Anschutz shifts into higher gear on NFL

anschutz2008reuters.jpgWith the National Football League cooling on his Los Angeles stadium plan, Denver billionaire Phil Anschutz is putting out the word that he would invest in a team if that's what it takes to get the deal done. First, Tim Leiweke — who runs the Los Angeles end of Anschutz's empire — said in Monday's T.J. Simers column that the boss is willing to "buy the majority of a team." By midday, Leiweke was telling the LAT Times' NFL beat writer, Sam Farmer, that Anschutz is willing to go all the way and buy an entire team if that's what is needed to secure a franchise. He made the comments in a session with Times editors and reporters.

"Phil is now completely engaged in this process," said Tim Leiweke, AEG's president and chief executive. "And the only thing he won't do is get leveraged to the point of doing a stupid deal on a team. But if this is about finding a win-win for the NFL and Phil Anschutz, he is prepared to write that check now, subject to getting done with the [environmental impact report]."

The narrative on Farmers Field up until now had been that Anschutz had to be talked into the speculative stadium venture by Leiweke.

By the night rewrite of today's Times story and the addition of City Hall reporter Kate Linthicum to the byline, the article stressed the element that Anschutz and Leiweke have a fallback plan should the NFL not send a team to Los Angeles.

His pledge to buy a full stake in a team marks a new level of commitment for Anschutz, who Leiweke had previously said was willing to buy only 50% of an NFL franchise. But the company is also exploring backup plans if the NFL deal stalls.

One of them involves the aging, city-owned Convention Center that abuts the proposed stadium site and AEG's Staples Center and L.A. Live sports and entertainment venues.

A plan to use new tax revenue generated by the stadium to finance a major upgrade of the Convention Center was crucial to garnering City Hall support last year. Leiweke said that his company is now considering how to revamp the exhibition center even if a pro football stadium is not built.

Leiweke did not say how AEG would finance a Convention Center makeover without the new taxes generated by a stadium, but he reiterated his view that making the center more competitive with other cities is critical to the city's economy. His firm's investments in the area, which include the J.W. Marriott hotel, also would benefit, he acknowledged.

The highly anticipated environmental impact report for the proposed Downtown stadium is due to be released Thursday.

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