Billionaire Philip Anschutz says he is pulling AEG off the market and the company that owns the Staples Center and L.A. Live is no longer for sale.
The company is also behind the proposed Farmers Field football stadium adjacent to the L.A. Live complex and the related effort to lure an NFL team back to Los Angeles. But the fate of that project remains very much up in the air.
Anschutz said in a statement Thursday that he had made clear he wouldn't sell the company unless the right buyer came forward. He says he will resume a more active role in the company and Tim Leiweke, who has served as president and CEO since 1996 is leaving AEG "by mutual agreement," according to the statement.
Leiweke had been AEG's main proponent of the stadium and had negotiated a development deal with the City of Los Angeles. AEG representatives said Thursday that bringing the NFL back to L.A. will remain a priority. But there was widespread skepticism about if or when that might happen.
L.A. Times sports columnist Sam Farmer, speaking on KPCC's Airtalk, said he thought a deal to bring the NFL to L.A. is "dead or at least in a vegetative state."
Anschutz told the L.A. Times Thursday that AEG and the NFL have had no talks for about eight months — roughly since the company was put up for sale. AEG had said any buyer for the company would have to commit to the stadium deal as part of the package.
Part of AEG's deal with the city includes demolishing part of the convention center and building a new, updated wing that would help lure bigger conventions to the city.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement Thursday saying "the City has expedited our process and lived up to our end of a deal to bring the NFL to Los Angeles and create a world-class convention center." He called on AEG to "live up to its commitment by immediately sitting down with the NFL to reach an agreement."
But that's easier said than done. David Carter of the University of Southern California Sports Business Institute believes the plan to bring an NFL team to L.A. will likely be slowed.
“I think until you get some of those pieces to the puzzle resolved, it’s hard to see how the NFL moves forward as rapidly as once thought in this market,” Carter said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarty said the league will "continue to monitor all stadium developments and remain interested in multiple sites in the Los Angeles area."
There are less than a handful of teams that are candidates to relocate to L.A., but no proposal was put forth at the most recent meeting of NFL owners.
AEG's statement said Anschutz, as Chairman of AEG, will resume a more active role in the company, with a particular focus on its world-wide strategy and operations.
AEG's holdings also include the Los Angeles Galaxy, part-ownership of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers, and major entertainment and real estate holdings in Los Angeles. The company also owns major venues in New York, London, Australia, Sweden and runs the Coachella Music Festival.
Sale of the company was expected to fetch as much as eight billion dollars.
USC's Carter said Anschutz and his team likely did not get an offer with the price they wanted.
“They deployed a lot of resources to try to communicate to the marketplace that AEG was worth a certain amount of money, and the potential bidders likely did not see it that way," said Carter. "And/or [prospective buyers] were more interested in just certain elements of AEG, not wanting to buy the entire company.”
Santa Monica-based Colony Capital is a private equity firm that bid unsuccessfully for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Colony, along with the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar, was among the three remaining bidders for AEG. Colony Capital declined to comment on the cancellation of the sale.
The announcement that Leiweke is leaving AEG took L.A. officials by surprise. City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said what happens to the project now isn’t clear.
“He is what AEG is when we think of AEG in a positive sense,” said Rosendahl. “So, with him leaving we’re in shock. What does it mean to downtown? It’s too early for us to tell.”
The Los Angeles City Council approved the football project last year after Leiweke assured members he would remain with AEG after its possible sale.
One of the loudest cheerleaders for the Farmers Field project has been L.A. City Councilwoman Jan Perry. She said the cancellation of AEG’s sale could provide more stability to the ongoing negotiations with the NFL.
But Perry does not expect pro football to be deterred by Leiweke’s exit from the company.
“I think the people who have been designated to succeed him have been there all along and understand the evolution of the company and the path toward bringing a football team to the city of Los Angeles and they’re both highly skilled and extremely capable individuals,” said Perry.
Dan Beckerman will assume the position of President and Chief Executive Officer of the Company, according to the AEG statement. Mr. Beckerman joined AEG over 15 years ago and previously served as the Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer.
AEG's statement said: “We appreciate the role Tim has played in the development of AEG, and thank him for the many contributions he has made to the company. We wish him well in his new endeavors."