October 14, 2003

By Michael Strickland

The Business of Losing

They did it—the San Diego Chargers finally went a week without losing. Of course, this happened to be their week off, so I guess they got lucky. I'm sure next Sunday they'll return to business as usual—the business of losing, that is. And after reading news reports and editorials about the latest proposals from the Chargers organization and leaders of local business and labor about a new football stadium, I can't help but wonder if that's what it really is: a business of losing.

The Chargers have not had a winning season since they signed their current lease back in 1995. Coincidence? The organization has certainly lacked a strong fiscal incentive to perform well. As any mediocre football team knows, poor performance leads to poor attendance. Poor attendance in turn leads to poor ticket receipts for the owner—a strong incentive to acquire, train and field the best team possible. But what if the organization gets paid the same amount whether 20,000 or 60,000 fans attend a game? In such a scenario, why spend money on star players? Why spend money on marketing initiatives? Why spend money, period?

The Chargers have long had such a sweetheart deal. Their 1995 contract with the city guarantees them 60,000 tickets sold for each game. Any unsold tickets short of that number are purchased by the city—or, more accurately, by city taxpayers. But this is old news. Now the organization wants a new stadium, and is dangling the controversial ticket guarantee over the City Council's head like a piñata. Only, if the City Council takes a swing and destroys the ticket guarantee, it'll be the Chargers, not the city, who gobble up all the candy that spills out.

Under a new proposal put forth by business and labor leaders, fully endorsed by the Chargers, the ticket guarantee would be eliminated for the next two years and the organization would pay $1 million in rent for both years. Of course, in exchange for this "concession," the Charger's right to trigger their "out" clause would be submitted to binding arbitration, rather than be subject to litigation in the courts.

This is the same team that has taken millions from the city over the course of their lopsided contract. The only way they'd give up money up front would be for a lot more on the back end. My theory: they know they can't trigger their "out" clause, so they don't want to risk litigation. They know the current stadium development proposal (by which the Chargers would pay the full cost of building a new stadium in exchange for the right to develop the surrounding high-value land) favors them as much as their current contract does, so they'll do anything to improve their chances of pushing the proposal through. They know they have to keep this issue in the spotlight, or the miasma of the team's on-the-field performance will destroy whatever public sentiment still exists in their favor.

Which brings me to my point; namely, that this team is in the business of losing. The worse the team plays, the fewer tickets they'll sell, and the more tickets the taxpayers will have to buy. Ergo, the worse the team plays, the more urgent will become the desire in the public's mind to eliminate the ticket guarantee. The Chargers not only realize this, they're brazenly playing that card like an ace in the hole. "We are willing to give up the ticket guarantee next year, when we could be in a literal free fall (on the field)," said Mark Fabiani, the Chargers' legal eagle in an editorial in yesterday's Union-Tribune. Sure, he's the organization's legal counsel, not the head coach, but you'd think any Chargers representative would want to express more optimism about a team that's currently 0-5. But a losing team works to their advantage in the effort to get a new stadium in San Diego, so they're willing to milk their failures for maximum value.

With such off-the-field scrimmages, is it any wonder this team's vying for the bottom spot in the league?


©2003 Michael Strickland ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What is "The Daily Strick"?

I have long called myself a writer, but too often I don't do what a writer must do daily: write. So you, dear reader, are the beneficiary of my resolution to make a positive change in at least one area of my life. Every single day of this new year (almost), I will write something, anything, and post it here. It is my intention to use this daily exercise to jump-start my too-long-dormant creative energies, and perhaps generate some worthwhile material this year. Hopefully you will find at least an occasional amusement or insight in my daily musings.

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October Columns:

10/31: Halloween's History
10/30: Good GDP, Still No Jobs
10/29: Disaster
10/27: Ash Monday
10/26: En Fuego
10/25: Diving in the Desert
10/24: Dead Car Canyon
10/23: Reflections
10/21: Le Métro
10/20: Pain
10/17: Jury Duty
10/15: Labor Pains
10/14: The Business of Losing
10/13: Owls and Jobs
10/12: Hooked
10/11: The "S" in SUV
10/9: Flee the City
10/8: Sore Losers
10/5: Turkeys
10/4: It's Not the Economy, Stupid
10/2: Focus
10/1: Twenty Years
Previous months in The Archive

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