SportsWriter's Block


Qualcomm Conundrum: Cracks in the Sidewalk

Posted at 9:25 AM, Sep 02, 2014
and last updated 2016-11-03 11:22:06-04

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

-- Ferris Bueller

The Los Angeles Chargers. You probably can't fathom that.

Neither could Baltimore when it lost its Colts in 1983, or Cleveland when it lost the Browns in 1995.

Qualcomm Stadium is 47-years-old, the fourth oldest in the NFL. The tunnel looks like the hull of the Titanic right after it hit the iceberg and just before Rose went looking for an ax.

The Chargers don't bring in enough revenue from their luxury suites and they struggle mightily to sell tickets.

Last week, their public relations team sent out a self-congratulatory news release informing no one in particular that they had sold out the home-opener versus the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, like it was an accomplishment.

The bar for success has been lowered. No surprise there. The city waits with bated breath for its crack-squad of elected representatives to just work things out.

Blink. The team will be gone.

Stadium proposals have been floating around for a decade. The latest half-baked idea involves constructing a hybrid stadium/convention center near Petco Park that would also keep Comic-Con from fleeing the pen: Two birds, one stone.

It's half-baked because it doesn't address how the already traffic-challenged San Diego Bay would handle an influx of 70,000 people every Sunday.

Let’s back up. In 2004, the city, which owns Qualcomm Stadium, negotiated a new deal with the Chargers that runs through 2020.

Prior to that, the Chargers had fleeced San Diego with something called a ticket guarantee. To summarize: The Bolts were guaranteed to sell-out every game, or the equivalent of 60,000 tickets sold. If they didn't reach that mark, the city would have to make up the difference by paying the Chargers for every unsold ticket.

Between 1997 and 2004, taxpayers paid the Bolts $36.4 million under this scam. During that period, the Chargers paid the city only $43 million in rent, leaving a net profit of only $6.6 million for the city. Wait, it wasn’t a profit because the city was spending millions on keeping Qualcomm from crumbling.

The current lease agreement isn't much better. It's bleeding the city dry.

This year, the Bolts will pay the city a measly $3 million in rent. That's less than what Chargers punter Mike Scifres will make this season. The rent will jump to $4 million beginning in 2016. As a comparison, the 49ers are paying $24.5 million a year for the new Levi's Stadium.

The Chargers can opt out of the contract at the end of every season if they choose to run along to greener pastures.

To add insult to injury, a 2011 audit found that the city will spend $80 million in maintenance and repairs through 2020 just to keep Qualcomm operating in its current state of despair. That comes out to an annual loss of more than $10 million.

So, the Bolts front office has worked San Diego like Walter White worked Hank.

The Chargers are holding San Diego hostage.

Jerry World and Levi's Stadium offer a glimpse at the price tag San Diego taxpayers could expect with a new stadium.

Both cost in the neighborhood of $1.2 billion. Jerry World received $325 million in funding from the city of Arlington. The taxpayer portion for Levi's Stadium is murky because the numbers keep changing. Santa Clara contributed $114 million up front, along with another $621 million in construction loans under the guise of a special public agency known as the Santa Clara Stadium Authority. The NFL and the 49ers contributed only $263 million, or 20 percent of the total cost.

Ask Santa Clara residents if they’d vote for that plan again.

San Diego is rife with controversy at all levels of municipal government, from the mayor’s office and police department, to the county district attorney’s office and down the line to its school districts.

The city still hasn’t come up with a way to extend trolley service to the airport.

It’s so incompetent, it created a program that rewards employees with cash for coming up with “ideas.” In the real world, we call that doing your job.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer is more interested in zip-lining at Comic-Con and doing photo-ops with Tony Hawk, Jimmie Johnson and Jason Mraz than fixing cracks in the sidewalk.

And there are a lot of them.

The city is sitting on its hands, waiting for the Chargers to come up with a plan. You mean, like the ticket guarantee? The Chargers will hustle you again, San Diego.

Why should we assume a city that can’t fix its own roads or water pipes will be savvy enough to convince voters that they can turn anywhere from $300 to $800 million in public money into a legitimate long-term investment? Where’s the precedent?

The Chargers get only eight home games a season. Throw in a handful of SDSU Aztec games, the Holiday and Poinsettia bowls, a monster truck rally and a Super Bowl maybe once every six years. The rest of the time, your $1.2 billion stadium sits dormant. Is it worth it?

In July, I wrote that the Chargers wouldn’t leave San Diego because players and coaches want to live in America’s Finest City. I was naïve.

Life moves fast, Ferris Bueller told us. The Chargers are moving out of San Diego. It’s not a matter of if, but when.

If you don’t think they’re leaving, you’re naïve too.

Just blink and they’ll be gone.

-- Follow Faris Tanyos on Twitter @OnlyFairchild

Hungry for more Chargers talk? Join us for Bolts Brown Bag, the new lunchtime show on where fans make the call, premiering Monday, Sept. 8 at 12:30 p.m. Follow @BoltsBrownBag now.