AEG employs terrorist threat study in L.A. stadium battle

ALos Angeles Chargers 2EG, the sports and entertainment firm trying to bring the NFL to downtown Los Angeles, has escalated the war over who wins the city’s increasingly contentious stadium race.

In a surprise move, AEG published a study slamming St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s proposed Inglewood stadium and mixed-use development. Even more surprising, the study, commissioned by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, warned Kroenke’s plan offered terrorists a tempting target conveniently close to LAX.

The remarkable attempt to undermine Kroenke reflected a new degree of urgency for AEG, which found itself in danger of being sidelined by the recent developments at competitor sites. Although analysts immediately decried the Ridge report’s threat of a “terrorist event ‘twofer'” with the airport, AEG stuck to its guns.

The Los Angeles Times, which obtained a copy of the 14-page report, noted the NFL — which includes teams with stadiums on both coasts close to major airports — declined to comment directly on the claims. “In contrast to Ridge’s warnings, city officials as well as aviation experts have said a stadium at the Hollywood Park site is not a safety concern,” The Times reported. “The Federal Aviation Administration, in environmental impact reports, has twice given its blessing to proposed stadiums in Inglewood.”

But the NFL’s efforts to stay above the sports-field fracas could hurt AEG more than help it. The Ridge report hit a wall of criticism in sports media that will send a sure signal to the NFL, which has a strong interest in giving its blessing to whatever outcome commands the strongest public support.

As Kevin Draper wrote at Deadspin, AEG’s study signaled a degree of desperation that put Kroenke’s own dealings in a relatively milder light:

“Campaigns for multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects are always waged with a certain amount of unscrupulous activity — Rams owner Stan Kroenke has just so happened to have donated thousands of dollars to the political campaigns of Inglewood officials — but this is a particularly shameful attempt by AEG.”

Above the fray

For the NFL, nationwide judgments about who’s the better developer carry important business weight. As previously reported, the NFL’s desire has been to avoid two particular kinds of chaos as events unfold in L.A.

In the first nightmare scenario, Kroenke would embarrass the NFL by relocating the Rams despite St. Louis offering millions upon millions in incentives to stay.

In the second, the new San Diego Chargers/Los Angeles Raiders agreement to share a stadium would force the NFL to reshuffle the complex assignments and play schedules of the NFL’s two conferences, the AFC and NFC.

The dream scenario, by contrast, would see the NFL shepherd through an outcome that satisfied three major interests: Los Angeles, sports analysts and America’s football fans.

For that reason, the NFL ultimately could allow all three potential deals to fall through. “The chance that three teams are moving to Los Angeles is exactly zero,” wrote Matt Bonesteel at The Washington Post. “One team, almost certainly. Two teams, maybe. But three? Nope. There’s no chance the NFL wants to dilute one market with so much product, and there’s no chance an NFL owner would want to take that risk.”

Because of the tangle of interests and conditions surrounding the prospective relocations, however, the NFL could end up without a single team to support. If the NFL winds up obligated to support a go-for-broke bid by St. Louis to keep the Rams, both Kroenke’s Inglewood deal and AEG’s downtown effort would be eclipsed by the messy Chargers/Raiders plan to share a stadium at a third location in Carson, north of Long Beach.

The NFL’s unwillingness to reshuffle its conference lineups would leave it open to relocating either the Chargers or the Raiders, but not both. But granting favor to just one team would pull the NFL into a fresh controversy with bad implications for business.

Staying power

For reasons like that, AEG’s eyebrow-raising report made a certain amount of sense. The big firm has used its advantage in money and support to get all the way to the goal line on its downtown location.

The only thing missing has been a team willing to sign on the dotted line. Although its L.A.-imposed deadline to lock in a team has been set to expire in April, AEG has benefited from any difficulties faced by its competitors.

Although the Ridge report went after Kroenke’s proposed stadium, the Rams have no chance of relocating to AEG’s downtown location.

Ironically, AEG’s bout of bad publicity could actually help NFL operators and observers to reconsider the complexity and inconvenience of the Chargers/Raiders plan — opening up the possibility of sending one of those teams downtown.

Tags assigned to this article:
NFLJames PoulosStan KroenkeAEG

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