Chargers want out in San Diego

qualcommThe San Diego Chargers — for 54 years a community institution in what’s grown into California’s second-largest city — appear intent on leaving for Los Angeles or another city with a new stadium and greater long-term revenue potential. Attorney Mark Fabiani, the team’s point man on stadium issues, issued statements on Monday and again on Tuesday that made plain the Chargers’ owners no longer believed city officials were capable of achieving or sincere about trying to secure the NFL team a new stadium.

This L.A. Times excerpt addresses the initial developments:

Frustrated by the prospect of another do-nothing stadium task force, the Chargers on Monday warned San Diego to either step up or step aside in the pursuit of a new NFL venue, and again raised the specter of a relocation to Los Angeles. …

Fabiani wrote any stadium proposals should pass a series of “real world tests,” such as it needs to have a strong chance of being approved by the required two-thirds of votes, needs to have the support of the mayor and a majority of the city council, and should “recognize the economic realities of our local marketplace and of the NFL.”

Among those realities, Fabiani wrote, the Chargers cannot be expected to generate the robust preferred-seat-license revenues the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys did when building their stadiums.

Members of the task force offered mild reactions to the Chargers’ bluntness. But Fabiani’s response was to raise new questions about the competence and integrity of the city task force.

“Latest salvo in a string of concerns”

This is from the U-T San Diego account posted Tuesday afternoon:

Mayor Kevin Faulconer fired off a letter Tuesday to Chargers President Dean Spanos saying the “divisive tone” from the team is undermining efforts to find a new stadium for the NFL franchise.

It is the latest development in what has become an increasingly acrimonious relationship between the team and the Mayor’s Office over the most recent pursuit of a suitable San Diego home for the Chargers — the team’s goal for more than a decade.

Faulconer’s remarks were aimed at Spanos special counsel Mark Fabiani who, a day after issuing what many viewed as demands of the task force, wrote a letter to the mayor on Tuesday questioning whether the advisory group is truly independent of political influence.

Fabiani’s publicly released comments were the latest salvo in a string of concerns he has raised since Faulconer announced in his January state of the city speech that he would be forming an advisory board to come up with a stadium solution by this fall.

Public subsidies are unlikely

For 14 years, the team — owned by billionaire entrepreneur Alex Spanos and run by son Dean Spanos since his father was afflicted with dementia — has been seeking a new stadium. Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley was built in the mid-1960s and is considered one of the NFL’s dowdiest stadiums even after some costly overhauls; only Lambeau Stadium in Green Bay is older. Team officials, at least, believe it can’t be remodeled to include the luxury suites that have become a gold mine for many NFL teams.

A new stadium integrated into a larger mixed retail-housing zone on the Qualcomm site was the early focus, but the 2004 election of Chargers’ foe Mike Aguirre as San Diego city attorney followed by the collapse of the housing market killed that plan. In more recent years, interest centered on a new $800 million to $1 billion stadium in the city’s downtown, near the taxpayer-subsidized Petco Park baseball stadium — either a standalone football stadium or one integrated with the bigger Convention Center the city needs to build downtown to continue to attract Comic-Con and other lucrative gatherings.

But the team has always made plain that it expects public subsidies, something that elected leaders promised would only happen if voters supported them in a referendum. Few observers think the Chargers could win half the vote, much less the legally required two-thirds of the vote, in such an election in a city scarred by years of fiscal problems and reduced services.

In recent months, while being somewhat optimistic on the record, team officials have made particularly clear in not-for-attribution interviews that they needed some sign of progress.

Conventional wisdom vs. the view of insiders

But Faulconer’s turn to another task force infuriated the Chargers — at least if the conventional wisdom is to be believed.

That conventional wisdom has been mocked for years — off the record — by many prominent San Diegans. Their view was that as soon as it seemed likely an NFL-blessed and possibly subsidized stadium could be built in Los Angeles, the Chargers would be on their way — either as the lead team or the secondary team sharing the facility. The huge financial success of the New York Giants and New York Jets sharing a stadium in north New Jersey is a key factor in the league’s eagerness for an L.A. dual-team facility.

If this more cynical view is accepted, then Fabiani’s actions of the past two days look to be calculated to make him be the villain of both contemporary and historical accounts of why the Chargers left San Diego — not the Spanos family that has paid the former Clinton White House spin doctor lavishly for more than a dozen years.

But there’s another twist that makes the Spanoses’ eagnerness to move to L.A. even more plausible. The Los Angeles Rams and Raiders may not have enjoyed consistently good attendance before fleeing in 1994 for St. Louis and Oakland, respectively, but the value of having a professional sports franchise in the nation’s second-largest metropolitan area looks more immense then ever after the recent sales of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Clippers.

The Dodgers fetched $2.15 billion and the Clippers — which don’t even own the arena in which they play — cost $2 billion. No MLB or NBA team has ever been sold for even half that much money.

Given that the NFL is much more popular than the NBA or baseball, the incentives for Fabiani to offer himself up as a distracting villain for a team completely committed to leaving San Diego are plain. The Chargers could be worth $1 billion more in Los Angeles than the city 110 miles south on I-5.

Chris Reed

Chris Reed

Chris Reed is a regular contributor to Cal Watchdog. Reed is an editorial writer for U-T San Diego. Before joining the U-T in July 2005, he was the opinion-page columns editor and wrote the featured weekly Unspin column for The Orange County Register. Reed was on the national board of the Association of Opinion Page Editors from 2003-2005. From 2000 to 2005, Reed made more than 100 appearances as a featured news analyst on Los Angeles-area National Public Radio affiliate KPCC-FM. From 1990 to 1998, Reed was an editor, metro columnist and film critic at the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin in Ontario. Reed has a political science degree from the University of Hawaii (Hilo campus), where he edited the student newspaper, the Vulcan News, his senior year. He is on Twitter: @chrisreed99.

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