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San Diego Union-Tribune

NICK CANEPA

Chargers pull trigger; is it end or beginning?

March 5, 2003

Abstract:
The Chargers all but hired a skywriting plane to print they were going to trigger after the task force's recommendation, but Mayor Dick Murphy -- actually not speaking through a spokesman -- yesterday acted as though he'd been hit by a truck, basically saying the Chargers have created a public relations disaster. A revelation.

Maybe the city folk don't care much for the Chargers. The Chargers haven't given them much reason to care. The team has created a stupid and uncalled-for public relations nightmare and the general feeling downtown is that the Spanoses can't be trusted, although the owners haven't once said they're going anywhere.

I believe the stadium has had it, but the Chargers should come clean. However, if they do, the NFL may have to show profit-and- loss numbers from every team to prove just how financially feeble the Chargers really are. That's when the lawyers are going to be salivating.


Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Mar 5, 2003

So the Chargers have pulled the trigger. Now we will see if the bullet that comes out of the gun is deadly or merely a shot across City Hall's bow.

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani insists that triggering the renegotiation clause in the football team's volatile stadium lease with the city at this time is nothing more than a way to force the two sides to finally sit down and talk about a new place for the team to play.

It also means the Chargers should be prepared to show that, with Qualcomm Stadium as their home, they no longer can remain financially competitive with other teams in the NFL. This will be most interesting to lawyers, who read something different in every paragraph of the current lease agreement.

It also means the Chargers are free to negotiate with other cities (Los Angeles/Los Angeles area) that are would-be suitors.

"We have no intentions to talk with any other city during the negotiating process," Fabiani says, "and we will 100 percent consider the option of paying for our own stadium. We believe the safest way, the most legally protected way to do this, is within the current lease, which calls for good-faith negotiations."

Personally, I thought the Citizens Task Force on Chargers Issues tossed the organization a bouquet of roses last week, when it concluded the best thing for the city to do was to lease the stadium land to the club and allow the Chargers to develop it and eventually pay for a new place themselves.

Granted, the bouquet was not without thorns, but if a new stadium is going to fly, this is maybe the only way for it to work.

So why trigger now? The perception by some is going to be that this automatically makes the franchise a lame duck. As Fabiani sees it, he can't control opinion and awareness. But the team wants to know where it stands, and it doesn't want to know 10 years from now.

"I haven't spent one minute with Dean (Chargers president Dean Spanos) when he has indicated that he wants to move," Fabiani insists. "But he can't wait forever."

The Chargers all but hired a skywriting plane to print they were going to trigger after the task force's recommendation, but Mayor Dick Murphy -- actually not speaking through a spokesman -- yesterday acted as though he'd been hit by a truck, basically saying the Chargers have created a public relations disaster. A revelation.

I'm sure he was hoping this wouldn't be a factor until his re- election campaign. Now he has to actually address this publicly.

And it's all about perception. If enough ticket buyers believe the team is a lame duck and stay away -- as they did with the Oilers in Houston -- then we're going to have a bigger mess than we already have.

"If everybody goes crazy over this (trigger), it becomes a big deal and it's going to cost the city a lot of money through the ticket guarantee and everybody loses," Fabiani says. "We want to get a new lease. We want to get rid of the ticket guarantee. But we have to talk."

Public servants at City Hall can argue that this isn't their problem, but if you run for office and win, it also means you inherit what's gone on. The city made a bad deal with the Chargers, but ignoring the issue, passing it on to someone else at every opportunity, isn't going to cut it.

Maybe the city folk don't care much for the Chargers. The Chargers haven't given them much reason to care. The team has created a stupid and uncalled-for public relations nightmare and the general feeling downtown is that the Spanoses can't be trusted, although the owners haven't once said they're going anywhere.

But this shouldn't come down to the Spanoses. It should come down to an NFL team, not the people who own it. And if they can get this thing done without the taxpayers taking a hit, then the trigger should not get in the way. The trigger is a mechanism to at least try to get something done.

Maybe now, something other than the I-just-want-to-be-re-elected rhetoric out of City Hall will take place.

Not helping matters is that the Chargers have failed to supply the city with all of the financial numbers it requested. If the team is hurting, let's see it.

"We have offered the city to look at our trigger books," says Fabiani.

Translation: The team has offered to show the city only what it wants to show it.

"We did not supply them with profit-and-loss numbers," Fabiani admits.

And why is that?

"Because no other team has done it, and we're not in a position to do what no other NFL team has done," Fabiani says.

Translation: We make money and it's our business how much.

How many other teams have had risk-free sweetheart leases including ticket guarantees, not to mention clauses that allow them to escape a few years following a multimillion-dollar stadium renovation?

I believe the stadium has had it, but the Chargers should come clean. However, if they do, the NFL may have to show profit-and- loss numbers from every team to prove just how financially feeble the Chargers really are. That's when the lawyers are going to be salivating.

"If negotiations are good, this is going to go on for quite some time," Fabiani says. "These are complicated issues. That's why we've said we will talk to no other city during negotiations. And we are willing to extend the negotiating period.

"What this does is force both sides to address the issue in good faith. Both sides have to sit down. As long as we're talking, the trigger is a meaningless thing."

Far from meaningless. It means an NFL team can leave. It means it's time for grown-ups to behave like grown-ups, for serious people to get serious and stop acting like steerage passengers on the Ship of Fools.

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



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