Steve Ballmer, owner of the National Basketball Association’s Los Angeles Clippers, is “in advanced negotiations” to purchase The Forum in Inglewood, California, from the Madison Square Garden Company, according to reports in ESPN and the Los Angeles Times. While the deal would advance the franchise’s efforts to build a new home arena in the area, it would also change the complicated — and at times contentious — ownership structure of Los Angeles-area arenas, which also involves major venues in New York and London.
MSG, which also owns New York’s Madison Square Garden, is pitted against rival AEG, which owns or is aligned with Los Angeles’ Staples Center, Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and London’s O2 Arena. The venues compete to bring touring acts to their venues and have even been involved in legal battles over what both sides claim are unfair practices — i.e., AEG struck back against an alleged MSG policy stating that artists booked at Madison Square Garden must play the Forum instead of Staples by instituting a rule that artists who want to perform at the O2 must perform at Staples; the 20,000-capacity O2 is the only venue of that general size in the city, although MSG is seeking approval to build the Sphere, a 21,500-capacity arena, in London.
However, according to the reports, basketball is at the center of the Forum deal. Reps for the Clippers, MSG and the Forum either declined or did not immediately respond to Variety’s requests for comment, but the Clippers provided a statement to ESPN that does confirm or deny the report but states: “The Clippers continue to pursue plans to build a state-of-the-art, 18,000-seat basketball arena and entertainment complex in Inglewood and are currently working with the city to successfully complete the comprehensive Environmental Impact Report. We are examining every possible way to resolve our differences with Madison Square Garden Co. regarding our new arena.”
MSG, which also owns the NBA’s New York Knicks, has been involved in a multimillion-dollar legal battle with the city of Inglewood, where the Forum is located, and Ballmer over the land where the Clippers owner wants to build a new arena, which is a mile from the venue. Among other claims, MSG says the city violated an agreement not to promote competition to the Forum by working with the Clippers to develop an arena nearby. Local community groups, one of which is funded by MSG, are also involved in the dispute.
Since 1999, the Clippers have been co-tenants of the Staples Center with the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers and the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings, as well as multiple concerts and major events like the Grammy Awards. The team’s deal with the venue extends until 2024, although ESPN reports that they have long regarded themselves as a “third tenant” at Staples Center, where they receive a smaller share of proceeds from suites and club seats than the Lakers and Kings and a lesser say in scheduling — a situation that Ballmer has long desired to rectify with his team’s own arena.
If he succeeds in purchasing the Forum, Ballmer’s plans for the venue, which underwent a $76.5 million renovation in 2013, are unclear.