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As Anschutz takes reins, it's a moment of truth for NFL in L.A.

The saga is of course on the agenda as the NFL owners begin annual meetings. With Anschutz taking AEG off sale block and Tim Leiweke's departure, NFL writer Sam Farmer asks and answers questions.

March 18, 2013|By Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times
  • Philip Anschutz said he decided to pull the sale of AEG because it became a "very noisy process."
Philip Anschutz said he decided to pull the sale of AEG because it became… (Harry How / Getty Images )

PHOENIX — — NFL owners will kick off their annual meetings Monday at the Arizona Biltmore and discuss all sorts of issues, including player health and safety, possible rule changes and new business opportunities.

And, yes, the ongoing saga of Los Angeles without an NFL team will come up.

Eighteen years have passed since the Raiders and Rams pulled up stakes and bid adieu, leaving the nation's second-largest market vacant and triggering dozens of plans — some creative, but all ultimately fruitless — to fix the relationship.

The latest twist was the decision by billionaire Philip Anschutz to pull AEG off the sales block, leading to the departure of NFL-minded company president Tim Leiweke, and casting more doubt on the future of the Farmers Field downtown stadium concept.

To catch us up to speed, and give some possibilities of where this could head next, here are some questions that I'll ask and answer:

In terms of bringing the NFL back to L.A., is it a good thing that Anschutz is grabbing the reins?

There are two opposing schools of thought. It could make the process more difficult because Leiweke played a crucial role in keeping both Anschutz and the NFL engaged. He knows L.A., he knows the league, and he knows how to do deals. However, at times there was a concern in NFL circles about how interested Anschutz truly was, and most of the information was coming from Leiweke, a salesman. But it would be Anschutz writing the checks, so ultimately everyone needed to know that he was on board.

So how does it help that the message is now coming from Anschutz and not Leiweke?

We're finally getting the information from the source. Anschutz says he's ready to deal, and that he has already spent about $50 million to get the project this far. He also told The Times that he's "flexible," which is key because the widespread word to this point — most coming from the NFL team side — is that he has been stubborn, rigid and dug-in.

Regardless, this is the moment of truth. In the coming months we should know whether he thinks there's a deal to be had. Surely, he's not going to keep writing checks if he's convinced this is a lost cause.

Is there another factor to consider?

Yes. Several people in position to know have said the tension between Anschutz and Leiweke was palpable near the end of Leiweke's tenure. That's not surprising. But it might be added incentive for Anschutz to get a deal done to prove Leiweke wasn't the linchpin to this process. That wouldn't persuade Anschutz to do a bad deal, but for him it would be a bonus to carrying this across the goal line.

Is the league considering other sites?

Of course. Always. From the league's perspective, there has been no activity on the City of Industry front in recent months. The situation could change, but if that were the right deal for the NFL, it would have been consummated by now.

Meanwhile, for more than a decade, the league — including Commissioner Roger Goodell — has been quietly intrigued by the Dodger Stadium site. What's more, Guggenheim Partners, which owns the Dodgers, has close ties to the NFL. The league and Guggenheim have had conversations, and those will continue.

The Chavez Ravine site is problematic for a number of reasons, among them entitlement issues, the difficulty of getting in and out of that area, and the fact that Frank McCourt owns half of the parking lots. Still, don't be shocked if the NFL is weighing the merits of a stadium on the hill.

What about putting the Dodgers downtown and the NFL in Chavez Ravine?

That would create a new string of hurdles having to do with parking and traffic. Unlike the NFL, the majority of baseball games don't fall on Sundays. Plus, it's hard enough to get one stadium built, let alone two.

In the end, what will get a deal done?

Anschutz is one of the relatively few people who is rich and powerful enough to do this deal if he wants to. He could buy a team and move it here, and pay for the stadium, if he chooses. But he has said he's not going to do something that makes bad financial sense.

I believe the first rock in this avalanche — if it happens — will be a team owner saying, "I cannot continue in my current market, and I need to move," as opposed to someone in L.A. saying, "I have the perfect stadium site."

Of course both elements are necessary. But there needs to be urgency on the team side, and the new collective bargaining agreement, which strongly favors team owners, has lifted all boats. The teams that were once "struggling," relative to their NFL partners, are in better shape now than they have been.

The NFL can afford to wait. Question is, does Anschutz feel the same way?

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

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