More than three months after a clandestine meeting that featured billionaire developer Phil Anschutz, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Anschutz continues to show no interest in changing the terms of a deal that would return the NFL to downtown Los Angeles, Yahoo! Sports has learned.
That lack of interest means that plans for a downtown stadium to be built and run by Anschutz Entertainment Group may be all but dead in the eyes of many involved. AEG is supposed to unveil an Environment Impact Report on the site in early April. However, that report may be worth little more than the paper it's printed on if Anschutz and AEG don't make a shift in the financial plan that's been presented to NFL officials.
Three sources said the four men met in Denver on the weekend of Dec. 18, when New England played there against the Broncos. Villaraigosa requested the meeting in hopes of encouraging Anschutz, who lives in Denver, to put more support behind the stadium AEG has proposed building.
Part of that support would mean changing the financial terms AEG has laid out to teams that might move to the proposed site. AEG's terms include buying a minority stake in the team at a discounted rate and what amounts to a rental agreement on the stadium.
At the meeting, Goodell politely told Anschutz that the terms are unacceptable to the NFL and any of the handful of teams that have been targeted for a potential move to Los Angeles, including the San Diego Chargers. Kraft attended the meeting because he is also very close to Anschutz and does business with AEG. Kraft echoed Goodell's remarks.
As a source explained: "It was friendly, but boiled down to the view that no NFL owner would accept the terms proposed. If [AEG] wanted to get that much control over an NFL franchise, their only option would be to buy a team. If they were willing to back off the control and buy a [limited partnership] stake for a reasonable price, then a shared interest in selling suites/clubs/sponsorships could be worked out."
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to comment on whether Goodell met with Anschutz. AEG spokesman Michael Roth declined to comment because AEG President Tim Leiweke did not take part in the meeting and Roth said he does not speak for Anschutz.
Villaraigosa has explained, according to one of the sources, that continuing to push the stadium idea through the city was akin to "pushing a rock uphill" if Anschutz didn't pursue the idea more aggressively. AEG has said that it will, among other things, put up at least $1 billion toward the construction of the stadium. In exchange, it has asked for considerations, such as the fast-tracking of the EIR, and has asked the city to put up bonds as part of the additional funding.
However, the meeting with Anschutz has thus far produced zero reaction from the billionaire, according to the sources. In the more than three months since the meeting, the NFL has not received a new proposal from Anschutz or AEG and has not been told of one being sent to any teams.
The gathering and reaction from the NFL mirror a Sept. 6 meeting that Goodell had with Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry and political aide Bernard Parks Jr.
The bottom line is that because of that, politicians in Los Angeles may be shifting focus from the stadium project to simply enlarging the Los Angeles Convention Center. The stadium was supposed to be built on part of where the center currently sits and would serve as convention space when not being used for the NFL.
"The end game for this plan was the convention center all along," a Los Angeles-based source said Thursday. "That's what AEG wants to improve because the convention business is going to drive the whole area."
The area around the convention center now includes a section called L.A. Live, featuring the Staples Center, the Nokia Theatre, a hotel and numerous upscale restaurants.
In addition, the energy expended by the city on pushing the stadium project has delayed other projects, two sources said. The University of Southern California, NBC and Universal all have expansion projects that have been pushed back as the city spent time on the stadium project.
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