HOW DID ALL THIS COME ABOUT?
I’ve been watching and paying attention from afar for quite a long period of time, because I’m a big NFL fan and a resident of Los Angeles and I care deeply about a team locating to Los Angeles. On top of that, while those beliefs were ongoing, I was approached by different people in the league – not league office necessarily but ownership – about the possibility of my getting involved. Part of this was because my tenure at the Walt Disney Company ends in 2018. At one point it was going to be 2016, and people were starting to plan my career post-Disney for me. And so they wondered, knowing that my interest in sports… I worked for ABC sports and Monday Night Football starting in the 1970s, so I go back a long way with sports and with the NFL in particular.
Anyway, they were curious as to whether I’d be interested in helping a team move to L.A. And I did engage in some conversations with one of the principals that’s considering moving, but they didn’t really go that far. Then I was approached – I guess I can do this, Mark? I can talk about the genesis in a little more detail? – I was approached by Jerry Richardson, and he asked whether I’d be interested in helping very specifically the partnership of the Raiders and the Chargers move to L.A., develop a stadium, reposition themselves here. I engaged in conversations with Jerry, and then with both entities. That’s how it came about. I had already had some other conversations.
DID YOU HAVE A PREVIOUS RELATIONSHIP WITH JERRY RICHARDSON?
Never met him. I might have met him when I attended an ownership meeting, but I never had a dialog with him that I would remember.
WHERE AND WHEN DID YOU FIRST MEET WITH JERRY RICHARDSON?
DID YOU HAVE CONVERSATIONS WITH STAN KROENKE AT SOME POINT?
No. I know Stan. I’ve talked with him casually about his desire to move to L.A., but it had nothing to do with my interest.
DO YOU SEE ANY SCENARIO IN WHICH THE RAIDERS OR CHARGERS SPLIT AND ONE GOES TO INGLEWOOD?
I don’t want to speak specifically for Dean Spanos or Mark Davis here, but from what I have been told, they have a solid partnership. They’re both committed to the partnership and to one another. It is their goal to move together. They assessed the proposal that was made and determined that it was not in their interest. That’s as much as I know about it. They are committed to one another and are moving together to Carson.
DID YOU BOUNCE IDEA OF YOUR JOINING CARSON WITH ANYONE IN LEAGUE WHEN JERRY RICHARDSON APPROACHED YOU?
No. When Jerry approached me, he asked for some degree of confidentiality. I didn’t discuss it until much later with the league.
HOW MUCH DOES POTENTIAL OWNERSHIP PLAY INTO THIS FOR YOU?
First of all, I’m the chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company, so my primary and my major commitment is to this company at this point. But I thought that I had the capacity both in terms of my time and my energy and my interest to try to help these two teams move to L.A., in part because I’m a big L.A. fan, I’ve raised two sons here, they’re 13 and 17 and they’re huge sports fans, and I’ve not been able to take them to NFL games. We go to a lot of NBA games and we go to baseball games. We’re not big hockey fans. We go to college games. But I’ve never been able to take them to NFL games except maybe when we’re in New York, my father-in-law is a season-ticket holder to the Giants.
Also, because of Disney’s presence here, both in Los Angeles County and Orange County, I think it would be great for the community to have an NFL team. It’s high time that we have that. I really was interested in the civic side of this. But I’ve also thought about my life post-Disney and how I would spend my time and my energy. The opportunity to be involved with either an NFL team, or in this case two NFL teams and a stadium project, and using my experience that I’ve obviously gained from Disney over these years to successfully move two teams here, I thought that would be a great next step for me.
I wouldn’t say it’s about ownership, per se. I’m thinking about the community near term, having a real impact on moving these teams, and then longer term I’m thinking about how I’m going to spend my time. I don’t intend to run a company again.
WHAT’S YOUR LEVEL OF INTERACTION WITH THE THE LEAGUE, THE COMMISSIONER AND OTHER OWNERS AS YOU ACTRIVELY PURSUE THIS?
I’ve been engaged with some owners and with Roger. Obviously with Mark and with Dean in the last few weeks, to see if I can have some influence over the outcome. Most of it is talking not really about me as much as the virtues of the project, of Carson, of two teams moving, of the specific stadium they have in mind. So I’ve been selling hard.
HOW DO YOU LEND YOUR VISION WHILE STILL WORKING AT DISNEY?
