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San Diego Union-Tribune

NORBERTO SANTANA JR.

NO NEXT TIME FOR SAN DIEGO? | New stadium only way to get game back, NFL warns

January 25, 2003

Abstract:
NFL owners decide what cities will play host to Super Bowls. But if San Diego doesn't replace its stadium, [Paul Tagliabue] said, "I think it's unlikely that there will be a Super Bowl in San Diego in the near future."

Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr., who has supported recent Chargers overtures to restart contract negotiations, said, "I think it's unfortunate that Mr. Tagliabue tries to use the Super Bowl weekend as an excuse to try to get the Spanoses a large subsidy from the city. ... The idea that the Chargers expect us to fork over half the cost to build a new stadium is ridiculous. I believe that the Spanoses and the NFL should come up with all of the money."



Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Jan 25, 2003

National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said yesterday that if the Chargers don't get a new stadium, tomorrow's Super Bowl probably will be the last one in San Diego.

"I'm surprised we're here this week," Tagliabue said.

If it had not been for strong lobbying by Chargers owner Alex Spanos in 1998, Super Bowl XXXVII would not have been held here, Tagliabue said. The 36-year-old Qualcomm Stadium, one of the league's oldest facilities, is inadequate, he said.

The next three Super Bowls will be in Houston, Jacksonville, Fla., and Detroit, all cities with new stadiums. The Chargers want to build a $400 million stadium at the Qualcomm site and split the cost with city taxpayers.

NFL owners decide what cities will play host to Super Bowls. But if San Diego doesn't replace its stadium, Tagliabue said, "I think it's unlikely that there will be a Super Bowl in San Diego in the near future."

Mayor Dick Murphy said in a statement, "It would be unfortunate if San Diego did not get another Super Bowl, but I respect the commissioner's position."

Councilman Ralph Inzunza Jr., who has supported recent Chargers overtures to restart contract negotiations, said, "I think it's unfortunate that Mr. Tagliabue tries to use the Super Bowl weekend as an excuse to try to get the Spanoses a large subsidy from the city. ... The idea that the Chargers expect us to fork over half the cost to build a new stadium is ridiculous. I believe that the Spanoses and the NFL should come up with all of the money."

Councilwoman Donna Frye, often a Chargers critic, said the city shouldn't "cast our pearls before swine."

Tagliabue's comments, made during a news conference at the San Diego Convention Center, are "an insult to the hospitality of the good citizens of San Diego, and I think he should apologize," Frye said.

"I take it as a threat and I'm extremely insulted," she said. "This city has rolled out the red carpet, people's lives have been disrupted, and this is the thanks they give us -- to insult us and to threaten us."

Chargers' proposal

This month, the Chargers presented a proposal to spend $400 million to build a stadium on the 166-acre, city-owned Qualcomm site, with San Diego taxpayers and the team splitting the cost.

The stadium and a park would occupy about 100 acres, and the city would sell or lease the remaining 66 acres to a developer, who would oversee the construction of condominiums, apartments, office buildings, retail shops and a hotel. The team proposal says the city would cover its costs by selling or leasing the land and from the development's new tax revenues.

After his news conference, Tagliabue said Qualcomm Stadium just doesn't compare "in the aggregate" to the new stadiums being built. The club seats, luxury suites and food concessions don't measure up, he said.

Tagliabue said the $78 million expansion of Qualcomm in 1997 "resulted in two Super Bowls," but he said many of the league's assumptions for the renovation were flawed.

"Not all of those premises and assumptions proved to be accurate," he said.

Councilman Michael Zucchet said, "I seem to remember five years ago the commitment that we were in the (Super Bowl) rotation since we did such a good job on our stadium expansion. Reminds me of the saying, `Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.' "

In February 1997, Tagliabue said the team's stadium renovation deal was "a good concept and a good contract because it involves preserving and improving rather than tearing down, and secondly it involves moving forward on an incremental basis."

The model had been used successfully in other NFL cities. "Get ahead of the curve, anticipate the issue, anticipate obsolescence, and improve incrementally," he said.
Stadium's faults

NFL Vice President Jim Steeg, who has organized Super Bowls for the past two decades, said Qualcomm lacks "back of house" features, like the large hall spaces in new stadiums for hosting parties and the large contingent of national and international media.

To get around that, this year's Super Bowl organizers erected tents and installed temporary utility sources in Qualcomm's parking lot, he said.

The stadium also doesn't have enough seats, Steeg said. Super Bowls require a minimum of 70,000 seats. Qualcomm Stadium can seat 71,500, but the NFL doesn't count the first six rows, about 2,500 seats, because they have obstructed views.

Steeg has said the stadium's locker rooms also are among "the worst" in the NFL. The lockers are too small, and the locker room's cramped space makes it difficult to keep all of the players together, he said.

Steeg acknowledges, however, that all stadiums, even the new ones, require adjustments to fit a Super Bowl.

Jacksonville has a stadium that seats 83,000, but the city doesn't have enough hotel rooms. Super Bowl organizers plan to use cruise ships as floating hotels.

Mitch Mitchell, a vice president at the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which supports a new stadium, said Tagliabue's position is understandable.

But, Mitchell said, "In order to have this discussion, you have to move the public to the point where they have an open mind. The threat of losing a Super Bowl doesn't necessarily move them to that position.

"If the public believes that it is a threat, it makes the movement to have the discussion with an open mind a little tougher."

Steeg said selecting Super Bowl sites involves horse-trading among the owners. They seek votes for their favorite spots and trade favors to make it happen.

When San Diego was picked to play host to this year's Super Bowl, after San Francisco's stadium deal fell through, Spanos told other owners that hosting the championship game would help get him a new stadium, Steeg said.

Tagliabue said if Southern California is to have another Super Bowl, he thinks the Rose Bowl in Pasadena would be given "high priority" but only if it were significantly renovated.

Future deal?

Because of San Diego's good weather and amenities, the city is popular enough among owners that it might be possible to attach a Super Bowl commitment to a new stadium, Steeg said. The deal could include, for example, three guaranteed Super Bowls during the next dozen years, he said.

Tagliabue said, "I would rather not speculate on that."

Geoff Patnoe, executive director of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association and a member of the City Council-appointed task force studying stadium issues, said, "A bulletproof agreement with the NFL I think would certainly add an interesting wrinkle to the debate."

But, Patnoe said, even guaranteed Super Bowls may not sway the public to support a new stadium. "There's a lot of threats that have been thrown around during this process."

Former Councilman Bruce Henderson, a Chargers critic and a task force member, said Tagliabue's comment on San Diego likely losing out on future Super Bowls is "a repetition of the threats we've heard again and again."

"These folks have demands that are never ending," Henderson said. "I would suggest to San Diegans that they react to it with contempt."

David Watson, a lawyer and the task force chairman, said Tagliabue's comments may backfire.

"San Diego has beautiful features and major attractions that bring in millions of visitors every year," Watson said. "Super Bowls are the icing on the cake. Having them is nice, but not having another one wouldn't be the end of the world."



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