With the National Football League expected to decide this week whether to award a franchise to Los Angeles, there are growing indications that L.A.'s two competing bidders Hollywood power broker Mike Ovitz and a group led by businessmen Eli Broad and Ed Roski Jr. might wind up joining forces.
Many NFL team owners and league officials prefer the plan to bring an expansion team to a rebuilt Coliseum, rather than Ovitz's proposal to develop a stadium from scratch on a contaminated former landfill site in Carson, sources said.
But those same NFL officials and owners want to retain Ovitz "for the same reason they want everything it's the money. 'Show me the money,' " said a source close to New Coliseum Partners LLC. "They perceive he would be great at marketing television rights. Some of the big money that comes out of the NFL is not from the actual game day."
Added another source close to the negotiations: NFL owners "like Ovitz because he speaks their language. They'd love to see Ovitz crammed into the Coliseum deal."
With names like Tom Cruise, Kevin Costner and Magic Johnson attached to Ovitz's Carson football plan, Ovitz exerts great influence in the entertainment industry. NFL officials and owners believe Ovitz could help the league negotiate favorable television deals and find synergies between the NFL and the entertainment world, sources said.
Meanwhile, principals of the New Coliseum Partners seemed enthusiastic late last week about the prospect of Ovitz joining their team.
"Our door's open," said Broad, who recently became controlling principal of the Coliseum group. "I've told them our door's open."
Roski, president of Majestic Realty Co. and the second largest investor, was more effusive.
"That would be great," Roski said. "It would be great with us. Michael is a good friend of mine and he's a great guy. As far as we're concerned we'd love to have him aboard as part of the ownership group. We think he would add a lot."
Ovitz did not return calls for comment last week. But a source from his camp said that while Ovitz remains committed to his Carson plan, "Michael and Eli are friends, and who knows where that's going to go? I really think it depends on all the dynamics involved. We would never close a door on anything. That's not the way we do business."
For its part, the NFL was saying little about L.A. last week. League officials said addressing the issue is the responsibility of the expansion committee, which is expected to both meet and present its recommendation to the full ownership group on Tuesday, March 16.
Joe Browne, the NFL's senior vice president of communications and government affairs, said during a conference call last week that the owners are likely to vote this week on whether to expand the league. If they vote to expand, which requires a "yes" vote from 24 of the 31 owners, they also would likely choose a city, Browne said.
"It's either two words or one word," he added. "It's either 'Los Angeles,' or 'Houston.' "
NFL officials and owners are believed to be leaning toward the Coliseum because it has the support of local and state government officials and would be relatively easy to prepare for a new team. The proposed stadium in Carson, on the other hand, is targeted for a site that would have to undergo a toxic cleanup.
Nevertheless, NFL officials, including Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, have praised Ovitz's marketing abilities and expressed interest in having him participate in an L.A. football ownership group, sources said.
If the NFL selects Los Angeles for an expansion team next week and chooses the Coliseum as its home stadium, the league would next open up the issue of the potential ownership group.
"If I'm the NFL, I'm trying to extract the most money I can from whoever I can," said Assemblyman Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles, whose district includes the Coliseum. "If I've got two groups with X million dollars, why don't I combine both groups and get 2X? If there's an Ovitz who has money, and an Eli Broad who has money, why don't I get money from both of them?"
But Ovitz and Broad are each accustomed to calling the shots Ovitz at Creative Artists Agency and now at Artists Management Group, and Broad at SunAmerica Inc. and before that at Kaufman and Broad Home Corp. Could such a partnership ever work?
Broad said that he has no interest in being anything less than the controlling owner of the new team, with at least a 30 percent ownership stake.
"I'm not interested in just being very passive here," Broad said. "With all the things that I've already done downtown and the like, I'd think it would be appropriate that I would, at least for the time being, be the person people in the community look to."
The source close to Ovitz would not speculate on whether Ovitz would be willing to play second fiddle to Broad at the Coliseum.
New Coliseum representatives say there has not been any discussion between their group and Ovitz in recent months not since long before Broad joined the Coliseum group in January.
Ovitz did meet with Roski and others from New Coliseum Partners about two years ago, said Pat Lynch, general manager of the Coliseum. "Way back when, Ovitz was approached about this site prior to Carson emerging as a site," he said.
But since Ovitz has been pushing his idea for a stadium in Carson a project dubbed "The Hacienda" that would include not only a 68,000-seat football stadium, but a surrounding shopping mall there have been no further discussions between Ovitz and New Coliseum Partners, Roski and others said.
Ovitz did talk to Broad back in January, when Broad announced he was joining New Coliseum Partners.
"He called, and wasn't too happy that I got involved with the Coliseum," Broad said. "He asked me to be involved in Carson a year ago. He asked me again (in January), and I said I was not interested. I believe the right site is downtown."
Nevertheless, Broad added, "it was a cordial conversation."
Some believe that Ovitz would be willing to be second in command if it meant being involved with an organization like the NFL.
"I think, for him, just like for Eli, there's got to be some appeal to that to be in the most exclusive boy's club in the country," one source close to New Coliseum Partners said.
Added Roski: "We all have an interest in bringing football to Los Angeles, so I don't see a problem in it."
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