• Matt Dacey

Home Sweet Home: The LA Clippers' Legal Fight to Plant New Roots


[1]

On September 17th, the Los Angeles Clippers announced a stadium naming rights partnership with financial software company Intuit for the team’s new arena, which is set to open in Inglewood, California before the 2024-2025 NBA season.[2] The partnership agreement is reported to be in excess of $500 million over a 23-year period and will see Intuit garner incredible amounts of branding across the Intuit Dome’s 44,000 square feet of LED signage.[3] The entire $1.8 billion stadium project includes a 18,500-seat venue, an 80,000 square foot outdoor stadium plaza, and a full-size outdoor basketball court for fans to enjoy.[4] The Clippers, who have shared the Staples Center with the Los Angeles Lakers since 1999, will be the Intuit Dome’s sole tenant once construction is complete.[5] However, the battle to secure a new home was not the easiest fight for Clippers ownership.


As new stadiums become more extravagant, and increasingly more lucrative, the potential benefits a new venue may bring could be outweighed by the effects of its construction and environmental emissions. When the Clippers first sought to build their new arena, the team partnered with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to ensure the project’s compliance with state environmental legislation.[6] Additionally, to fight any environmental legal concerns, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill, named AB 987, that allowed the Clippers to enjoy an expedited judicial process should the team face any legal problems over environmental concerns.[7] As expected, Madison Square Garden Co. (MSG), then owners of the L.A. Forum, an older city arena approximately one mile from the proposed Clipper’s venue site, filed a lawsuit challenging the legality of AB 987’s approval.


The lawsuit alleged that the bill’s approval and expedited judicial review process violated California law such that “the construction project [would] inflict severe traffic congestion, pollution, and many other harms on Inglewood and its local residents.”[8] MSG’s complaint specifically stated that “with respect to this project, AB 987 undermines the robust environmental protections that California law would ordinarily provide to the residents of Inglewood and neighboring communities.”[9] MSG’s main argument posited that the Clipper’s environmental plan was both inadequate and “illusory”.[10] To combat MSG, the Clippers planned to install 330 electric vehicle chargers throughout the arena’s parking lots, pay for 1,000 additional chargers to be installed in the surrounding community, purchase two electric public transportation buses, add 10 new electric vehicles to Inglewood’s city fleet, and plant 1,000 trees in the area. Ultimately, this initiative was deemed “adequate” by the CARB and given approval.[11] After 18 months of discovery and over a combined dozen submitted motions from both MSG and the Clippers, the parties reached an out-of-court settlement. Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer ultimately bought the L.A. Forum for $400 million in cash to quell all previous and future legal challenges to the land by MSG.[12]


Comparably, even though the new Intuit Dome’s plan to supply environmental benefits to the Inglewood area was accepted, the venue’s efforts pale in comparison to its neighbor arena and other recent projects. SoFi Stadium, also located in Inglewood and the NFL’s largest stadium, sports a six-acre lake landscape agricultural feature that provides 26 million gallons of recycled water per year which is distributed to 17 cities and other areas across Los Angeles County.[13]Even further, the Seattle Kraken’s Climate Pledge Arena boasts arguably the world’s best stadium venue sustainability plan. Climate Pledge Arena consumes zero fossil fuels in its everyday operations, has eliminated the use of all single-use plastics, recycles rainwater to use as ice for its NHL games, and hopes to achieve a 97% diversion rate of all waste and recycled products accumulated inside and outside the stadium.[14] As new stadiums continue to be constructed and the attractiveness for cities to host world-class entertainment venues increases, legal challenges will follow any organization that does not prepare to battle important environmental concerns. As the CARB has shown, some stadium environmental plans may pass even if they are not as extensive as others. However, new projects may not be so lucky if their plans don’t meet the standards of their state’s legislation.




References

[1] Jabari Young, Steve Ballmer’s LA Clippers strike $500 million-plus arena naming-rights deal with TurboTax owner Intuit, CNBC, (September 17, 2021), https://www.cnbc.com/2021/09/17/la-clippers-intuit-strike-500-million-plus-arena-naming-rights-deal.html

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Terry Lefton and John Lombardo, L.A. Clippers sign arena naming rights deal with software company, bizjournals.com, (September 17, 2021), https://www.bizjournals.com/losangeles/news/2021/09/17/intuit-signs-naming-rights-deal-for-clippers-arena.html

[5] Id.

[6] Zach Spedden, Governor Grants Proposed LA Clippers Arena Fast-Track Approval, Arena Digest, (December 17, 2019), https://arenadigest.com/2019/12/17/governor-grants-proposed-la-clippers-arena-fast-track-approval/

[7] Zach Spedden, Governor Signs Bill Related to Proposed LA Clippers Arena, Arena Digest, (October 2, 2018), https://arenadigest.com/2018/10/02/governor-signs-bill-related-proposed-la-clippers-arena/

[8] Zach Spedden, MSG Files New Lawsuit Over Clippers Arena Project, Arena Digest, (January 13, 2020), https://arenadigest.com/2020/01/13/msg-files-new-lawsuit-over-clippers-arena-project/

[9] Id.

[10] Ian Spiegelman, The Clippers’ Inglewood Arena Clears a Major Environmental Hurtle, Los Angeles Magazine, (December 7, 2019), https://www.lamag.com/citythinkblog/clippers-arena-environmental-impact/

[11] Id.

[12] Kevin Reichard, Ballmer buys Forum, ends MSG legal dispute, Arena Digest, (March 26, 2020), https://arenadigest.com/2020/03/26/ballmer-buys-forum-ends-msg-legal-dispute/

[13] SoFi Stadium water sustainability initiative, Coliseum, (November 13, 2020), https://www.coliseum-online.com/sofi-stadium-water-sustainability-initiative/

[14] https://climatepledgearena.com/sustainability/