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San Diego Union-Tribune

DON BAUDER

Chargers, NFL shock city back to its senses

March 7, 2003

Abstract:
Trouble is, the Chargers' proposal for that new stadium, of which the city was to pay half the cost, was an even bigger insult. A consulting firm hired by the city pointed out that the Chargers had grossly overestimated revenue from ancillary buildings that were going to mushroom out of the asphalt at the 166-acre Qualcomm site, throwing off tax revenue. The report didn't significantly address traffic or parking issues, among many things.

Now that the Chargers have pulled the infamous trigger, "Everything changes," says former City Councilman Bruce Henderson, a member of the task force. "Now, under the contract, the Chargers have the burden of coming up with a good-faith proposal to offset the trigger."

Chances are, L.A. won't have them. The Chargers will remain in San Diego. And do you know what? They will continue making money hand over fist at Qualcomm, which was proved to be a superb venue by the recent Super Bowl.



Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Mar 7, 2003


Thank you, National Football League and San Diego Chargers, for insulting this city back to its senses -- indeed, helping to lead it back to the days when San Diego had its civic priorities in order.

We spent $78 million rehabilitating the stadium now known as Qualcomm for the Chargers, and the city has lost more than $30 million on the insane 60,000-seat guarantee. And there were other million-dollar expenses, such as for the stadium trolley stop.

The Chargers had barely played in the new facility before owner Alex Spanos was complaining that he needed a new stadium. The city erupted in righteous indignation, and the matter died down.

Then the team moved its practice facilities to a wretched Los Angeles County location -- owned by a billionaire who was trying to build a football stadium in L.A. -- and it was clear the Chargers were trying to play San Diego off against L.A. That stratagem is part of professional sports' shakedown racket.

Next, the team made the preposterous claim that it was not economically competitive at Qualcomm and needed a new stadium. The city set up a task force to look into the matter, but the team refused to provide the financial information that would prove its basic premise: that it was economically uncompetitive at Qualcomm.

It would only say it is in the fourth quartile among NFL teams. That's like being in the least luxurious area within the Rancho Santa Fe covenant. All NFL teams make enormous profits; other industries should be half as lucky.

Then Paul Tagliabue, head of the NFL, came to San Diego before the Super Bowl and declared he was surprised that the game was being played here. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in an editorial Jan. 31, "This was taken as a not-so-subtle attempt to extort San Diego into agreeing to a new $400 million football stadium."

Trouble is, the Chargers' proposal for that new stadium, of which the city was to pay half the cost, was an even bigger insult. A consulting firm hired by the city pointed out that the Chargers had grossly overestimated revenue from ancillary buildings that were going to mushroom out of the asphalt at the 166-acre Qualcomm site, throwing off tax revenue. The report didn't significantly address traffic or parking issues, among many things.

It was a joke, and the Chargers know it. And so does the NFL.

Now, the "thieves" and the "thugs" of the NFL have euchred themselves into the position in which San Diego can be an example among American cities: We can let the world know that schools, infrastructure, water and libraries are higher priorities than building palaces for multimillionaire sports team owners.

(If you don't believe my "thieves" and "thugs" references, I highly recommend two books: Dan E. Moldea's "Interference: How Organized Crime Influences Professional Football," which traces the league's historical roots and current connections to mobsters and the gambling profession. Another is Bernie Parrish's "They Call It a Game," which does the same.)

Now that the Chargers have pulled the infamous trigger, "Everything changes," says former City Councilman Bruce Henderson, a member of the task force. "Now, under the contract, the Chargers have the burden of coming up with a good-faith proposal to offset the trigger."

And the proposal for digging gold out of the Qualcomm's asphalt site won't cut it. Since the initial 90-day negotiation period has already started, the Chargers have only a few weeks to come forth with a serious proposal. The clock is ticking.

As Henderson says, Mayor Dick Murphy should say "that under no circumstances will the city sit down and negotiate with the Chargers" until the team proves it is not competitive at Qualcomm and can in fact legally pull the trigger. The team and the NFL have already said the books won't be open.

The city should immediately go to court and challenge the trigger. If the team will not provide the numbers, the city should say the team can leave if it will pay off most of the $68 million of debt on the stadium and $150 million of rent that the team was committed to paying through 2020. The city should ask for financial damages as well.

If the team should move to L.A. -- no sure thing, because the Chargers are known as a Three Stooges management act -- San Diegans can still watch them on television.

Chances are, L.A. won't have them. The Chargers will remain in San Diego. And do you know what? They will continue making money hand over fist at Qualcomm, which was proved to be a superb venue by the recent Super Bowl.

There is no downside for the Chargers. There is only downside for San Diego, if it permits a nickel of public funds to go toward a stadium or its infrastructure, or the city gives away land at a low- ball price.

Don Bauder: (619) 293-1523; don.bauder@uniontrib.com

 



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