JOE BEL BRUNO
In 1984, David Simon’s life was consumed with throwing the largest sporting event in Los Angeles’ history the Olympic games.
As vice president of government relations for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee, Simon’s job was to cut through red tape and make sure events went off in various parts of the region without a hitch. The experience would become a precursor to what would become Simon’s career as president of the Los Angeles Sports Council.
The organization, which has a paid staff of 12 and is privately-financed through membership fees and event revenues, helps facilitate bids on national sporting events from NCAA tournaments to major league all-star games. That job has been made more difficult by L.A.’s loss of two National Football League franchises and by what critics call a lack of modern sports facilities.
Q: Your job is to bring national sports events to Los Angeles. Will that be easier if a new football stadium is built in a new location, instead of rebuilding the Coliseum?
A: As soon as we have a football stadium, I think the location will be irrelevant. The reason is that unlike people deciding where to put on a convention, those deciding on sporting events are concerned with only the day of the game. The secondary consideration is what else is there to do in the area and Los Angeles is very favorable there. They want the best field to play on, and aren’t concerned so much where the facility is located. The reality is that the NFL is going to decide where football is being played in Los Angeles.
Q: What about the possibility of building a new football facility at Dodger Stadium as Peter O’Malley proposed last summer. From a marketing standpoint, would that be a good concept?
A: That’s a hard question because right now the city is backing the Coliseum. Everyone has said they will withdraw their efforts until the Coliseum has reached their conclusion. If there was to be a second choice, I think there would be a lot of attractive things about building near Dodger Stadium. The fact that you already have a history of staging sporting events there, and that the land is available, are positives. Also, having a class-act like Peter O’Malley running the operation would be positive. But, there are still other options as well at the Convention Center and in Inglewood.
Q: Sports in Los Angeles seems to be at a cross-roads. How does the Sports Council fit in?
A: There are clearly a lot of changes. I think we are in the midst of a sports revolution in Los Angeles. The number of sports people follow are changing. The facilities are undergoing a change there are new facilities that have either just been built or are on the drawing board. The changes will not settle down for another five years.
Ultimately, it’s a good thing. More people are buying tickets to see sporting events in Southern California than ever before. That runs counter to people’s impressions if you go back 20 years when there were only a few sports. Now, you have so many more options, with seemingly more college sports, arena football, roller hockey, beach volleyball, and even professional women’s basketball. These sports are finding an audience, and as they do, it’s filling up more facilities.
Q: How will a new arena and football stadium help attract more events?
A: New facilities will make our job that much easier to get more special events. The biggest arena we have is the Forum, which holds 17,504 people. For most events these days, you need more than 20,000 seats before you can even step up to the plate and bid. The same with football. Where ever the new stadium winds up going, my prediction is that within five years of it opening, it will host two Super Bowls held there. That’s how important new facilities are they can make a dramatic impact to the economy with these special events.
Q: Is there anything that needs to happen that will help sports grow in L.A.?
A: The strength of L.A. when it comes to sports has been the private sector taking the lead. That needs to continue. The Forum was privately built, and so was Dodger Stadium. We privately financed the Olympics, World Cup soccer and other events. The way our history and geography works, the private sector is looked upon for those things.
My feeling is that the free market in L.A. will probably take care of the future of sports in Southern California. This isn’t to say government doesn’t have an instrumental role to play, but we have a history of being able to do things privately.
Q: How did you get interested in promoting sports in Los Angeles?
A: My Olympic involvement started in 1977 when I was working on Capitol Hill for Yvonne Braithwaite Burke. I was on her Congressional staff at the time Los Angeles was mounting a bid for what turned out to be the 1984 Olympics. I ended up doing a lot of work with the bid committee, and later was one of the first people hired by Peter Ueberroth. My life has never been the same since.
Q: What lessons did you learn from the Olympics?
A: We went from a small business with five employees to a large corporation with 75,000 employees and volunteers. The job was basically handling all the Olympic relationships with all levels of government. My job covered a wide variety of things, from getting visas to street closures in more than 19 different cities in Southern California.
It was a very complicated and difficult undertaking. A year after the Olympics they buried a time capsule at the Coliseum, and each of us on the Olympic Committee got to add something. I went to the hardware store and bought the biggest spool of red tape I could find. The job really taught me how to deal with red tape, and how to get around it to make things work.
Q: How did the Sports Council first start?
A: After the Olympics, I was hired as chief of staff at the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. But within a couple years I realized that L.A. wasn’t being selected as a site for sporting events. It was ironic because we had just done such a great job with the Olympics. I found out we weren’t being chosen because we just weren’t bidding. There were multiple jurisdictions in Southern California, and no easy way for someone to come into the area and get the best bid possible. L.A. City Hall might not have the right facilities to host an event, even though Long Beach or Inglewood might be perfect. Out of that we formed a chamber committee to look at that as an issue and a decision was made in 1988 to make the Sports Council a separate corporation.
Q: Have you had any successes?
A: We’ve had quite a number of successes in a wide variety of sports. We had the 1993 Super Bowl, U.S. Olympic Trials, the Breeders Cup in 1993, and World Cup Soccer. We’ve done something in sports ranging from badminton to baseball.
We’ve been successful because our board has evolved to being drawn half from the business world and half from the sports world. You clearly need the sports people like the Dodgers and Lakers representatives on the board, but you also need Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Arthur Andersen on there as well. We have to get the local business and sports communities behind us if anything is going to work.
Organization: Los Angeles Sports Council
Education: B.A., history, University of California, Los Angeles, 1972; J.D., UCLA School of Law, 1975.
Career turning point: When Simon first became involved with Los Angeles’ bid to host the 1984 Olympic games.
Most admired person: Peter Ueberroth
Hobbies: Playing squash, skiing and travel.
Personal: Married, one daughter.