As people in Los Angeles await word on the sale of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the NFL doesn't sound too enthusiastic about the firm's plan to build a downtown stadium.
Less than six months after the L.A. city council voted unanimously to support AEG's plan, the concept is essentially dead to the NFL, according to two sources. The problems with the plan are numerous, but the most essential one is the economics.
"The numbers just don't work, no matter how you look at the deal," a league source said in February. "It's either too hard for AEG to make money [and pay the debt on the stadium] or too hard for the team. I just can't see a way for it to work."
Officially, a league spokesman said Monday that the NFL is still tracking what AEG is trying to do.
"We continue to monitor the AEG situation and remain interested in multiple sites in the Los Angeles area," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in a statement.
Unofficially, the NFL believes that the cost of the AEG plan, which the league believes will be at least $1.8 billion, will make it unworkable.
AEG has been hoping to build a stadium on space that currently occupies the convention center and is across the street from the Staples Center/L.A. Live complex in downtown. The plan includes renovation of the convention center. While the league had been intrigued by the idea for a couple of years, the economics and the cramped conditions that would come with shoe-horning a stadium into that area would leave the site unacceptable for what the NFL wants and needs to be successful when it returns to the city.
"I think there are many major, if not fatal, flaws in the AEG plan and it's surprising the Los Angeles political leadership has not picked up on it from the NFL," said Marc Ganis, president of Sports Corp and a man who served as an adviser to both the Rams and the Raiders when those teams relocated from Los Angeles.
Ganis, who also explained that the downtown site is not necessarily the problem, went on to say: "The focus on the sale of AEG has stalled the chance for people in the area to view potential other sites and opportunities. … If Los Angeles leaders don't move on to look at other options it will only delay the return of the NFL to Los Angeles further, possibly even years longer."
AEG spokesman Michael Roth declined to respond to Yahoo! Sports regarding comments by the league source and Ganis. However, AEG has remained in contact with members of the NFL committee charged with overseeing the possible relocation of a team to Los Angeles. In addition, AEG president Tim Leiweke has said his company is open to changing the plan.
However, getting past any system that involves AEG renting out the stadium to an NFL team that's a tenant seems unworkable.
Among the "signals" that have been missed are direct meetings between L.A. officials such as outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or councilwoman Jan Perry and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in which Goodell has expressed questions about the project. Goodell has met with Villaraigosa on at least three occasions.
On top of that, the NFL reportedly told its owners in November that no team would be relocating to Los Angeles for the 2013 season. That announcement came despite optimism in Los Angeles after the city council voted 12-0 to support the stadium project in September.
Villaraigosa, who is leaving office in July and is expected to continue his political career, has continued to push the AEG plan. Calls to Villaraigosa's office and to deputy mayor Matt Karatz, who heads economic development, were not returned.
In addition to concerns about the plan, there's still the issue of who's going to buy AEG. Phil Anschutz has had the company on the market since October. He was originally hoping to get $10 billion for the sports, entertainment and real estate company. However, it's been reported that bids have been in the range of $6 billion to $8 billion.
Among the bidders are Colony Capital, which includes financial support from the sovereign of Qatar, and Guggenheim Partners, which recently purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers. In addition, Los Angeles-based biotech billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong has also submitted a second bid for AEG.
Soon-Shiong and Guggenheim have each met with the NFL to discuss the downtown project and possible interest in the NFL. As part of that, the sources have said that Guggenheim has floated the idea of flipping the stadium project by moving the Dodgers to the downtown site and then build a football stadium on the Dodger Stadium site in Chavez Ravine. This was reported by Sports Business Daily last week.
While that sounds plausible in an abstract way, multiple sources said that such an idea would take 10 years of political wrangling before it would have a chance to become reality. In addition, former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt still is a part-owner of the parking lots at Dodger Stadium, meaning that he could theoretically be part of any NFL project in Chavez Ravine. Sadly, McCourt, who once tried to buy the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, remains incredibly unpopular in NFL circles.
In the meantime, the NFL has again started to focus on other locations around Los Angeles. Many of those sites have already been discussed in the past, such as Hollywood Park in Inglewood and Ed Roski's site in City of Industry. Ultimately, the NFL source said the only answer may be for a particularly wealthy owner to pick a site and make it work.
The NFL has not had a team in Los Angeles since both the Rams and the Raiders left after the 1994 season.
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