Today’s issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune’s Business section contained an article that was clearly intended to reopen the long-simmering discussion and debate surrounding the notion that the San Diego Chargers need a new football stadium, and the good citizens of San Diego should be happy to pay the lion’s share of the tab.
One can argue the questionable timing of opening the debate now, but the team’s leadership likely feels that with wholesale changes in its football operations leaving at least the impression that things will be different—and the ownership change at the U-T coinciding nicely to boot—it was worth a try.
Why the U-T’s ownership matters in this shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone who has been following the stadium issue at all over the past several years. U-T Chairman & Publisher Douglas Manchester and his partner, Vice Chairman & CEO John T. Lynch have been vocal cheerleaders for and financial backers of efforts to gain acceptance of a taxpayer supported football stadium since it was first proposed, beginning with their ownership of sports radio station XX1090. Dean Spanos and company can be forgiven for expecting nothing less than unbridled tub-thumping from their friends at the metro paper.
The gist of the article serves, in my view, to underscore the unmitigated gall of the National Football League and its owners in their thinking.
Among other things, the article points out that although San Diego has hosted Super Bowls in the past, they have been assured by the league in no uncertain terms they will not host another unless they build a new stadium.
From a business perspective, I get that. If you need to seat a particular number of spectators and your present facility doesn’t accommodate that many, that can be a problem. But that’s not San Diego’s problem, it’s the NFL’s.
And given the NFL’s newfound willingness to play the league championship anywhere, rather than in domed stadiums or Sunbelt venues there are now thirty-one potential rivals for the right to host the big game. There is certainly no guarantee of San Diego’s hosting the game any time soon. Having the newest stadium around is probably not enough to get the event—just ask the Padres about their wait to host MLB’s All-Star Game.
The article, and numerous others that have been published nationwide over the years, purport that the stadium is an economic engine and the implication is that hosting a Super Bowl would naturally be an even bigger boon. Many economists would disagree. Even more graphically, the city of Los Angeles might.
Since 1995, when the late Al Davis packed his bags for the second time and moved the Raiders back to Oakland, the second largest city and media market in the country has had no NFL franchise. Why? Because city leaders had the temerity to stare down the NFL and tell them, ”You need us more than we need you.”
Has LA collapsed under the weight of having no professional football franchise in town? Hardly.
A modern football stadium is designed to hold approximately 70,000 fans. The estimated population of San Diego County, according to the 2010 census is 3,095,313 people. So, if everyone in San Diego wanted to attend just one football game (assuming they could afford the hundred bucks or so to get in), they could get their wish within forty-four years.
“Well, that’s ridiculous”, you say, “Not everyone is a fan.” You’re absolutely right. But under oft discussed plans asking for public financing assistance, we all get to pay for their building.
According to the U-T article, the NFL is now resurrecting a fund that would make $200 million available for the building of a new stadium. Dean Spanos has apparently committed another $100 million. The stadium is projected to cost $1 billion. That means there will be a gap of about $700 million.
“I think that’s the discussion and debate that has gone on, and there should be more of it,” Derrett said. “Where will that money come from? I mean, we’ve all seen what has gone on with the discussion and debate around the Convention Center project and I think many other cities in North America have found ways to work with the tourism authorities on some kind of a tax (on hotels or car rentals). We’re not there yet, I think we’ve got to see how things unfold these next six months.”
Here’s a novel idea: Instead of sticking taxpayers with the bill, do what any other business does when confronted with a need for capital improvements—go to a lender and get a loan. Of course, when you do that, the value of your team is offset by the liability, lowering your profit margin in a sale, but it’s not really about the money, is it?