Leiweke talks Kaká, Galaxy, more (cont.)
These days are a busy -- and remarkably successful -- time for owner Phil Anschutz and AEG, whose sprawling list of properties includes more than 100 facilities around the world, the AEG Live music division, the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings, the MLS Cup champion Galaxy, part of the L.A. Lakers and the L.A. Live complex here downtown. (Not for nothing did a recent New Yorker magazine article call Anschutz "the man who owns L.A.")
Leiweke is Anschutz's point man, and it can be safely argued that they saved Major League Soccer 10 years ago when AEG ended up owning six of the league's 10 teams after Miami and Tampa Bay were contracted from the league. AEG has successfully sold off all of those MLS teams except Los Angeles and 50 percent of Houston, which (wouldn't you know it) have both reached Saturday's MLS Cup final (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN, TeleFutura). When the MLS champion is crowned on Saturday, it will receive the Anschutz trophy.
What's more, amid all of this AEG is up for sale, and bids are expected to start coming in next week for an empire that could go for as much as $7 billion to $10 billion. How busy is Leiweke? In a 30-minute conversation here, we touched on all these topics:
AEG's pursuit of an NFL team and stadium in L.A. How close is AEG to getting an NFL stadium built and an NFL team for it? "The good news is if you sat down at the beginning of a process and say what are the necessary steps we'll have to go through to bring football back to L.A., there are probably 15 steps we had to go through," Leiweke said. "Of those 15 or so steps, we're down to 13 of them are gone and we have two things left. We have to make a deal with the league and we have to get a team."
"The very things that ran the Rams, Raiders and a long time ago the Chargers out of this city are political and legal [issues], and those are gone. Nothing's going to happen with the last step until we can go to the league and get them comfortable with our new owners. They share our vision and are willing to make the financial commitment. A prerequisite of everything we're doing with ownership and anyone that Mr. Anschutz will consider selling to is subject to them making sure they are financially and from a vision standpoint locked in on this concept."
"I don't think we'll be sitting here a year from now talking anything about football with the exception of what team."
When I told him he was talking as though the stadium, Farmers Field, was a done deal, Leiweke said: "We have been spending a fair amount of time on the NFL lately. We've engaged in a different level of conversation with the owners in the league, and I think there's a difference between arrogance and confidence. We will never be arrogant on football, not after 20 years of all of us getting our rear ends kicked here, but we're confident. I apologize if my air is one of arrogance. It is one of confidence. I'm much more confident now. People will say it's pretty good to be confident when you don't have an owner, but we have a pretty good idea where we're headed on that too."
How did the AEG-owned Kings go from NHL laughingstocks to Stanley Cup champions? "Patience," Leiweke said. "Hockey in the NHL is not a quick fix, unlike some other sports where you can go out and get a free agent or two and change your fortunes immediately. I hate to say it this way, but you've got to suck to be good. Draft picks are critical within the NHL."
Which accomplishments is AEG most proud of? "The stuff we haven't done yet," Leiweke said. "You know me. I'm always focused on what's next. The Stanley Cup was a brilliant moment, and I'm probably more passionate than anyone in the organization of the bookends here, which is the MLS Cup from last year and the Cup from this year, whoever wins it [L.A. or Houston]. ... Having the Stanley Cup in the middle and add to that getting Farmers Field approved finally and resolving the lawsuits and just to make our lives interesting, the sale of AEG. It's been a remarkable year, an intense year, an emotional rollercoaster."
"But we're still thinking about what's next. How do we get football? Everyone's talking about David [Beckham] leaving, but I'm already thinking about what's next. Everyone can have an opinion about what David did or did not do. To me, what David did is show us our potential, so it's not sitting here trying to debate the past but rather to learn from what he showed us we can do. I don't think David's the best move we ever made. He'll give us the opportunity to go do the best move we ever made. I'm thinking about that, about the sale of this company and the implications for all of us here. I'm fairly certain the next group of owners comes in and looks at the management team and says justify the payment. So we'll be very driven to prove value here."
Leiweke recently signed a long-term deal with AEG, and he is expected to remain in charge of the management team when the new owner takes over.
Will the Galaxy be spun off as an individual unit or kept under the AEG umbrella? "We have to understand we don't own this company," Leiweke said. "Mr. Anschutz does today and someone will tomorrow. I'm very much at peace with the fact the new owner will come in and dictate to us what they want to do. We're aware some will love our real estate but not our teams. There may be others who love our teams but not our real estate. Some may see the world exactly the same way we do. We're prepared for any of that. If it means people ultimately ask us to spin off our music division or sports teams or some of our properties, these are all not only possibilities but in some cases probabilities. We'll do what they ask us to do to the best of our ability."
"We've had probably more interest in the Galaxy in people calling me in the last 30 days to see if we're going to sell them than in any other property we have. Which is surprising. You'd think football or the Lakers, maybe even the Kings with the Stanley Cup. I'll attribute some of that to the entry level is pretty good. It's the most expensive franchise in the league" -- he valued L.A. and Seattle at around $150 million each -- "and you look at our new TV and jersey deals. We went through a three-week process where we signed $100 million worth of deals for the Galaxy. The fact we have that many people interested, it's probably of all our sports teams the one that has the greatest upside in valuation as well."
How does he feel about the Galaxy's DPs: Beckham, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane? "I think David made the right decision [to leave], and I'm proud of him," Leiweke said. "What he does next is his decision and not ours. It does give us a [DP] slot. We'll have to see what Landon wants to do. I know Landon probably as well as anybody. I think this is less about quitting and more about he needs a time out. He needs some time to himself, and we'll work that out. I don't think Landon's gonna leave yet, because the sun shines brightest on him next, and he knows that. He's 31. I'll let him have that moment to decide, but I think it's more about taking a moment and getting a breath than calling it a career. I think he's in the middle of his best days. He's a young man."
"Robbie is maybe one of the better deals we've ever done. All due respect to everyone else, Robbie has been the phenomenal player in the playoffs for us. He's been awesome."
The Houston Dynamo matters to AEG, too. "The two best teams in the league the last four years are here," Leiweke said. "What Dom [Kinnear, the Dynamo coach] has done in Houston, we're really proud of that club. Getting that stadium done to me was one of our top five accomplishments as a company this year. ... I will be equally as proud of them winning the trophy as the Galaxy on Saturday. I'm OK either way, because I think they deserve it. I am glad the Rockets had whatever brain freeze they had [in failing to buy the Dynamo], because we will hold onto that team long-term now. We love that team."