I want to be a little careful so I don’t sound too conceited. But when you run the Walt Disney Company, you gain a fair amount of experience in customer-facing businesses, particularly in site-based entertainment. I have a lot of experience in marketing, a lot of experience in selling, particularly tickets to site-based entertainment or movies or whatever. I have tremendous brand experience. What I do a lot for Disney is manage the great brands of this company, whether it’s Disney, ESPN, ABC, Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars. And I’m very engaged in technology and its impact on the consumer, either what experience you deliver for them or how market and sell to them. With all that in mind, I bring to the table a tremendous amount of knowledge and direct experience that can easily be applied to this venture. And there’s ample room, even after a stadium project has been conceived, to really start planning and thinking about designing customer experience, how the stadium will be programmed, what the fan will experience from the moment they walk onto the property.
Obviously at Disney it’s everything from crowd management and parking to other forms of entertainment that’s delivered while people are experiencing the primary entertainment. The brand experience is obviously really applicable here. So my sense of what my role will be is to bring all of that to the table, and to create a direction and a mandate of sorts in a lot of these different areas, but hire a president/CEO to actually execute. So I’m more than an advisor. But I’m as they say a non-executive chair. I don’t have an office, and I don’t have a salary – maybe a dollar a year – but I can direct people in terms of brand positioning, programming the stadium. One thing we’ve talked about, when you think about Disney, our biggest attractions we call E-tickets, and what I’ve talked about here just in terms of the stadium is football needs to be the E-ticket. It needs to be about football, not about how the stadium is going to be programmed when football is not being played. Not about anything else but the football experience and what comes with that. So that’s one for instance. Let’s make football the real focal point. I know that sounds like common sense. But when you develop a stadium of this sort, there’s a lot of attention paid to other uses and how it will be programmed when football is not being played. That’s all great and maybe important, but we need to create a great football experience. I won’t be executing that, but there will be people who will be doing that using my direction.
One thing I’ve talked about for instance, when you talk about Disney our biggest attractions we call E-tickets to give you an example and what I’ve talked about here just in terms of the stadium and the experience itself, football needs to be the E-ticket. This needs to be about football. Not about how the stadium is going to be programmed when football is not being played. Not about anything else other than the football experience and what comes with that obviously. So that’s just sort of one for instance. Let’s make football the real focal point and that sounds like I know that sounds like common sense or an obvious one but when you develop a stadium of this sort there’s a lot of attention paid to other uses and how it will be programmed when football isn’t being played, that’s all great and maybe important but we need to create a great football experience. So that’s just one example. I won’t execute that but there will be people that will be doing that with really using my direction.
HOW CAN YOUR HISTORY AS A DEALMAKER AT DISNEY TRANSFER TO CARSON PROJECT?
You’re asking whether I have good salesman skills? I don’t know. I think managing people is maybe a big part of what I do and I think I can play an important part when you have two partners in giving them both advice and making sure the partnership is operating smoothly and efficiently without tension or rancor. So I really think I bring some value there. But I think they also look to me as someone who has all this experience and in some cases maybe even views more than they do and I think I bring value to the table so they’re more than willing to allow me to engage in this project at a level I think an owner would typically do on their own. I think what’s happened here in terms of my experiences or the initiatives I’ve been responsible for I’m not sure that this is relevant.
CAN YOU GAUGE INTEREST LEVEL OF OTHER OWNERS?
Well I think there’s a tremendous amount of support for Carson. You all need 24 votes are needed and I think everyone has concluded that no entity necessarily has that so there’s still some undecideds. What I’m trying to do is articulate not just the vision for the project itself but the values of Carson and the specific value of two teams moving at once as well as they value of project itself and the location. And because I’ve lived in Los Angeles this time around for 15 years. I lived here for almost five years before. So just about 20 years of my adult life and we’re one of the largest employers here, I can speak to other owners who don’t know LA well with great credibility. Not just really with my Disney hat on but as someone who runs a business here and knows the market extremely well, So I love the idea of two teams. I think if the NFL is going to replant their flag on LA soil two is better than one. It gives fans who maybe have not been as engaged with the NFL and having a home team interest a choice. And it also gives LA fans a football game virtually every week during the season. Which I think is a big deal. If you’re going to reignite interest in the sport here or create even more interest I really believe in that. So I talk about that.
