By Hillel Aron
Some call AEG's Tim Leiweke Los Angeles' most powerful man. But hours before today's release of a 10,000-page Environmental Impact Report for Farmers Field NFL stadium, Leiweke was stressed. Jacket off, slumped in a chair, drinking a Coke, he didn't seem like president of a firm with the biggest footprint downtown, maybe even citywide.
“There's a lot of people shooting at us,” Leiweke says. “We still have a lot of controversy about, Can we do it? Is this the right place? Is this the right vision? Do we even want an NFL team?” He was doubtlessly referring to a Yahoo! Sports story the other day that called the AEG stadium deal “dead in the eyes of many involved.”
The anonymously sourced Yahoo piece says the NFL is vehemently against AEG's terms for an L.A. team, which include AEG “buying a minority stake in the team at a discounted rate and what amounts to a rental agreement on the stadium” that AEG would own.
The NFL team would then be paid a “fixed rate,” instead getting all the profits.
The NFL, essentially a socialist cabal of 32 teams, shares a great deal of league revenue amongst themselves. Most teams own their own stadiums, which are often financed by taxpayers.
Normally, the money from tickets and stadium billboards and so on goes to the team. The rest of the NFL takes a cut — like a waitress sharing tips with the Maitre d' and chef.
But it would cost the NFL if Farmer's Field were owned by AEG and the team were personally owned by Leweike's boss, right-wing billionaire Philip Anschutz (the NFL doesn't allow corporations to own teams — more socialism!)
Leiweke says Yahoo!'s reporter got it wrong, AEG isn't insisting on the “rental agreement” business model.
“If he came in and had this conversation, we could tell him he's wrong,” said Leiweke.
Rather, he says, “We've made it pretty clear with the NFL in our conversations with them that we're more than happy to throw everything into a pool, including the stadium and the revenue. We're open to how we structure this partnership between us and the NFL.”
Lewieke says he and Anshutz talk regularly with practically every owner in the NFL through the course of their business, which permeates many aspects of sports and entertainment from the Los Angeles Kings to Coachella.
But he's adamant that he and Anschutz are not negotiating.
“At this point, we are solely focused on the EIR,” being made public today, to the great interest of Los Angeles residents.
Despite the big, big rush Leiweke was in last year, pushing the Los Angeles City Council, the mayor, and even the California state legislature to make decisions quickly to help AEG's plans move forward, now Leiweke is in a different mode.
“There's no team that's moving this year, so there's no rush and no urgency,” Leiweke says. “They don't have a chance to even apply for a transfer until next year.”
The earliest a team could apply for a transfer would be February 2013. In theory, assuming no surprises or impediments, an NFL team could start playing in Los Angeles at the start of the 2013 season.
That means Leiweke needs the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to go smoothly, because he wants the stadium “shovel ready” by February to help attract a team such as the Chargers.
If you do the math, the EIR will have a 45-day public comment period for anyone who braves its thousands of pages to weigh in. Under a streamlined new law written just for AEG, any opponents would have just 165 days to sue based on the EIR.
Soon after that period, it's almost February. If a team does agree to come to Los Angeles, they'll still have to play in the Rose Bowl or the Coliseum for four years, because 2017 is now seen as the earliest that Farmer's Field could open.
As for the EIR, which Leiweke admits to not having read — it is so voluminous it will be carted into City Hall on wheels — the document will outline how to make the stadium 100 percent carbon neutral with regard to car trips on game days.
To achieve such a thing, AEG would have to plant trees, purchase carbon offset credits to reduce pollution elsewhere, and get local sports fans to use a measurably higher amount of public transportation than they ever have.
“Farmer's Field is one of the first major facilities in this community built specifically around light rail and [public] transportation,” Lieweke says. “That, to me, is the best part of this entire process.”
His vision is bold, and comes with fascinating risks: “This process has been completely driven by changing the habits of Southern California,” he says.
But isn't attending an NFL game all about getting drunk and tailgating with your truck or car in the vast parking lot beforehand?
There's no vast parking lot in the tight space next to the Los Angeles Convention Center where Farmers Field will go.
Leiweke says he has a solution: Use Gil Lindsay Plaza, a forgettable slab of pavement between Staples Center and Pico Boulevard, in front of the would-be stadium.
The plaza would become, in the words of Leiweke, “the largest, best tailgating party in all of L.A.” 15,000 people could step off a light-rail car, walk over to Gil Lindsay Plaza, and choose from iconic food vendors including, wait for it … Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles!
The EIR is due to be wheeled — literally — over to City Hall in some sort of cart at 10:30 a.m. today. There, it will pose on the steps with Leiweke, Los Angeles County Federation of Labor union honcho Maria Elena Durazo and downtown business district pooh-bah Carol Schatz.
Who knows? Maybe even a City Councilman or two, or fifteen, will find their way to the presser to make sure they're memorialized at the photo op.