Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Where We Are Now, Part I: The Stadium Issue

It’s been an interesting off-season around here to say the least. As the City of San Diego and the Chargers spar over the future of their tumultuous relationship-as veteran players heir their grievances like it’s Festivus for the Rest of Us-the regular ole wheels of the offseason turn and churn. Regardless of the uncertainty of the franchise and the parts of its whole, there is still a roster to fill and a Lombardi to pursue. I’m going to go ahead and try to cover it all in this bloated piece of content designed to make me feel better for neglecting the true heart of the franchise-this page. And if the City of Los Angeles is impressed enough to offer to not pay me to continue my minimal efforts in the future, so be it. I’ll surely accept that offer.

The State of the Stadium
If you’ve been paying any attention over the years most of the following will not be news to you, but I’m going to break it down anyway. Of course, this is merely my interpretation of events that have happened sprinkled with a healthy dose of opinion, but I can certainly agree with myself that it is all 100% factually correct.

First and foremost, the Spanos family has always had LA in its sights even if they weren’t in a tremendous hurry to get there. How soon we forget that the team inexplicably moved its camp to Carson in the early 2000s about the same time as there were rumors and reports that they were working with other interested parties to secure a stadium site there. Two important things happened that stopped that whole fiasco in its tracks. Purportedly, the alliance between Spanos and his would be partners fell apart when the team was unwilling to meet the demands of its co-conspirators. Two, the team turned itself around from 4-12 to 12-4 in one impressive season. Why does that matter? Because in the NFL a team can’t bail out on its city just to make more money. If that were the case the entire league would be located in New York and Los Angeles. So it became imperative for the Chargers to show the league that San Diego did not want them. A solid, popular team puts a wrench in that. A devoted fan base will vote for anything to keep a good team. The Chargers were forced to bide their time.

The problem the NFL faces is that the sports world could not care less about the West Coast outside of Seattle (and seriously if Seattle wasn’t an outstanding franchise right now, the country wouldn’t care about them either), San Francisco and Los Angeles, and most of the rest of the country probably barely even recognizes that San Diego and Los Angeles are two distinct cities. Therefore, it’s in the best interest of the league to consolidate California’s teams as much as possible into Los Angeles, where their value can as much as triple due to television advertising, of which all of the owners would reap the rewards. It makes the most sense then, and I believe it is still the most likely scenario, to put the Chargers and the Raiders in Los Angeles. The only problem then is that historical precedent dictates that if a team’s owner pulls a team away from a rabid fan base and a city that hasn’t walked away from the negotiating table, then that city is likely to get an expansion at some time down the road. Houston, Baltimore, Cleveland…the list goes on. But the NFL can’t keep giving teams to cities that eschew their efforts to coerce cities to bow down to the demands of the league. No, for the NFL the best bet is to make it look like San Diego wasn’t motivated to accommodate the Chargers and punish the city by withholding football from San Diego in perpetuity. The message to other teams with stadium issues would be clear and the league would have rid itself of a franchise it doesn’t really want…at least not here.

This is where things get interesting. Not long ago the Chargers and the NFL finally showed their hand. The team claimed they had done all they could to work with San Diego (to the tune of doing nothing more than paying professional awful person Mark Fabiani to trot out a podium every year and proclaim “No news! We’re sticking around.”). The league claimed the Chargers had fulfilled all of their obligations to San Diego and were free to start wooing Los Angeles in earnest.  This despite the fact that the team is still technically married to Qualcomm Stadium! In the face of being a patsy for the best laid plans of the Chargers and the NFL San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer-whom I don’t particularly love, but who is certainly not an idiot-turned the tables on the Billionaire Boys’ Club by essentially throwing everything on the table and acquiescing to nearly all of the Chargers demands at the very last possible minute-a point the Chargers and the NFL had mistakenly believed had passed. When the Chargers balked, Faulconer took his grievance to the league. This is straight up brilliant. Suddenly the team doesn’t look so innocent and down to talk and the NFL appears complicit for being left with their jaw on the ground.

Let’s be clear, I don’t believe Kevin Faulconer wants to build a stadium for the Chargers any more than the Chargers want to stay in San Diego, but letting the team go without a fight is political suicide even worse than actually using taxpayer money to build a stadium. Losing the Chargers for lack of effort would dog him for the rest of his career as a civil servant. So Faulconer is likely counting on the probability that the Chargers will never agree to stay and the Chargers are married to fact that the league has told them they were free to go. The league is the wildcard, though. To the league, perception is everything, and they have two other teams that want back into Los Angeles badly. If Goodell and the owners believe Fauconer has successfully undermined them and the message they intended to send-that if you’re unwilling to play the stadium game then you can kiss your team goodbye-they could turn around and tell the Chargers they have to play ball with San Diego. That’s a longshot, but I believe it’s the only hope we have of keeping our team. But what do I know?

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