When Ben learned “Gilmore Girls” was returning to the small screen, he closed the door to his office and wept. Then he called Faris...and they cried some more, like two girls on the last day of summer camp. All our friends are back: Lorelai, Rori, Luke, Kirk…Wait…You thought this was a Chargers column?
What the $*%# happened?
Ben Higgins: Glad you asked, Faris. I’ve been covering the potential relocation of the Chargers for many years, but as you can imagine, the last couple of months have been intense. I’ve talked to fans. I’ve talked to league officials. I’ve talked to, yes, SOURCES. I’ve taken trips to New York City and Houston to cover NFL owners meetings.
The answer to your question is surprisingly simple: The Chargers are trying to get the best deal they can in the best place they can get it.
Being the big dog in Carson with their own stadium was appealing, and they played that game to win. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, but the Chargers lost. It wasn’t as crushing as yet another early playoff exit by the Bengals, though. In fact, the Chargers are still in a pretty good position.
They’ve been given one more year and an extra $100 million to try to figure out a stadium solution in San Diego. The extra time also comes with the looming threat of a cushy landing in Inglewood with the Rams if they don’t get a deal they like.
The good news for fans is that I truly believe the Chargers would rather not spend the rest of their days as the Kato Kaelin living in the guest house of Stan Kroenke’s L.A. mansion, so they’ll be motivated to make a few compromises in San Diego and try to avoid a move.
I’ve been told the Chargers are already laying the groundwork for a citizen’s initiative to get a stadium plan on the ballot in November.
Faris Tanyos: That was cold, Ben, but not as cold as the text you sent me after Vontaze Burfict did his best Deacon Jones impression on Antonio Brown: “For your sake, I hope you died 30 minutes ago.”
I did die a little, thanks.
Ben, let’s give you some props. Right before the inner circle of Spectre met to decide the fate of the Chargers, you crystal-balled exactly how this would shake out. That makes you the real-life embodiment of the Kyle Chandler-vehicle Early Edition, which had one of the greatest high-concept taglines ever: “His name is Gary Hobson. He gets tomorrow's newspaper today.” Ben, did you know Early Edition lasted 96 episodes?
You’re right on all counts. What’s surprising is why Dean Spanos was so shell-shocked by Kroenke’s conquest. You were there. Remember the stunned look on his face at the Houston news conference?
Spanos inherited his father’s team. He’s what we term old money. He didn’t earn his ownership stake, he tripped into it. He’s like a guy from Chino Hills who won the Powerball.
Kroenke is a real estate mogul who built an empire from the ground up. He owns Arsenal, the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche. He’s married to a Wal-Mart billionaire heiress. He could buy California and put us all to work picking avocados.
The Kroenkes of the world don’t get to where they are without being shrewd, ruthless negotiators. Was Kroenke really going to lose to an old money small-timer like Spanos?
Kroenke’s Inglewood plan is a slam dunk. He’s paying for all $2.66 billion of it out of his own pocket. His behemoth will be the crown jewel of the NFL kingdom for decades to come. The Carson plan was like the wreckage from a nuclear fallout.
Imagine going one-on-one with Michael Jordan in his prime. That’s what Spanos tried to do with Kroenke. Not all owners are created equal. Spanos should be grateful Kroenke was even willing to throw him some table scraps.
Did L.A.’s overall negative reaction to a Chargers move influence Spanos’ decision to hold off?
Faris: Of course. Spanos is like a Carly Fiorina Rose Bowl tweet: easily influenced, no spine, no loyalty.
Does Spanos want to stay in San Diego? No. But he saw what Eric Garcetti said. He read all the op-eds. He spent two weeks hearing over and over again how lukewarm a Los Angeles reception would be. He hesitated, faltered, broke.
Spanos has wanted to break up with San Diego for years, but he’s never had the guts to cut the cord. If he’d been more aggressive about moving to L.A. five years ago, he’d be ruling that town now. But he waited and waited. Finally, Kroenke came in and pulled the rug from underneath him.
And even after all that, Spanos STILL got his chance. But again, he didn’t have the guts to end this dysfunctional relationship.
He’s gonna drag out this debacle for one more year, torturing fans, playing possum, giving lip service and holding the city hostage. Well done, sir.
Ben: Can I go back to Early Edition? I definitely watched at least the first season. Lasting 96 episodes is like coming one number away from the Powerball jackpot. One hundred episodes means the big bucks of syndication. Four more lousy episodes and the producers would have ski chalets in the Alps.
That brings me to the headline that would have run Saturday morning in the L.A. Times had the Chargers announced their move to Inglewood on Friday:
CLIPPERS HAND LAKERS 9TH STRAIGHT LOSS
Chargers to join Rams in Inglewood – see story on Page D6
The Rams already moved in. The Chargers wouldn’t have been a blip on the L.A. radar. And you’re right…that is a big reason Dean Spanos is still in San Diego. Sure, there’s more money to be had in Los Angeles, and billionaires like money. Come to think of it, I like money, too. I think Dean wants something more elusive than money, though. He wants success. He wants the other NFL owners to see his success.
And he’s not going to be viewed as a success playing second fiddle to Stan in Inglewood. So, right now, Dean’s best chance at success is pulling off what many in the NFL would view as a miracle—getting a new stadium built in San Diego.
If that amazing day ever arrives…I’ll be reading about it on my front porch, one day before the rest of you suckers.
Ideally, how should this play out for taxpayers?
Ben: Some taxpayers still think there’s a way the Chargers will stay in San Diego without a single dollar of public money going into a new stadium. Forget about it. The Chargers can’t afford to stay in San Diego without a least a little help. When it comes to net worth, Dean Spanos is much closer to you or me than he is to Kroenke. If they don’t get a deal they can live with, they’ll have no choice but to take Stan’s plan in Inglewood.
