Photo by Ron Donoho
This past spring-like Sunday a friend dropped a free ticket to the Chargers-Titans game in my lap. So I attended an NFL football game at Qualcomm Stadium for the first time in about three years. It’s possible to enjoy the spectacle of the sport and not be in support of Measure C, which asked San Diegans on Nov. 8 to vote up or down on hoisting the hotel tax by 4 percent to raise a billion dollars to help pay for a new downtown stadium that, wink, also would serve as a convention center expansion. My visit to Mission Valley was in no small part a diversion from run-up speculation on who’ll soon occupy 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. But it was impossible not to let politics creep into this powder-blue day at the stadium.
All along, nobody thought Measure C would sniff the two-thirds vote needed to pass. Note: This Editor’s Letter was written prior to results being tabulated, but by now we should know what percentage of voters filled in bubbles in favor of corporate welfare. (One unofficial line set the over/under at 48 percent. I took the under.)
In bygone years I’ve enjoyed watching pro football teams mix it up at The Q. Yes, the stadium looks like the “before” option in an episode of Fixer Upper; the P.A. system sounds like it’s run on tin-can-and-string technology; the food tastes like microwaved packing material. It was dispiriting that just 52,281 of 71,294 seats at the stadium were filled, on a day when LaDainian Tomlinson, Dan Fouts and other Chargers Hall-of- Famers were honored at halftime.
Attendance aside, there was an appeal to being in the coliseum with the gladiators. It was fascinating watching Antonio Gates slowed by age yet so adept at finding openings in the secondary; seeing Joey Bosa still learning the defensive system; wondering if visiting Heisman Trophy-winner Marcus Mariota will ever live up to his number-two draft billing.
Worth a billion dollars of tax money diverted from San Diego’s general fund, though? Nope, no way and hell no. Sports teams can be a point of civic pride, but civic pride starts with upkeep of roads, services, safety and public welfare.
“Measure C is not a test of your love for the Chargers,” according to Tony Manolatos, spokesperson for No on C. “It is about public policy, and this measure is bad public policy.”
So what’s the next play call? Excruciatingly, now that the election’s over the speculation will continue and the cards will be shuffled for the next hand of poker.
As the game of Hold-Em continues, recall an important “tell” offered from former Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith. Speaking a couple months ago to San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Kevin Acee on 1090 AM, Smith said NFL sources told him: “The Chargers are staying here. They have to do a deal. The reality is, there is no option. There is an option, but it will never be exercised. San Diego is coveted by the National Football League and the owners. The League wants a team here. They want them to stay.”
The “option,” of course, refers to an oft-dangled threat by Chargers spokesfolk to bolt and move to Los Angeles and play in the mega-stadium being built there by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.
Does anyone doubt the NFL is running this show, and that it’s The League that will dictate to Spanos where he plays ball?
Going off the Smith intel that the NFL wants the Chargers to stay put, the city of San Diego has chips to play. Granted, the NFL doesn’t want to get into a precedent of ponying up for new stadiums all over the country. Heaven forbid. Such investment could cut into the $230-million revenue-sharing checks 32 team owners received last year.
But there’s no point in wasting time getting to the bargaining table with Team Spanos. Nobody blink when the Chargers threaten to pack up for L.A. Instead, it’s time to push for an even better deal for local taxpayers than the one first presented by the mayor’s Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group, which recommended building a new facility in Mission Valley.
In friendly media interviews leading up to the election, Spanos has said he didn’t have a “Plan B” following the failure of Measure C. Rather, he wanted to see what percentage of votes it got. Well, now it’s official—not enough. Make ’em pay to stay. The revolution starts here.