AEG trumpets naming deal for proposed LA stadium

LOS ANGELES (AP) - No stranger to staging massive sports and concert spectacles, AEG put itself at center stage Tuesday with an elaborate performance aimed at anyone who doubts that the company could - or even should - build a new pro football stadium in downtown Los Angeles.

Company President and CEO Tim Leiweke was both barker and ringleader for the circus of sports legends, business leaders and city officials who took the stage to deliver one unifying message: an NFL venue would be good for Los Angeles and AEG has the chops to build one without tapping city coffers.

"This is about the community, but it will be paid for completely privately, we promise," he said.

The event was timed to AEG's announcement that it had secured a 30-year naming-rights deal with Farmers Insurance Exchange for the planned $1 billion stadium. Leiweke called the contract "the most significant step forward in the last 15 years in our efforts as a community, as leaders, to return the NFL to Los Angeles."

Terms of the pact were not released but a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press that AEG would get $700 million over 30 years if the firm builds the 64,000-seat venue, to be called Farmers Field, and secures an NFL team to play there.

The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the contract, said AEG would get $1 billion if it places two NFL teams in the stadium that would be constructed near Staples Center and LA Live, two sites already owned and operated by the sports and entertainment firm.

But the event's central message was nearly overwhelmed by the media-thronged presentation that AEG had orchestrated.

"We're getting closer to bringing football back to Los Angeles," said Magic Johnson, one of many sports luminaries to appear at the event. "This is exciting for me and the whole city."

Others sports stars in attendance included Raiders and Rams alumni, among them former Rams greats Rosey Grier and Deacon Jones, who played for the teams before they left Los Angeles in 1995, leaving the nation's second-largest market without an NFL franchise.

Billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad, who has worked to shape another section of downtown in his own higher-brow image, appeared in a video to endorse the project, as did a procession of labor union members who helped build or now work at LA Live, a hotel and entertainment complex.

The proposal was also cheered by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who was eager for football's return, as well as for the work opportunities the project would provide.

"This is more than just about football. This is about jobs," he said.

An animated Leiweke took multiple trips to the dais during the event, usually to repeat his mantra that AEG would pick up the entire tab for the retractable roof stadium that would double as convention center space when it wasn't being used for football games - such as the 50th Super Bowl, which he dangled as a possibility for fans.

Leiweke also vowed that new revenue from the site would service debt on $350 million in bonds AEG needs the city to issue to relocate a huge convention center where the stadium would be built. He swore the company would pay any possible shortfalls.

"This project has to be driven by the public sector, but it will be paid for by the private sector," he said. "Some people don't seem to get this."

The backers of a rival stadium proposal in the city of Industry some 15 miles east of Los Angeles have been among the most publicly skeptical of AEG's financing plan. Majestic Realty Co. Vice President John Semcken said after Leiweke briefed a City Council committee last week that the bond arrangement would leave the city saddled with debt.

"We firmly believe that our stadium proposal, which is modeled after the most successful stadiums in the league, is best suited for the NFL and the entire Southern California region," Semcken said in a statement after the AEG event Tuesday.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy would only say that the league continues "to monitor all stadium developments in the Los Angeles area."

David Carter, a sports marketing professor at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, said the naming-rights deal with Farmers - the most generous he has encountered - undoubtedly helps AEG advance its goal.

"It helps them go to City Council and say with a straight face 'We're going to be able to privately finance this,'" he said.

But Carter said AEG has much work to do toward getting building permits and securing a team before its plan becomes reality.

"It's important to keep in mind that it has some real momentum, but is by no means a done deal," he said. "There's still a little bit of caution that's needed before people get carried away."


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