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San Diego Union-Tribune

CAITLIN ROTHER

Chargers offered to explore dropping ticket guarantee

November 22, 2002

Abstract:
Describing the Chargers' dilemma to The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board yesterday, [Mark Fabiani] said the team tried this spring to avoid alienating fans and angering the public by offering to renegotiate terms of the lease. After the board meeting, he said he specifically made the offer to renegotiate the trigger and ticket guarantee to [Dick Murphy]'s chief of staff, John Kern, over the summer.

The ticket guarantee provision promises the Chargers revenue equivalent to 60,000 general admission seats for each home game during the first 10 years of the 1995 Qualcomm Stadium lease. The lease is supposed to keep the Chargers at Qualcomm until 2020.

He said the Chargers plan to present the proposal to the task force -- complete with suggested contributions by taxpayers, the Chargers and the National Football League -- in early to mid- January.

Full Text:
Copyright SAN DIEGO UNION TRIBUNE PUBLISHING COMPANY Nov 22, 2002

Editions vary

The Chargers offered this summer to consider dropping a controversial ticket guarantee in exchange for concessions from the city, but Mayor Dick Murphy refused to discuss it until a citizens task force finished its work.

A Chargers consultant and Murphy's chief of staff confirmed yesterday that the offer had been made.

Because Murphy declined to discuss the lease, consultant Mark Fabiani said the Chargers may be forced to trigger a two-month renegotiation period that opens Dec. 1. The team is worried that if they don't invoke the trigger, their proposal for a new stadium could be unduly delayed.

The Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues is not scheduled to make recommendations to the City Council until mid-February, and Fabiani said the team is concerned private attorneys will sue if negotiations proceed outside the terms of the lease. The next trigger window doesn't open until December 2003.

Describing the Chargers' dilemma to The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board yesterday, Fabiani said the team tried this spring to avoid alienating fans and angering the public by offering to renegotiate terms of the lease. After the board meeting, he said he specifically made the offer to renegotiate the trigger and ticket guarantee to Murphy's chief of staff, John Kern, over the summer.

Kern declined to be interviewed. Through a spokeswoman, he issued a statement confirming that Fabiani extended the offer "to consider putting the ticket guarantee on the table."

But that offer, he said, was contingent on the city making a number of concessions, including "reduced rent, and the elimination of the city's legal protections against the Chargers' relocation."

"Not only did the mayor feel that it was a bad deal for the city, but he was also not going to negotiate behind the back of the task force," Kern said.

Councilman Byron Wear agreed. "We would love to get rid of the ticket guarantee. There's no doubt about that. But that depends on what the Chargers want in return and we shouldn't forgo our rights under the agreement to keep them here just because of waiving the ticket guarantee."

The ticket guarantee provision promises the Chargers revenue equivalent to 60,000 general admission seats for each home game during the first 10 years of the 1995 Qualcomm Stadium lease. The lease is supposed to keep the Chargers at Qualcomm until 2020.

By the end of last season, the city had spent $25.3 million to pay for unsold tickets and had collected $28.85 million in rent since 1997. Critics note those figures do not include the annual $5.4 million payments on the $60 million bond issue for the 1997 stadium expansion.

Murphy also declined to be interviewed. Through a spokeswoman, he said: "My position is that the city should not negotiate with the Chargers until the task force has made its recommendation to the City Council."

The task force has been asked to determine what, if anything, the city should do to keep the team from leaving town. Murphy gave the task force a Feb. 15, 2003, deadline, which the panel says may need to be extended.

Task force Chairman David Watson said he would have no problem if Murphy sat down with Chargers officials before the panel finished its work.

Former Mayor Susan Golding, he said, negotiated with the Padres while a ballpark task force was still meeting on possible sites, design and financing, and kept the panel updated on her progress. Watson also served on that task force.

"Even though talks were going on concurrently, there was a free flow of information," he said. "So it was more of a team effort."

He said the scope of work Murphy gave the task force was so broad that it covered what took both Padres ballpark task forces a total of 14 months to accomplish. The Chargers task force was given only 6 1/2 months to complete its work, Watson said.

Timing is important to the Chargers, Fabiani said, because the team needs ample opportunity to lobby the public on a proposal they hope the city will put on the ballot in November 2004.

As it stands now, he said, they expect the measure to ask voters to support a redevelopment proposal for 166 acres surrounding Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, including a new stadium, a park, a river beautification project, and commercial and residential development.

He said the Chargers plan to present the proposal to the task force -- complete with suggested contributions by taxpayers, the Chargers and the National Football League -- in early to mid- January.

Fabiani acknowledged that public sentiment toward the Chargers is not positive because of the ticket guarantee.

If the Chargers want to improve their public image, Wear suggested that the team forgo the benefits of the ticket guarantee and allow the city to proceed at its own pace with the process the task force started.

Fabiani told the Union-Tribune, however, that the team would not be willing to do that unless it was part of negotiations on a new deal.

Councilman Brian Maienschein said he sees the trigger talk as an unwelcome threat from the Chargers.

"All their talk about trying to do back-door negotiations is not the way to go," Maienschein said. "The task force is doing its work publicly with a very wide spectrum of people and philosophies on it and that's the recognized avenue of doing the negotiations. For them to act like that's not the case, after they've been participating in these presentations for so long at least appears disingenuous."
Caitlin Rother: (619) 542-4567; caitlin.rother@uniontrib.com



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