Michael Eisner likes a good game. He was chief executive at The Walt Disney Co. when it owned the Los Angeles Angels and founded the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
But ask him about the NFL playing in a stadium in downtown Los Angeles and it's clear he sees the possibility in much broader terms than two opposing teams and 72,000 seats under the California sun.
A downtown stadium, he says, is about the city itself. Its identity. Its heart.
Eisner, an unofficial, unpaid adviser to Mayor Eric Garcetti, has been working behind the scenes to bring pro football back to the center of the nation's second largest city.
The Hollywood dealmaker is coaxing. He's nudging. He says he is on the phone with the NFL all the time to keep the talks going.
So, will Los Angeles finally close a deal after two decades without a football team? Garcetti says it's highly likely next year. Eisner, however, adds a caveat.
“It's not my decision,” he says. “At the end of the day, it's not the mayor's decision. The owners decide.”
A league ruling on football's future in Los Angeles could come early next year.
The city's aspirations are hitched to Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the NHL's Los Angeles Kings and the downtown Staples Center, home of the NBA's Lakers and Clippers.
Under its deal with City Hall, the company, led by billionaire Philip Anschutz, has until April to sign a football team. If that happens, construction of a downtown stadium could begin.
However, any stadium plan would require approval from two-thirds of the NFL's 32 owners, and a franchise move to Los Angeles would need the approval of three-fourths of those owners.
Several teams that can exit their lease deals are considered possible transplants — the Raiders, San Diego Chargers and St. Louis Rams. All three have historical ties to Los Angeles — the Raiders and Rams franchises were once based in the city, and the Chargers played their inaugural season in Los Angeles in 1960.
The city is facing potential competition from its own suburbs.
A company tied to Rams owner Stan Kroenke has purchased a 60-acre site in Inglewood, about 10 miles south of downtown Los Angeles, though no development plans have been announced. In addition, a proposed stadium project has been floated for years in the city of Industry, about 20 miles east of downtown.
Meanwhile, in San Diego, the Chargers hope to have a measure for a new stadium on the 2016 ballot, but the team could still declare its intention to relocate to Los Angeles. Raiders owner Mark Davis has said he wants a new stadium, preferably in Oakland. Still, he has met with officials in San Antonio and expressed interest in returning to Los Angeles — if a deal can't be reached in Oakland.
For years, Los Angeles has tried to restore the luster to its once vibrant downtown that withered decades ago after trolley lines were dismantled and freeways begat sprawl. It's come a long way, buoyed by the success of the LA Live entertainment complex that has grown up around the Staples Center and the opening of restaurants, condos and hotels.
Eisner believes an NFL stadium would maintain the momentum.
“It just felt to me that if we could pull this off, particularly in the downtown area, that the renaissance of Los Angeles … could be enhanced,” he said.