Sunday, February 13, 2011

Football, Los Angeles Style

When the first Super Bowl was played in Los Angeles in 1967, it
didn’t exactly play to rave reviews.

“The Super Bowl yesterday was a representative example of most
television dramas coming out of Los Angeles,” Jack Gould wrote in the
New York Times. “The advance buildup was more impressive than the
show, and the script fell apart in the second half.”

But like a Broadway play that survives the slings and arrows of the
critics, the Super Bowl thrived, thanks in part to large doses of
hype and hysteria.

Not so professional football in Southern California. It was sacked by
a couple of blitzing linebackers named Greed and Incompetence.

The last NFL game was played in 1994. Shortly thereafter, both the
Rams and the Raiders packed up and left, settling in the garden spots
of St. Louis and Oakland.

The last Super Bowl contested here was at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena
in 1993. In the ensuing years, such must-see destinations as Detroit
and Houston have hosted the game. And we have been left, our noses
pressed against the window pane.

That’s all about to change, if you believe the boys down at AEG.
They are proposing a billion dollar, state-of-the art stadium hard by
Staples Center, which they also own.

Indeed, they hosted the biggest love fest this town has seen since
the Golden Globes to announce last week that Farmers Insurance will
pay a cool $700 million over 30 years for the naming rights. There
goes your homeowners insurance rates.

Naturally, the place would be called Farmers Field, just the kind of
name you associate with the power elite and glitterati of Los Angeles.

At the press conference, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, former Mayor
James Hahn, business tycoon Eli Broad and sports icon Magic Johnson
were joined by other members of the city’s rich and famous to lead
the cheerleading for the project. All that was missing was Santa
Claus and the Easter Bunny.

So does that mean NFL football in L.A. is about to become a reality?

Forget for the moment that the name of the stadium sounds like an
organic turnip co-op. Forget for the moment that there’s no team to
play in this proposed stadium. Forget that in the past teams have
used Los Angeles as leverage to get new stadia in their home towns.

If this project doesn’t work, nothing will.

That doesn’t mean it’s not without problems. Like many a farmer’s
field, something doesn’t smell right here.

It looks good on paper. AEG guarantees that not a nickel of public
money will be necessary to build the stadium. Well, sort of. The plan
involves tearing down and rebuilding a section of the existing
convention center – a project that might require $350 million in
bonds. AEG says that ticket tax revenue from the new stadium would be
enough to pay off that debt, and the company would cover any

But, according to longtime City Hall watcher and author Bill
Boyarsky, the $350 million bond issue for the football facility would
probably be added to the convention center authority’s existing $445
million debt, bringing total indebtedness to $795 million. This would
boost debt repayment, or service, payments by $25 million or possibly
$30 million a year.

In other words, Boyarsky wrote, more than $70 million a year would
come from the city treasury to repay the combined debt of the
convention center and the football stadium.

That’s a hefty load for a city that’s playing footsie with
bankruptcy. And, as we learned from the Rose Bowl renovation,
sometimes bonds don’t sell, subject as they are to the fluctuations
of the market.

Then there are the traffic issues. Imagine, if you will, a Monday
night game downtown. With a Lakers game at Staples.

Now, some members of the Los Angeles City Council have blinked. They
have formed a working group to study the AEG proposal lest they get
accused of funding a River City Boys Band.

Certainly, they will find, this kind of money could be spent for
other purposes. They may even find the city is going to be on the
hook for more cash than they think.

But I’m betting the AEG project has the kind of support and momentum
behind it that will roll over any opposition.

Combine that with the opiate that is NFL football and a city hungry
for jobs and revenue and you have a juggernaut.

Left in the dust will be the Ed Roski stadium plan for the city of
Industry, which is already becoming an afterthought.

I’m guessing the Los Angeles Chargers open their season at Farmers
Field in 2015.

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