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San Diego Union-Tribune

NICK CANEPA

It's more shadow boxing as trigger stays in holster

January 29, 2003

Abstract:
As [Dean Spanos] notes, the team was in the middle of the NFL pack in revenue-making in the mid-1990s. It's 27th now, and will be 29th by the end of 2004. But you can make an argument -- a good one -- that the way the NFL is now in an era of free agency that doesn't always work, making more money than the other guy doesn't secure Super Bowls.

Problem is, no other NFL team really has found itself in this situation. The present political, civilian and economic climate here does not lend itself to building stadiums for the rich. The key is whether the weather in L.A is conducive for private big shots to fund a Chargers venue.

It is. But, no matter what, the Chargers won't be given a free ride up the freeway. There is going to be litigation, win or lose. A bit of it was avoided yesterday. Civic activist/attorney Mike Aguirre no doubt will sue anyway. Only the beginning. The Chargers aren't leaving here tomorrow.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Jan 29, 2003

As a rule, those who run our city for a living are San Diego groundhogs. If they emerge from their chambers and see their shadows, they're afraid of them.

But yesterday, after a bit of a hair pull -- and a whopping 5-4 mandate -- our City Council did the right thing. The members managed to vote in favor of what they've been in favor of.

Without breaking out into legalese, which I speak about as well as Hindustani, what the councilpeople basically did was allow the Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues -- a panel they themselves appointed -- to conclude its work.

If the vote against indemnification had gone in the other direction, the Chargers today would have triggered the clause in their lease with the city, which, after 60 days of discussion, would allow the NFL franchise to search for a new location.

"Yes," Mark Fabiani, who is handling the Chargers' dealings on the stadium issue, said of the trigger. "We would have had no choice."

Now, the two sides have until April 29 to at least discuss the new stadium issue before the trigger can be pulled. Dialogue. There virtually has been none of it.

Time to fight up close, not from afar.

"You can't make progress without the two sides sitting down and talking and sharing thoughts," Chargers president Dean Spanos says. "Both sides have to be willing to make a deal."

For the Chargers to get out of their lease and make the trigger legally binding, they must prove that, because Qualcomm Stadium isn't a viable money-making venue, they no longer can compete financially with other teams in The League.

Councilpeople insist that, if this is the case, why doesn't the franchise prove it is fiscally insecure compared with other teams that have new stadiums or reside in larger markets? There is a disclosure issue here.

Councilman Michael Zucchet, who was for making the Chargers pay for outside legal fees if this widening of the trigger window came to pass, says: "They have stonewalled the task force. They have told us we'll make more money with a new stadium. I'd make more money if my salary were higher."

Fabiani disagrees.

"We have disclosed everything any NFL team in this kind of situation has disclosed," he says. "We have not held anything back."

Says Spanos: "We've given them every bit of information. Our lease is very clear in what we have to provide."

That lease is real clear, like the Dead Sea Scrolls.

As Spanos notes, the team was in the middle of the NFL pack in revenue-making in the mid-1990s. It's 27th now, and will be 29th by the end of 2004. But you can make an argument -- a good one -- that the way the NFL is now in an era of free agency that doesn't always work, making more money than the other guy doesn't secure Super Bowls.

"We've offered to disclose all trigger information," Fabiani says. "Player contracts, all the information the city has to know, but they have not chosen to look at it. They want to see a marketing study. We have agreed to that, but they have not looked at it."

Sooner or later, somebody has to look at something, no?

What the city really wants to know is if the team is making money. If an NFL team -- which gets more than $70 million from its TV deal before it has paid a salary or sold a cap or T-shirt -- loses money, then it is run by the worst businessperson since business became a word.

NFL teams may not be Microsoft, but they make money. They just don't want you to know it.

"It's a good complaint," Fabiani says, "but we have not given them that information, and we're not going to. No other NFL team in this position has disclosed that information, and we're not in position to change the rules. Every other city has managed to work through that information."

Problem is, no other NFL team really has found itself in this situation. The present political, civilian and economic climate here does not lend itself to building stadiums for the rich. The key is whether the weather in L.A is conducive for private big shots to fund a Chargers venue.

Would the Spanoses, who own close to 100 percent of the team, have to give up some of their ownership to entice a developer?

"I wouldn't know how to answer that," Spanos says.

His father, owner Alex, has been loath to part with a percentage point. But he would have to give up something. Nothing else makes sense.

The fiscal advantages of L.A., the nation's fifth-largest TV market, cannot be denied. The only question remaining is if the Chargers want to make the trip up I-5.

"I don't want to move," says Dean, who has spent close to $2 million of his own money to come up with a new plan for the Qualcomm site. "If I did, I wouldn't be sitting here talking to you now. Some people think we're leaving. But we've spent a lot of money, and this is a significant proposal."

It is. But, no matter what, the Chargers won't be given a free ride up the freeway. There is going to be litigation, win or lose. A bit of it was avoided yesterday. Civic activist/attorney Mike Aguirre no doubt will sue anyway. Only the beginning. The Chargers aren't leaving here tomorrow.

In the end, the lawyers and judges are going to decide before the voters get a chance. In this town, that's pretty much the way it has to be.

For it to work, the Chargers must come clean. And our politicians must fight off their own shadows.

Nick Canepa: (619) 293-1397; nick.canepa@uniontrib.com

 



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