March 4, 2003

By Michael Strickland

Pulling the Trigger

For those of you living outside of San Diego, the $400 million tempest-in-a-teacup surrounding the San Diego Chargers/Qualcomm Stadium issue got a little more blustery today when the Chargers organization exercised the so-called "trigger" clause to reopen contract negotiations with the City of San Diego. The team's current contract allows this reopener clause to be triggered once every four years if the team claims financial hardship. Once the reopener has been triggered, the team and city have 90 days to reach a renegotiation agreement, after which time the Chargers are free to shop themselves around to other cities if San Diego does not agree to offset the economic factors contributing to the team's financial "hardship." (See my article from last October's "Motions" for a more in-depth summary of the issues.)

Speculation has abounded during the past 12 months, as the mayor-appointed Citizens' Task Force on Chargers Issues debated "fiscally responsible" ways to keep the Chargers in San Diego. Would the Chargers trigger? Will the public agree to build a new stadium? Should the city simply enforce the current contract and demand that the Chargers prove their financial hardship?

While Chargers fans are a loyal bunch, their fanaticism doesn't match that of, for instance, Green Bay fans. Sure, the Packers are a better team, but let's be honest... San Diegans have a lot more leisure options during the winter than Green Bay residents. The "football imperative" is not so strong here. However, civic and business leaders like having an NFL franchise here. If the Chargers leave, so too will depart any chance of hosting future Super Bowls. Though the evidence has been somewhat disputed, most agree that the Big Game brings many millions of tourism dollars to the city.

My best guess is that the city will eventually capitulate to the Chargers in a way that expends the least amount of public monies (or none at all) while satisfying the Chargers' demands. The most likely proposal at this point seems to involve the franchise financing the full cost of a new stadium (projected at around $400 million) in exchange for the rights to develop the 160-acre property on which the Q currently sits. On the surface, such a scenario seems attractive, since city taxpayers won't have to pay for a new stadium. But development rights to one of the most prime pieces of real estate in the city make for a sweetheart deal for the Chargers. Could such an agreement be considered "fiscally responsible"?

Though the trigger only marks the opening salvo in what will surely be a long, drawn-out battle between battalions of attorneys on both sides, the final outcome at this point seems certain: either the Chargers will get a new stadium, or the Chargers will leave town.


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