’s not being used as bait to draw a potential AEG buyer across the finish line.

Has the NFL given up on downtown? I don’t believe it has. But the league also knows it's almost certainly not going to move forward on a deal if Anschutz hangs onto AEG, and that’s looking like a distinct possibility if he doesn’t get something closer to what he feels the company is worth.

From the league’s perspective, maybe it’s worthwhile to goose Anschutz at this point, promote a downtown-is-dead story, potentially deflate the asking price of AEG, and possibly facilitate a deal down the road with a new AEG owner.

Anschutz and San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos were never going to see eye to eye on a deal, for instance. The tension got so thick between AEG and the Chargers, the two stopped communicating. Were there a new AEG owner offering a more NFL-friendly deal, you can bet the Chargers and others would be kicking the tires on it.

In the meantime, the NFL can wait on L.A. There’s no rush to return. Next month, it will be five years since Ed Roski rolled out his Industry plan, and that too has sat idle. The NFL has done just fine without the nation’s second-largest market, and in many cases has used the absence of a team in L.A. as leverage to get new stadiums in existing NFL cities.

What could it hurt to take out the fireplace poker and give the downtown proposal a jab? To this point, it’s all fantasy football anyway.

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