Fact Check: Public Ownership of the Chargers

Fact Check: Public Ownership of the Chargers

File photo by Sam Hodgson

San Diego Chargers fans


Image: trueStatement: “The NFL bylaws … prohibit public ownership (partial or otherwise) of NFL teams,” mayoral candidate Nathan Fletcher wrote in response to a VOSD survey published Dec. 8.

Determination: True

Analysis: The Chargers’ nearly decade-long search for a new stadium is expected to reach a turning point next year. The team and Mayor Jerry Sanders want to put a proposal on the November 2012 ballot.

They’re still hashing out the proposal’s details, but both have highlighted public subsidies as a major component of funding an estimated $800 million downtown stadium. Sanders’ spokesman told San Diego Newsroom last week that the public could be asked to pick up half the stadium’s bill.

With the stadium search heating up alongside the election to succeed Sanders, we asked the mayoral candidates to consider an idea from one of their competitors, Bob Filner. If the public provides subsidies for a stadium, Filner suggested at an Oct. 19 debate, it should get a share of the team’s ownership.

Of the election’s other high-profile candidates, Carl DeMaio and Bonnie Dumanis both avoided our question and instead described how they would generally negotiate with the Chargers.

But unlike his peers, Nathan Fletcher did respond directly to our question. He called Filner’s idea unrealistic.

“Bob Filner apparently failed to read the NFL bylaws, which prohibit public ownership (partial or otherwise) of NFL teams,” Fletcher wrote. “The Green Bay Packers are an exception, grandfathered in when the league was originally formed.”

The NFL’s rules don’t allow public ownership, partial or otherwise. Article III specifically prohibits ownership by any not-for-profit organization like local government.

NBC Sports recently examined the rule for another debate halfway across the country. The Minnesota Vikings are also seeking a new football stadium, and a state lawmaker suggested sharing ownership in exchange for public money.

NBC Sports put the scenario to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello, who responded, “It is not permissible under our ownership policies. There is no public ownership permitted.”

OK, but what about the Green Bay Packers, which recently sold stock to reduce borrowing for a $143 million stadium expansion? NBC Sports confirmed the background on that puzzler, too:

The Packers are publicly owned because they became publicly owned at a time when league rules permitted it. Besides, it would be hard for one person to go out and buy up all the stock. Under current rules, no public ownership is permitted, regardless of how much the majority owner retains.

Since Fletcher accurately cited the NFL’s rules, we’ve rated his statement True.

Before putting this idea completely to rest, however, it’s worth noting that rules can change. In 1997, for example, Major League Baseball started allowing public ownership on the condition that a private owner maintain a majority of the stock. The next year, the Cleveland Indians sold public shares and raised $60 million.

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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Keegan Kyle

Keegan Kyle
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