I love the Carson location for a variety of reasons. The central location. We shouldn’t as denizens of Los Angeles County ignore Orange County. As a company that has a big business in Orange County for instance Orange County is a big important market and a football market too particular for the Chargers so I think Carson is really well located between to really attract people both from LA County and Orange County and even possibly north San Diego County particularly on a Sunday when traffic is less of an issue.
The access it will provide both ingress and egress from the freeways is fantastic. Pretty much easy on, easy off. I’ve talked a lot of about the customer experience and user interface. We live in a world where customers do not want to tolerate any friction in the product that they’re buying or accessing whether you buy it on line or you go to an event. They don’t want long lines. They don’t want to wait to get into or leave parking structures. They don’t want, they can tolerate some traffic but they want it to be as easy as possible. The Carson project which is something I immediately studied and came to the appreciate which is one of the reasons I’m involved is I truly believe in what they’re doing and I think that it’s a really good strong plan.
ANY CONCERNS ABOUT THE PAST HISTORY OF THE CARSON SITE?
My understanding that the clean up work that has been done is excellent and maybe more is coming I’m not one hundred percent sure but no any entity that would be looking to develop something of this scale and this expense on a site would do a tremendous amount of due diligence before committing to something like this and this partnership has done that. So I believe what they found is sound, meaning it’s a fine place to build.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT MARKETING A REGION THAT HAS BEEN WATCHING FROM THEIR COUCH THE LAST 20 YEARS?
Well I think you have to create a great football experience and that experience starts when you step foot on the property. So to give you an idea, and I’m a big believer in Southern California weather too, is the experience you can create outdoors, either outdoors with an outdoor stadium or outdoors with a parking lot can be great. So let’s bring football to the parking lot. So for instance put big screens on the outside of a stadium almost as large movie screens. Imagine pumping in the Red Zone into people who are tailgaiting for instance. They like being outside. You’re not dealing with heavy duty winter weather. So their football experience can start right away. It’s not just a tailgate experience. It’s a football experience. The concept even has football field outside where fans can actually throw footballs on the field or tailgate on the field and kind of feel like they’re already part of the game.
We’ve talked about possibly moving the NFL Network or putting a studio to the property. I think there’s real value to that as well.
So I start with the notion that this is about fans and football, fans of football I should say. I also think as we run our businesses here it needs to be a perfect experience, meaning the staff that’s working has to be very fan friendly and well trained as to respect the property they’re helping us manage for instance. That it’s all about the fan first. It’s not about any sirly behavior at all. It’s about top notch consumer service. That’s really important. That extends to everything from vending sales to food and merchandise to moving people to seats and greeting people to parking attendants etc. So I’m thinking a lot about quality of service that some stadiums offer but not all. It’s really important.
I also think technology can be used in really modern ways. The great thing about building a stadium today is you build a stadium in this century using digital technology and the most advanced technology to provide a fan experience you would not have been able to have done earlier or if you tried to bolt it onto an older stadium it would tougher and more expensive and that’s everything from how tickets are bought. We’re building a theme park in Shanghai right now. The first theme park, we opened Hong Kong in 2005, this is the first one we’re really designing and building this century so what you can do with technology just in terms of tickets, having a paperless experience, making it easy to buy them, making it easier to use a mobile device basically for your access, for instance to buy your food, to order things at your seat etc. So there’s a whole use of technology that will be evident here to simply to make the fan experience better and then of course is enabling people to engage in more with what’s going on on the field, using that technology to deliver scores and highlights and other information to each fan.
So I’m thinking a lot about this in terms of the fan experience, the customer experience is that we provide and doing it in a way that gets people off their couch and has them wanting to go to the stadium.
There’s another side which is the whole social experience of being with others as opposed to being alone when you’re experiencing this. I think there’s still a human instinct to do things as group. People still like going to big movie theaters partially to see, they can watch these movies at home on pretty nice television sets these days. But the big experience is better than the smaller experience and doing with a group particularly when there’s competition, there’s a rooting interest or you’re rooting against interest, that can be part of it too, I think there’s value but it still has to be frictionless.
It has to be really easy
THE RAIDERS HAD IMAGE PROBLEMS DURING THERE LAST STAY IN L.A., HOW COMFORTABLE ARE YOU THEY WILL ADDRESS THAT ISSUE?
I’ve talked to Mark Davis about it a lot and to Marc Badain in his organization and I’m pleased that they recognize that there’s still some repositioning that needs to be done and that’s really important.
