Farmers to sponsor L.A. NFL stadium

LOS ANGELES -- If the NFL does return to a proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles, the league's newest venue will be called Farmers Field.

Developer AEG and Farmers Insurance Exchange announced the naming rights deal Tuesday in advance of a news conference attended by local politicians, athletes and businessmen.

They did not reveal terms of the pact, but sources told ESPNLosAngeles.com that it is worth $700 million over 30 years, making it the largest naming rights agreement. Sources also said the deal could be worth $1 billion if the stadium were to attract more than one NFL team.

The announcement took place inside the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, a building AEG plans to demolish to build its proposed 64,000-seat retractable-roof stadium, which would connect to the current convention center.

Magic Johnson, who said he hopes to become a part owner in Los Angeles' NFL team, opened up the news conference and was joined in the audience by fellow Lakers great Jerry West, and former NFL players Jim Brown, Deacon Jones, Mike Haynes, Rosey Grier, Willie McGinest and Rodney Peete.

Also in attendance were former boxing champion Oscar De La Hoya, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and actor Edward James Olmos.

"We're getting closer and closer to bringing football back to Los Angeles," Johnson said. "This is exciting for me and the whole city. I don't know what happened in the past but I [think] the community now is really excited about football returning to Los Angeles. We're all working together and I think that was missing in the private sector and the public sector."

AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke had said he needed this kind of "contractually obligated income" to make the proposed stadium a reality. It seemed like a daunting task when he first announced his idea for a downtown stadium in April, considering newly built stadiums such as Cowboys Stadium and the New Meadowlands Stadium have yet to secure naming rights deals.

Even with a naming rights deal in place, Leiweke and AEG still have several hurdles to clear before they can begin construction. The company must still pass an environmental impact review, complete the entitlement process and come to a long-term land lease agreement with the city. AEG is also asking the city to issue $350 million in bonds to help build a new extension to the convention center, which would replace West Hall, and additional parking units. Leiweke has said ticket-tax revenue will pay off the debt and AEG would write a check for any shortfalls.

Leiweke said he didn't envision having a problem getting what he needs from the city and said he is talking daily with NFL and team officials and believes the stadium will have at least one NFL team and possibly two by the time it opens in 2015 -- in time, he hopes to host Super Bowl L in 2016. The first Super Bowl was held in Los Angeles in 1967.

"It's simple, 13 million people went through the campus last year, we've proven we know how to handle 80,000 people because we do it quite often," Leiweke said. "We have 32,000 parking spaces and we have all the freeways. We sent a message today that it's about the community. We're going to get this done now."

A competing proposal by billionaire developer Ed Roski of Majestic Realty to build a 75,000-seat open-air football stadium in the City of Industry is shovel-ready after getting two approved environmental impact reports. While Leiweke has promised no taxpayer dollars would be used in the proposed downtown project, his opponents in Industry are arguing otherwise.

"AEG is expecting taxpayers to dole out well over a billion dollars for a proposal that will compromise the City's general fund, the L.A. Convention Center, the new stadium and the financial success of any potential NFL team," said John Semcken, vice president of Majestic Realty, who has been working with Roski over the past 15 years to attract an NFL team back to Los Angeles.

Leiweke called the comments "fear tactics" and seems to have the support of city politicians, many of whom spoke in support of Farmers Field at Tuesday's news conference.

While the news conference, which included a Farmers Field football field laid out on the patio of the West Hall of the convention center, complete with cheerleaders, artist renderings of the stadium and a Farmers blimp hovering around, doesn't guarantee that the NFL will return to Los Angeles for the first time since 1995, Leiweke said it is the most significant sign yet that it will.

"We are very confident that a team or two will move to L.A., that we're sure of," Leiweke said without naming the teams he is currently talking to. "I'm going to follow the lead of the NFL commissioner. I won't get out ahead of Roger Goodell on the process. What I can tell you is hopefully 12 months from now we can have a definitive date for breaking ground on the new West Hall of the convention center because that will trigger the timeline for everything, including the football stadium."

Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com.