That doesn’t mean San Diego has to cave in to every demand by the team, though.
Let’s get creative. Is there really a way to combine a convention center with a stadium to kill two birds with one stone? Let’s keep Comic-Con and save some money in the process by sharing the similar infrastructure needed for both venues. I’d be a big fan of any plan that sets up San Diego as a premiere sports, business, vacation and convention destination for the next 30 years. That’s exactly the kind of project that deserves some of our precious public dollars.
If that doesn’t work, go back to Mission Valley and give the fans a great game day experience. Build a modern stadium with enough bells and whistles to make the Chargers happy, but leave out the marble walkways and JerryWorld-style art displays. Spend a little extra money on the parking lot and let’s make the greatest tailgating lot in the world even better. Squeeze every last dollar possible out of the NFL and the Chargers. They’ve already committed at least $500 million to a viable stadium plan in San Diego. That’s real money that will stay in the San Diego economy, fueling hundreds of good jobs for several years. If there’s no stadium deal, not a single dime of that money ever gets spent in San Diego.
There’s a solution out there to be had. Everyone just has to keep an open mind, roll up their sleeves and get to work.
Faris: There’s no debate here: a new Chargers home MUST go downtown.
NFL stadiums are financial black holes. The idea that they create jobs and bolster the economy is a myth. The city of San Diego still owes $52 million on Qualcomm right now. If you live in San Diego, $52 million of your hard earned dollars are going to a decrepit structure that was constructed a half-century ago.
There’s no question that from a fiscal perspective, Comic-Con is 100 times more important to San Diego than the Bolts. Its estimated annual impact on the region is in the ballpark of $170 million. That is staggering. Ignoring the cultural significance, from a purely economic standpoint, San Diego cannot afford to lose, arguably, the biggest weekend extravaganza on Planet Earth.
So, any stadium plan has to include a convention center expansion. That’s non-negotiable.
What does a stadium bring to the pecuniary table? Not much outside of the 20 or so home games for the Chargers and Aztecs, plus the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls. There’ll be a handful of Taylor Swift and Rolling Stone concerts, assuming those don’t go to Petco Park. Maybe a Super Bowl every six years.
The city will have to overhaul its public transportation system to accommodate the 80,000-plus that will be descending on the Gaslamp Quarter on game days. A new stadium, convention center expansion and infrastructure upgrade will run somewhere around $2.5 billion. If the Chargers and the NFL are only committing $500 million, well, that leaves $2 billion for taxpayers to shoulder.
Let your children, and their children, and their children’s children, all know they’ll be footing that bill 70 years from now.
Does this end well for San Diego?
Faris: It depends what you mean by “well.”
If you want the Chargers to pick up and leave, then yes, this ends spectacularly.
This franchise has been an abject failure on the field. In 55 seasons it’s made a single Super Bowl. Last year, from my perch in the press box on a Monday night, half of Qualcomm was waving Terrible Towels. Half.
San Diego roads rival those of third-world nations in their sheer direness. The city has among the highest cost of living rates in the U.S., with skyrocketing rents and unreal home prices. The tax rate is absurd. It is struggling to handle one of the biggest homeless populations in the nation. It can’t afford to pay its police officers a livable wage, sparking a major law enforcement crisis. Its government is bloated and worthless.
There’s a plethora of causes that require San Diego’s immediate attention. Handing $1 billion to the Chargers isn’t one of them.
It may be hard to hear, but San Diego is better off without a football team.
The Chargers will leave after the 2016 season because they’re not getting a 50 percent majority vote on a stadium plan. That will absolve a gutless Spanos of his guilt.
Maybe in the future, San Diego can work on attracting the NBA or MLS, much more qualified tenants for America’s Finest City.
Ben: You’re not the only pessimist in this town, Faris. Even people inside the Chargers know it’s going to be tough to drive down the field and score a political touchdown.
Still, I don’t share your dire view of San Diego’s future. By this point, our citizenry is better educated on stadium issues than any other metropolitan community in the country. We’ve been living it for more than a decade. The Chargers know they can’t pull the wool over our eyes with a ticket guarantee, or cost overruns, or a City Council end around. They need to come up with a fair plan that will pass muster with voters. Will everyone get what they want? Of course not.
At this point, the best Dean Spanos can hope for is a deal that keeps his team from sinking to the bottom of the NFL revenue charts and lets him hold his head up high on the streets of La Jolla. Your life will still have problems. That pothole on your street may never get fixed and the Bengals will lose at home in the playoffs.
Kicking the Chargers 120 miles north won’t solve the problems of our government. It will just leave us with an even bigger pothole.
For once, let’s put aside our cynicism about the Chargers and the NFL and think about the kind of town we want to live in for the second quarter of the 21st century. Are we going to shrivel up until we eventually get swallowed by Carmen Policy’s MegaMarket?
I say no. We’re not a suburb of L.A. or Southern Orange County. We are SAN DIEGO. We love our beaches, we love our craft beer and we love our Chargers.
We are Dan Fouts and LaDainian Tomlinson and Lance Alworth and Don Coryell.
We are California burritos and lightning bolts.
The time has come,
You know we’re shooting for number one.
We’ll give it all we’ve got, and more
With the Super Charger try!
Sing it, Faris. You know there’s a disco monster inside you yearning to be free.
People are still angry. I get it. So am I. 2015 was a nightmare. But when push comes to shove, and voters are looking at a fair plan that has the support of both the team and the mayor, they’ll know what to do.