AEG Sale Leaves LA With Questions, Especially For Villaraigosa

Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa addresses the Democratic National Convention in Cha
Los Angeles Mayor and Democratic Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa addresses the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Just as Angelenos seemed to be calming down about Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG)'s controversial construction of an NFL stadium downtown, the entertainment company puts itself up for sale. Now Los Angeles is nervous again. And mad, largely at Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Rumors are swirling about why billionaire Philip Anschutz decided to sell AEG, a subsidiary that includes the LA Kings, Staples Center arena, part of the LA Lakers and a proposed downtown LA football stadium. Los Angeles Times editorialist Steve Lopez speculates that Anschutz could have cold feet and is worried that a $1.2 billion project, which includes a renovated convention center, won't fill the surrounding new condos and won't attract large enough convention events.

Or, it could be that the reclusive 72-year-old billionaire has decided to sell in order to use the cash and flexibility to bring a football team to LA. The stadium itself is supposed to attract an NFL team, but a source told Deadline that Anschutz wants out of the business of live entertainment and ticketing, which has increasingly had to share profits with Live Nation and Ticketmaster.

Sources estimate that AEG will sell for between a whopping $6 and 8 billion and say a range of media and equity firms have already lined up with interest, including Bain Capital LLC, the Chicago Tribune reports. Guggenheim Partners LLC, the investment firm that owns the LA Dodgers, is also reportedly interested, notes the Wall Street Journal.

The announcement of the sale came as such a shock to almost everyone. Councilwoman Jan Perry, who represents the district where the proposed stadium would be built, admitted to AP that she didn't know about the pending sale. This isn't surprising; Anschutz hasn't given an interview in over 40 years and is famously secretive, even outside of the media. Yet, Villaraigosa insists he knew about the impending sale for a while.

He responded, with comical repetition, to persistent questioning by reporters Wednesday: “I’m the mayor. I knew. I’m the mayor, and I knew. Let me be clear about something -- I’m the mayor and I knew,” KPCC reports.

But Villaraigosa's defensiveness has only left Angelenos angry about being left in the dark. Native Angeleno blogger Hillel Aron wrote, "Is it just me or is Villaraigosa trying really really really hard to convince us that he knew about the sale?"

Anschutz has been referred to as "The Man Who Owns LA." There is speculation that Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in LA, who considered buying the Dodgers earlier this year, could become LA's next "owner." But it's unclear whether Soon-Shiong has the same football ambitions as Anschutz.

The new stadium is supposed to bring 23,000 much-needed jobs to the city. But with nearly $400 million of city money potentially on the line, according to the Times, the sale of AEG could make it that much harder to attract a money-making team to the city.

Villaraigosa insisted that the sale of AEG will not affect the Farmers Field football stadium and subsequent NFL team from coming to LA. But after two football teams, the Rams and Raiders, left LA in the past, Angelenos understandably are nervous and have a lot of questions.

Hopefully, the mayor will be able to answer them without… reminding us, again, that he is the mayor.