- Arash Markazi, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- As AEG president and CEO Tim Leiweke stood on a makeshift football field outside the West Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center, the future home of Farmers Field, he said he envisioned standing on an actual football field inside a new state-of-the-art 64,000-seat football stadium by 2015. His goal is to host the 50th Super Bowl in early 2016 in the same city that hosted the first Super Bowl in 1967 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
For this to happen, the stadium would require a waiver from the NFL owners voting on the Super Bowl location since all stadiums considered for hosting a Super Bowl must be in operation for at least one calendar year before the game. The league will likely vote on the location for the 50th Super Bowl in late May 2012 and it is uncertain whether construction of the proposed downtown stadium would be underway by then.
"The reason we have the one-year operations [rule] is to make sure enough events have been staged to really know how the thing operates," said Eric Grubman, executive vice president of the NFL. "Obviously the first time a Super Bowl goes into a stadium, it's the first time. There's no pre-Super Bowl. There's no magic to 365 days and an entire season, but it's a proxy for making sure you have your shakedown trial. If we can't get that then it would require a waiver and the owners would have to take into account how many events have been staged in the arena, how it operated and how can you make sure the kinks are worked out."
If the league is confident the stadium will be built by early 2015, it would likely grant the waiver.
Cowboys Stadium was awarded the Super Bowl two years before the stadium opened, although it has hosted everything from Dallas Cowboys and college football games to the NBA All-Star Game and a couple of Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view boxing matches in the past two years.
The variety of events the retractable-roofed Cowboys Stadium has hosted since it opened in 2009 is being used as somewhat of a model for Farmers Field, which AEG envisions as a way for Los Angeles to attract two of the NFL's signature events back to their birthplace -- the Super Bowl and the Pro Bowl.
The first Super Bowl was held in Los Angeles in 1967, when Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers beat Hank Stram's Kansas City Chiefs at the Coliseum. By the time the Raiders and Rams moved out of Los Angeles in 1994, no region had hosted more Super Bowls (seven) than the greater Los Angeles area. Without an NFL team, no Super Bowl has been held in the area since January 1993.
The first Pro Bowl was held in Los Angeles in 1950 as the Coliseum served as the game's home from 1950 to 1972. The Pro Bowl was last held at the Coliseum in 1979 before it moved to Hawaii's Aloha Stadium. The league's contract with the outdated facility, built in 1975, ends after the 2012 game. After hosting the 2010 Pro Bowl in Miami a week before the Super Bowl, the league seems open to the possibility of hosting the game on the mainland again.
Leiweke would also like to host the NFL draft at the Nokia Theatre, across the street from the future site of Farmers Field at L.A. Live. While the NFL points to convenience in hosting the event near their New York offices since 1965, it may be just as convenient from a TV perspective to host it in L.A. with ESPN's West Coast headquarters on the campus of L.A. Live and the NFL Network a 10-minute drive away in Culver City, Calif.
"The Pro Bowl is locked in [Hawaii until] 2012 and the draft is locked in at Radio City Music Hall for 2011," said Brian McCarthy, vice president of corporate communications for the NFL. "We know there's interest from Los Angeles for both the draft and Pro Bowl, but we haven't made any plans beyond those contracted years. We would be open to discussing potentially moving these events to different locations."
If Los Angeles is included in the rotation to host the NFL's three marquee events (Leiweke is hoping for three Super Bowls every 10 years) it would signal a monumental return to a city the league has ignored since 1995.
Since the Raiders and Rams played their last NFL games in Los Angeles on Christmas Eve 1994, not a single NFL game, preseason or regular season, has been played in the city. During that time, the league has played 19 preseason games in places such as Tokyo, Toronto, Dublin, Mexico City, Vancouver, Sydney, Osaka, Japan, and Monterrey, Mexico. The NFL also has played eight regular-season games in Mexico City, London and Toronto.
"As we've taken our games to other places, it's really been to increase fan awareness and increase fan engagement," Grubman said. "We have high fan engagement in the Los Angeles market so we haven't felt that we had to take games there to stimulate that. Our objective for Los Angeles is to return a franchise there."
With a retractable roof on Farmers Field, Leiweke also envisions the venue hosting potentially two to three NCAA Final Fours every 10 years, which would mark the return of college basketball's biggest event to the state of California for the first time in more than 40 years. The last time the Final Four was held in California was in 1975 at the San Diego Sports Arena, when John Wooden coached his last game as UCLA beat Kentucky 92-85 for the national championship. The last time it was held in Los Angeles was 1972, when Wooden's Bruins beat Florida State 81-76 for the national title at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. Back then there were only 25 teams in the tournament, only one team per conference was eligible to play and a third-place game was played in each regional.
Farmers Field also would look into hosting the newly formed Pac-12 football championship game and possibly a new Los Angeles college bowl game. The Pac-12 title game is currently scheduled to be played at the stadium of the school with the best conference record but that could change to a neutral site (as is the case with other major conferences) when Farmers Field opens, given the conference's familiarity with the campus after hosting the men's and women's Pac-10 basketball tournaments at Staples Center.
While Pasadena has been the home of the Rose Bowl since 1902, the city of Los Angeles hasn't held a college bowl game since 1971 and has never held a college bowl game in consecutive years. The city held only three bowl games -- the Los Angeles Christmas Festival Bowl (1924), Charity Bowl (1937) and Mercy Bowl (1961 and 1971) -- and each one was discontinued after it was played at the Coliseum.
Other possible events that have been talked about being held at Farmers Field include the NHL Winter Classic, NBA and NHL All-Star games, X Games, WrestleMania, prize fights, concerts and national political conventions. The stadium would also be used in future bids to host the Olympics and the World Cup.
"This place makes Los Angeles the most unique city in the world," Leiweke said. "There's not another city that can replicate this and they've tried. This will create the greatest point of destination for events. Some that we have and others that we're going to get, including Super Bowls and Final Fours and only L.A. can pull this off because we have a 100-acre campus that was built for this."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
If Farmers Field is built in Los Angeles, officials hope to attract events such as the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, as well as things beyond football.