One of the things I really like about the two teams moving at once and the Carson project it gives us the ability to reposition the Oakland brand in a more user friendly way perhaps or more accessible way. I’ve heard pitch the idea of changing the name, changing the logo, I don’t think that’s necessary. I think there’s a lot of brand equity in that name, that logo but I think there’s a need to reposition somewhat and that’s where I think I bring something to the table. I’ve managed brands, particularly in the ten years I’ve been in this job and in some cases some that took some repositioning. I think that can be done.
HOW DO YOU GO ABOUT DOING THAT?
I think to make them more inclusive. I don’t think you need to alienate what some may consider the core Raiders fan – and there’s some stereotyping out there too by the way. Not every Raiders fan drives a motorcycle and has tattoos.
STILL, THEIR IMAGE SCARES SOME PEOPLE
I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure it doesn’t scare people away, in how you portray yourself, how you present yourself to the public is one way to do that. And I think with a large new stadium where you have the ability to attract a real diverse fan base, diverse geographically, diverse ethnically and diverse from an age perspective. I think you have a shot at doing that. I’ve looked a little bit at what the fan perception was of the Raiders and how it was when they played here last and what it is up in Oakland. I think there’s some work to be done and some challenges associated with it to but I have a strong sense it can be done and I’m up to the challenge.
HOW CONFIDENT ARE YOU THE RAIDERS AND CHARGERS WILL BE HERE IN 2016?
I think it’s important the decision be made quickly time me is of the essence. The teams will not be able to re-position themselves in temporary space for next season unless this decision is made soon. And Ive expressed that to league owners and the to the league. Not that they didn’t know it, but I wanted to re-iterate it. I think it’s very important, because if it’s decided these teams are to move, playing here sooner rather than later is vital. And there is not much leeway. If the decision isn’t made soon, neither team will be able to relocate (for ’16) There is a lot that goes into that just by marketing tickets to the fan base and everything that goes into re-positioning a team. Moving a staff, getting people to relocate there’s lives, actually, here. So it has to be done soon.
ARE YOU CONFIDENT IT WILL HAPPEN?
I am gaining more and more confidence that the league, and the collective league, believes it is time to move a team or teams to L.A. I feel that they now hear the footsteps, to use a football analogy, and that the league believes it’s good for them to do it now. They’ve debated it and considered it for s long time and now it time. By the way, I’m adamant about that. It’s time. Partially because all three teams have spent an incredible amount of time and money in considering this repositioning, so the fairest thing to do is make a decision for the benefit of those teams. Also, home fans have faced a lot of uncertainty too, and in a way it’s fair to them to make a decision. That’s important. So I’m confident the league is going to reach a decision to move an NFL team or team,s to L.A. Whether they get that done on timely enough basis, I don’t know yet. There is some momentum, driven by some owners, which is great. And I believe after meeting with the commissioner last week and talking to him again (yesterday) I think he agrees. My confidence has been raised because of that.
DO YOU THINK IT IS TOO MUCH OF A CHALLENGE MOVE TWO TEAMS IN AT ONCE?
I think there are challenges to moving two teams at once. But I actually think it’s better, some for reasons I cited earlier. First of all, if they decide to move two teams and the team that came second would have a much harder time re-positioning than the first team. So if you’re going to do it, do it all at once. Even though that creates its own set of challenges. Also, I’m a big believer in theatricality, so if you’re going to bring the NFL back to a market this big, this important, then do it big. And two is much bigger than one and I really think it would create such a level of excitement and interest in the NFL in Los Angeles that it would do a world of good not just to the league but the teams.
COULD THAT FLOOD THE MARKET?
The great thing about the NFL is you have 32 teams, 16 games a season, sop every game has real meaning. Which is one of the things that’s great about the NFL. It’s not just a commodity. And I think there’s plenty of room, in a market this size, particularly when you realize this market is not just Los Angeles. There’s a broader population base to draw from that’s interested in football. This market can sustain two teams.
WHAT IS YOUR GUT FEELING ABOUT THE RAIDERS AND CHARGERS IN L.A. IN 2016?
There’s a lot of support for the Raiders and Chargers to move together. A lot of support. And I feel really, really..I’m confident their proposal is a solid one in how they position themselves, the stadium, etc..etc. I’m not overly confident, yet. I think it’s premature to be that way. But I’m feeling better about their prospects every day and I’m really heartened by the fact the league seems to be addressing this in on a timely basis./