New LA NFL Stadium Plan: $1B Retractable Roof

Yesterday I gushed about a possible NFL stadium plan being assembled by Los Angeles sports business stalwarts Tim Leiweke and Casey Wasserman. That was before any on the record details emerged about what AEG president Leiweke and Wasserman actually were thinking about the project.

AEG's Tim Leiweke leading plan for $1B downtown L.A. NFL Stadium

(AEG’s Leiweke has already remade downtown L.A.)

Now we know the plan.

Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES reports Saturday that Leiweke and Wasserman envision what could be a privately-financed $1 billion downtown Los Angeles retractable-roofed stadium that could house up to two NFL teams along with events like the Final Four, the NFL Draft and combine, political conventions and serve as the flagship venue for an American 2022 World Cup.

For most cities, that’d seem like an unrealistic undertaking. But based on the resources and political capital Leiweke and Wasserman already avail, I believe there’s a damn good chance it’ll happen.

Leiweke to Farmer of the L.A. TIMES:

“This is just thinking right now. It’s saying, ‘If we’re going to invest this kind of time and money anyway — even if it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dollar — shouldn’t we think about the other uses if we had a roof to cover it?’”

Wasserman, founder and chief executive of Wasserman Media Group, to Farmer:

“This is the final piece to the downtown puzzle. It’s the only chance for the city to benefit from the economic power of a stadium of this caliber.”

There’s clearly more at work here than just NFL football for AEG’s Leiweke and Wasserman. What we’re now seeing in Los Angeles is AEG completely remaking downtown L.A. - something that I can confirm that virtually all locals here embrace.

First AEG built Staples Center, then the Times Square-esque L.A. Live development and now the company is set to spearhead its biggest project of all. A project that could make Los Angeles the world’s premiere destination for large scale events of all kind.

So what has to happen for the project to get done? While some may think that an NFL team pre-committing to such a venue would be critical to the process, I’m not so sure.

There’s at least one, albeit much smaller precedent of AEG building and managing a large sports venue for a major market without an anchor tenant: Kansas City’s Sprint Center.

Though K.C.’s new arena is likely to get an NHL and/or NBA team eventually, the building has been a huge boon to once-dead downtown Kansas City. I’ve been there and seen it personally. The entire arena district has revitalized the city.

Obviously L.A.’s situation is much different, but even without the initial benefit of an NFL team, an L.A. domed stadium could be home to probably just as many football games each year. Wasserman is a UCLA grad and big supporter of the football program and don’t think for a minute he won’t try to get UCLA football games scheduled for the new stadium. (If not all of them.)

Though getting USC to give up a home game, at least as it continues to sell out the dilapidated Coliseum, will be nearly impossible, what if a preseason USC football game was proposed on the condition it was played in the downtown L.A. dome?

There’s also the possibility of a Pac-1o championship football game every year, NFL exhibitions, a Chargers home game, Lakers games and NHL Kings games. All things Leiweke and Wasserman I’m sure have already considered.

So I don’t think its an impossibility that a domed stadium in downtown L.A. could get done without an NFL team initially. And when it comes to the Chargers, you can bet that if an L.A. stadium is suddenly available, San Diego’s hand on a new stadium will be forced. (And other markets like San Francisco, Oakland, Minnesota, etc.)

Now, I don’t want to make it sound like there wouldn’t be any local opposition to this new Los Angeles stadium plan. Though Leiweke mentioned in his quote to Farmer that the building could be free to taxpayers, there at the very least would be infrastructure costs that would go along with the new facility that would have to be footed by the local populace.

But with the building planning to stage local revenue-generating, non-sports events like political conventions, stadium proponents would have a better case in asking for tax money.

With the current economy, acquiring taxpayer funds for a downtown Los Angeles stadium would be impossible. But this project, at the earliest, won’t be off the ground for a couple years. By then, perhaps the economy and L.A. financial situation will have at least stabilized. If it has, even just a little, I do think locals would consider springing for the facility.

Farmer also notes in his L.A. TIMES piece:

… the league is not going to entertain the possibility of a team relocating before the labor dispute is resolved. The current collective bargaining agreement expires in March 2011, and owners want players to participate in paying off the enormous cost of stadiums.

I doubt it was coincidence that Farmer brought that up, as I’m sure Leiweke and Wasserman (and current owners of NFL teams considering L.A.) will want to get the players to pitch in on a stadium project for Los Angeles.

One last wildcard to consider is a binary event that could take place with an NFL owner. Like what happened with Art Modell in Cleveland. Despite reasonable fan support of the Browns over the years, Modell’s personal finances were a shambles. That’s precisely why the Browns moved.

While I can promise you that Los Angeles interests most likely won’t provide the kind of extreme financial incentives offered by Baltimore to Modell, if an NFL owner and/or his franchise is suddenly facing dire financial straits, L.A. could be a possible out. Whether in a sale of the team to an AEG-led group or stadium revenue guarantees that would far outweigh what that owner currently enjoyed.

For those of you outside Los Angeles, it has to be tempting to roll your eyes at yet another L.A. NFL stadium proposal. But if you know the political dynamic here and the parties who are now involved, you would understand that this is our last, best chance to get NFL to Los Angeles in our lifetimes.