LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Michael Eisner likes a good game. He was chief executive at The Walt Disney Co. when it owned the Los Angeles Angels and founded the NHL’s Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.
But ask him about the NFL playing in a stadium in downtown Los Angeles and it’s clear he sees the possibility in much broader terms than two opposing teams and 72,000 seats under the California sun.
A downtown stadium, he says, is about the city itself. Its identity. Its heart.
Eisner, an unofficial, unpaid adviser to Mayor Eric Garcetti, has been working behind the scenes to bring pro football back to the centre of the nation’s second largest city.
The Hollywood dealmaker is coaxing. He’s nudging. He says he is on the phone with the NFL all the time to keep the talks going.
So, will Los Angeles finally close a deal after two decades without a football team? Garcetti says it’s highly likely next year. Eisner, however, adds a caveat.
“It’s not my decision,” he says. “At the end of the day, it’s not the mayor’s decision. The owners decide.”
A league ruling on football’s future in Los Angeles could come early next year.
The city’s aspirations are hitched to Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the downtown Staples Center, home of the NBA’s Lakers and Clippers.
Under its deal with City Hall, the company, led by billionaire Philip Anschutz, has until April to sign a football team. If that happens, construction of a downtown stadium could begin.
However, any stadium plan would require approval from two-thirds of the NFL’s 32 owners, and a franchise move to Los Angeles would need the approval of three-fourths of those owners.
Several teams that can exit their lease deals are considered possible transplants — the San Diego Chargers, St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders. All three have historical ties to Los Angeles — the latter two franchises were once based in the city, and the Chargers played their inaugural season in Los Angeles in 1960.
The city is facing potential competition from its own suburbs.
A company tied to Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a 60-acre site in Inglewood, about 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, though no development plans have been announced. In addition, a proposed stadium project has been floated for years in the city of Industry, about 20 miles east of downtown.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the Chargers hope to have a measure for a new stadium on the 2016 ballot, but the team could still declare its intention to relocate to Los Angeles. Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he wants a new stadium, preferably in Oakland. Still, he has met with officials in San Antonio and expressed interest in returning to Los Angeles — if a deal can’t be reached in Oakland.
For years Los Angeles has tried to restore the lustre to its once vibrant downtown that withered decades ago after trolley lines were dismantled and freeways begat sprawl. It’s come a long way, buoyed by the success of the LA Live entertainment complex that has grown up around Staples Center and the opening of restaurants, condos and hotels.
Eisner believes an NFL stadium would maintain the momentum.
“It just felt to me that if we could pull this off, particularly in the downtown area, that the renaissance of Los Angeles … could be enhanced,” he said.
If AEG can land a team, the agreement with the city requires the company to build a downtown stadium called Farmers Field adjacent to Staples arena, along with a new $287 million wing for the city’s frayed and undersized convention centre. Garcetti has said he would welcome a team back to the city but his priority is improving the centre.
Garcetti has said no public money would be used to build a stadium.
AEG’s holdings also include pro soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, part-ownership of the Lakers and major entertainment and real estate holdings in downtown Los Angeles. The company also owns all or part of arenas in China, Sweden and Australia.
The benefits of a downtown stadium have been debated for years. Supporters see thousands of jobs, a centre of civic pride and new tax dollars for cash-starved City Hall. Critics warn that nearby housing prices would soar and traffic would come to a standstill on game days.
Eisner is optimistic.
“I’m a Disney guy. I’m looking for the end of the movie to be happy,” he said.
AP Sports Writers Josh Dubow in San Francisco and Bernie Wilson in San Diego contributed to this report.