NFL Return To LA Hinges On 2022 World Cup Bid

Three months ago I strongly suggested that soccer could play a major role in whether the NFL returns to Los Angeles some time this decade. In the past week, there’s been new developments that only serve to confirm that notion.

World Cup 2022 Bid Committee

(Anschutz, Leiweke (above) and Wasserman: Pitching own LA stadium deal)

Until today, the United States had been bidding to host the World Cup in 2018 or 2022. Friday morning the U.S. World Cup Bid Committee announced that it is no longer targeting 2018 and instead will focus all of its efforts on 2022 - a year in which the U.S. is regarded as a favorite to obtain event.

Billionaire Philip Anschutz and AEG entertainment company President Tim Leiweke are influential members of that U.S. World Cup Bid Committee. They also happen to be the men who, along with Southern California real estate magnate Ed Roski, were prime movers in getting L.A.’s Staples Center built. More recently, Anschutz and Leiweke were behind the newly-opened downtown L.A. Live entertainment and shopping district.

Anschutz may be the highest-profile proponent of soccer in the United States, having essentially owned half of MLS in the past as a founding partner of the fledging league.

Now it’s Anschutz’s aim to bring the World Cup back to the U.S. in 2022 in a bid that Leiweke and L.A.-based sports business tycoon Casey Wasserman - who is also on the World Cup Bid Committee - hope will provide the political support to unlock funds necessary for a downtown Los Angeles retractable-roof stadium.

As front men for the deal, Leiweke and Wasserman first went public of their intention to lead the charge for a downtown L.A. stadium in April. They’ve since reiterated that desire in public on a few occasions, though curiously not over-emphasizing the issue’s elephant in the room: World Cup soccer.

In August I reported Anschutz, Leiweke and AEG had no plans for a large financial stake in the downtown L.A. stadium project. Instead, the facility plan would rely on other private investment and public funds.

At this moment, the prospect of raising public or private funds in Los Angeles for your next laundry load - let alone a multi-billion dollar downtown L.A. stadium project - isn’t laughable, it’s hysterical.

That’s where the World Cup comes in.

If the U.S. does secure the soccer tournament in 2022, it’s safe bet that Leiweke and Wasserman will use that fact to gain consideration from politicians, the public and private equity in an attempt to set the stage for raising funds for the downtown L.A. stadium.

Remember when I said that Leiweke and Wasserman hadn’t been publicly trumpeting World Cup soccer as being inexorably connected to a new downtown L.A. stadium? (Which could also house an NFL team.)

In the past week, we found out why.

Tuesday the Rose Bowl announced a new $152 million renovation plan to upgrade the dilapidated facility to World Cup-ready status. An administration source at USC tells me that the L.A. Coliseum is also expected to pitch similar improvements if the U.S. bid for the soccer event is successful.

But while neither of the aforementioned has any future chance of landing an NFL team, Roski, who has his own potential NFL stadium project east of Los Angeles, also announced this week that he could upgrade his facility if L.A. landed a chance to host World Cup games.

Before those announcements, Leiweke and Wasserman could say that Los Angeles lacked a modern facility capable of hosting an event the magnitude of the World Cup.

Not anymore.

If you weren’t convinced how important the World Cup was in generating momentum for a new NFL-ready stadium in Los Angeles, you should be now.

It isn’t a stretch to think that the NFL’s journey back to Los Angeles could possibly begin as soon as December 2 - the day the U.S.A. finds out if its been privileged the 2022 World Cup. Soon after, L.A. would then find out the conditions it would have to meet in order to host a World Cup game.

With that in mind, Anschutz, Leiweke and Wasserman are the de facto representatives of Los Angeles on the World Cup Bid Committee.

Wonder what they’ll recommend?