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Some thoughts and loose ends in the wake of the escalation of speculation that the Chargers, or some other football team, are headed to Los Angeles:
• Leverage. Sam Farmer, the L.A. Times’ NFL writer, made an important point on Twitter that doesn’t get talked about enough in this Chargers conversation: “San Diego going nuts. Minnesota going nuts. Now do you see why LA is more valuable to NFL WITHOUT a team? It’s all about leverage.”
It’s often assumed the NFL is dying to get a team in the country’s second-largest media market. But keeping Los Angeles open gives every other owner in the league negotiating power when it comes time to demand a new stadium in their town.
• The Man. If there’s going to be one guy that brings the Chargers to Los Angeles, my money would be on that guy being Philip Anschutz. He’s the billionaire that a Toronto radio station yesterday said either had purchased or would purchase a 35 percent stake in the Chargers.
So who is this guy?
A must-read 2006 L.A. Times profile of Anschutz says he’s considered by some to be as important to the city as “the William Mulhollands and Harry Chandlers of the past.”
Yet in a city known for its entertainment moguls and industrialists who seek the limelight, Anschutz is intensely private. He is a longtime Denver resident and doesn’t even maintain a Los Angeles address.
“Philip Anschutz is sort of like the Wizard of Oz,” said Los Angeles economist Jack Kyser. “He is the man behind the curtain pulling the levers. Nobody sees him, yet he has a huge impact on Los Angeles.”
Anschutz presides over a sports and entertainment empire, with arenas and venues across the globe. He’s a magnate of Los Angeles sports and his company, AEG, first explored the idea of a Los Angeles stadium — and contacted the Chargers about it — in 2002. Now, it’s exploring the idea again. AEG owns the Staples Center, for one, and the Home Depot Center, where the Chargers staged their training camp before a public relations furor pushed them back home.
And the market for Anschutz to step in recently reappeared. Patriarch Alex Spanos is shopping his share of the team for estate planning purposes. And the other possible L.A. stadium developer, Ed Roski, already wanted a share of any team that moved into his stadium.
• Reasons to Be Skeptical. For as many reasons as Anschutz makes sense for the Chargers, the timing doesn’t seem right for any deal to go down with him. The league is heading towards a potentially calamitous labor battle and there’s no stadium deal that’s very close right now.
And back to Farmer for some Anschutz insight:
But according to the people who know him best, Anschutz has never had an appetite to own a piece of an NFL franchise absent a new stadium deal, to own part of a team just to own it. Until there’s a green light on a downtown stadium, he’s not shopping for a team.
What’s more, the NFL is not going to move forward on any relocations until it gets its labor situation sorted, and that could take the better part of a year.
That said, when the team owners and players do reach an agreement, the league could act very quickly on the L.A. front. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will want to show right away that the league can “grow the pie” as it has promised, and the fastest way to do that is by taking a franchise that’s financially underperforming and moving it to the No. 2 market.
• The Chargers’ Latest Word. When the Chargers first denied the Toronto radio account last night, special counsel Mark Fabiani said this:
There is no truth to the rumor out of Toronto that the Chargers have agreed to sell a portion of the team to Mr. Anschutz.
I followed up today with Fabiani to clarify. After all, he only offered a denial on the “have agreed.” The Toronto report made it possible that the deal could be in the works, just not finalized.
Andy, there is no offer for the minority interest either pending or imminent from any party. And to be clear, the Spanos family has never contemplated giving up its controlling interest, so that all potential transactions for estate tax purposes would maintain the Spanos family’s majority control.
So, what does all that mean? We’re back where we started before the Toronto radio report. And the Chargers-to-L.A. speculation that’s been simmering in San Diego for the last eight years isn’t going away any time soon.