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San Diego Union-Tribune


New stadium won't make Bolts better

September 11, 2002

The San Diego Chargers say they need a new stadium so the team can be "economically competitive."

The team argues that if it can get more local revenue – particularly from premium seats, skyboxes and advertising – it could afford better players.

Thus, it is saying that in being more economically competitive, it will be more athletically competitive.

Oh? Don't count on that.

I checked figures on National Football League team revenue, as provided by Forbes magazine in its Sept. 2 issue, against 2001 team records. The five teams with last year's highest revenue had a collectively dismal record in 2001.

The teams whose stadiums had been built or refurbished beginning in 1997, when the Chargers got their renovated digs, did worse than those with older stadiums.

Remember, the Chargers at that time declared that Qualcomm Stadium was "state of the art" in terms of premium seating, skyboxes, in-stadium advertising and the like. And the Chargers had what other teams did not: that 60,000-seat guarantee.

Mark Fabiani, the Chargers adviser, says that at tomorrow's meeting of the Chargers task force, NFL representatives will show that the Chargers are in the "bottom quarter" in economic health among NFL teams "and falling rapidly."

That doesn't square with the Forbes data, which show that last year, the Chargers were tied for 19th in revenue among 31 teams at $131 million. There were seven teams bunched between $129 million and $132 million.

Four had excellent regular season records: Oakland (10-6), Green Bay (12-4), New York Jets (10-6) and San Francisco (12-4). Three had poor records: Chargers (5-11), Buffalo (3-13) and Cincinnati (6-10).

The five teams with the highest 2001 revenue (Washington, Dallas, Denver, Cleveland and Carolina) had a sorry combined regular season record of 39-51, and none had a winning record.

The teams with the most modern stadiums – those that had been built or refurbished beginning with Qualcomm's 1997 makeover – had a combined record of 76-84 last year.

By contrast, the teams whose stadiums were either built or remodeled before 1997 had a better collective record: 180-172.

Look at the 2001 records of some of the teams that played in older stadiums – built or refurbished earlier than the Chargers': Jets (10-6), Raiders (10-6), Rams (14-2), Dolphins (11-5), 49ers (12-4), Packers (12-4), Bears (13-3), Eagles (11-5) and Patriots (11-5).

Using 2001 records, if there is any correlation between athletic achievement and the newness of a stadium or level of revenue, it would appear to be inverse.

Fabiani says the correlation between economic competitiveness and athletic competitiveness is "over a long period of time. There can be variations from time to time, but over a long period, the team will be more competitive."

But he has seen no five-year or longer studies by the NFL showing this. I doubt there are any credible long-term studies.

Forbes recognizes the five teams with the highest estimated current value, ranging from the Redskins' $845 million to the Ravens' $607 million. Two of the five, the Browns and the Panthers, certainly have little to brag about on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys, valued at $784 million, would appear to be a model of economic competitiveness. The team's stadium opened in 1971, the same year that the San Francisco 49ers – a consistently athletically competitive team – occupied their stadium. That was 14 years after the stadium of the legendary Green Bay Packers was built.

If the NFL was honest, it would admit that both athletic and economic competitiveness rely most of all on management: intelligent drafting, good coaching and good marketing.

Unfortunately, in giving the Chargers the 60,000-seat guarantee – in which the team makes more money not selling regular seats than selling them, and can raise prices even after bad seasons – the city took away any motivation for the team to do marketing.

Its marketing efforts have hardly been eye-popping for the premium and skybox seats, too – predictably, given the mix of capital-intensive high-tech and biotech companies here and so-so median household incomes.

Dallas and Cleveland compete in football-mad cities. Southern California has proved it is not particularly hospitable to pro football.

And most important, it is not San Diego taxpayers' duty to make the Chargers or any team economically or athletically competitive.

Union-Tribune library researcher Dwight Donatto assisted with this column.

Don Bauder: (619) 293-1523;

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