J.K. McKay is in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame and in the hearts of USC football fans. Just as everyone can remember where they were when the Americans beat the Russians in hockey, USC boosters know where they were when McKay, playing for his father John McKay, pulled down the Pat Haden touchdown pass that toppled Ohio State in the 1975 Rose Bowl.
Since that glorious moment, which earned McKay the Rose Bowl MVP, he has earned a B.A., played in the NFL and worked for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where his brother, Rich, still is general manager.
He has practiced law since 1982, and has represented the Buccaneers when the team considered relocating from Tampa Bay, and later consulted with the team on financing and construction of a new stadium.
He joined Majestic Realty Co./New Coliseum Partners in 1998 as executive director of football operations. In that capacity, he and Majestic's Ed Roski negotiated the renovation of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the failed attempt to bring the NFL back to Los Angeles.
The 47-year-old McKay returns to the Coliseum next month as general manager of the Los Angeles Xtreme, the local franchise of the new XFL pro football league. The Xtreme will play five home games at the Coliseum. Before the team opens its season at home on Feb. 4, McKay plans to be in Tampa watching the Super Bowl.
Question: As we gear up for the inaugural season of the XFL, should Angelenos give up on their hopes of getting an NFL team in Los Angeles?
Answer: I don't think the city or people like Ed Roski are resigned to that. Is it going to happen in the short term? My best guess is it's not, for a variety of reasons. The biggest one being the NFL is not going to expand again for quite some time.
Q: And how do you define "quite some time"?
A: I would say probably 10 years. It's unlikely a franchise would relocate to Los Angeles given the current political climate and the lack of support for putting up public money to build a state-of-the-art stadium. I don't think any team would move here without knowing it's going to be playing in a stadium with a sufficient number of luxury suites.
Q: Looking back on the expansion endeavor, what, in the end, went wrong?
A: Two things. I think the NFL didn't understand Los Angeles. The decision-makers in the NFL, very bright people who I know well and have a lot of respect for, didn't have strong ties to Los Angeles and were afraid of failing again in Los Angeles. I think they felt the NFL was only going to get one more shot to succeed in L.A. and they were concerned they didn't know exactly how to do that. Maybe even a bigger part was, pure and simple, money. Bob McNair, who is the owner of the Houston franchise, bid $700 million for the franchise and that's a lot of money. So, in the end, I think they took the money.
Q: What was the L.A. bid?
A: Depending on how you count the dollars, it was about $600 million.
Q: Competing for entertainment dollars in L.A. is no small feat. How do you expect a new team in a new league to make it?
A: Yes, there's a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar, but there are a lot of entertainment dollars.
Q: By conceding that the Coliseum, without luxury suites, is not good enough for the NFL seems to imply the XFL is a lesser-caliber league. Isn't that the case?
A: I certainly don't mean to imply that. It's very different in the economic model. Understand that in the NFL you have owners paying $700 million, $800 million (for a franchise). The only way you can make sense of that is to generate huge amounts of stadium revenue. That's luxury suite revenue. That's personal seat licenses that they sell, which is really an invention, you're buying nothing at all and paying a lot for it. That stadium revenue is irrelevant in our league. The only stadium revenue we're going to generate is through ticket sales.
Q: Do you feel like you're settling for the XFL?
A: No, actually, I don't at all. I've had opportunities to leave Los Angeles and get involved with NFL teams, but I grew up here. I really like Los Angeles. I wanted to be here. I didn't see that opportunity in the NFL and the XFL actually offers a lot more in certain areas than the NFL can. We're making up the rules as we go here. We get to start a franchise and a team from ground zero, select all the players, put together a staff like we have here. I think the upside is just tremendous. Probably, I've had more fun doing this than anything I've done.
Q: Is that the upside? The fun?
A: There's a monetary upside, as well. I think this league can be enormously successful from year one. The reason we can be is because no other football league has ever teed it up on the first weekend and had three of their four games on national television. People will get to know our players. It also allows us to generate significant amounts in television ad revenues.
Q: People see wrestlers as cartoon characters, actors, performers. How do you separate that from XFL?
A: This is nothing but real football. It's actually going to be more real than the NFL, if you think about. What we're going to do is provide the fans with what we call an all-access pass to the game. There's so many aspects of the NFL game you don't see: conversations between coach and quarterback that you're not allowed to hear; conversation between a doctor and an injured player you're not allowed to hear; conversations between one cheerleader and another, between fans and the coach. We're going to take you into the locker room and allow you to hear all of that. We're going to mike players and put cameras in places they haven't been before. It's kind of like the ultimate reality show, is what it is. No aspect of it is going to be staged. Probably the best evidence of that is that Las Vegas will be setting lines on these games. I assure you, they wouldn't be doing that if any aspect of this were being staged.
Q: Are there any XFL rules that address players breaking the law?
A: We like characters. We don't like criminals. In fact, (XFL co-executive producer) Vince McMahon came out very early on and we established an absolute rule in our league that no player will be permitted to play in our league if they have been convicted of a felony. In addition, where we find a pattern of conduct we believe to be antisocial or violent, even though it hasn't resulted in a felony conviction, those players have been banned from our league as well.
Q: How are ticket sales going?
A: Ticket sales are going amazingly well. Our marketing campaign will begin in earnest on the second of January. That said, I think I'm somehow prohibited through league edict from talking about specific ticket sales numbers, but suffice it to say that, in terms of season tickets, we're about 70 percent to our goal. Our budgeted number of season ticket sales we'll probably beat by 50 percent. That's pretty much true league-wide. The tickets that we have sold to date are at an average price of $32 to $33.
Q: To sell out Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for an XFL game, you have to sell 42,000 tickets. How often can that happen?
A: Well, we hope to sell out every game.
A: League-wide, I'll tell you what our budget is. Our budget is 22,500 (tickets sold) per game at an average ticket price of $25. I think we'll exceed that substantially as a league and in Los Angeles.
Q: And what do you have to pay players?
A: The standard player contract is $45,000, plus $500 for every game you start. Quarterbacks actually make $50,000. Kickers we're only allowed to have one kicker per team make $35,000. The interesting part compensation-wise is that for each game there's a $100,000 bonus pool. The winning team's players split the $100,000. Losing team players get nothing. Then you go to the Big Game at the end, which is what we're calling our championship game, and there's a $1 million bonus pool in that game.
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