File photo by Sam Hodgson
Bob Filner, the congressman running for mayor, says some pretty bold things.
He says he has a plan that will deal with the city’s never ending employee pension problem — save hundreds of millions of dollars. He says it neither cuts benefits nor raises taxes. It’s like a goat that gives you milk, delicious cheese, ice cream and a back massage.
Unfortunately, he has yet to release the details.
His entire plan for the economy revolves around expanding the port of San Diego into something that can compete with the longshoremen heavens of Long Beach and Los Angeles. That would be a massive facility. But I’ve yet to hear him address what that would mean for Barrio Logan, which appears more interested these days in building homes than in hosting more cranes and warehouses.
That said, the city owes him a second look at what may seem like another zany proposal.
Filner has a plan for keeping the Chargers in San Diego that taps into what just might bring scarred San Diegans closer to signing off on a new stadium than anything his rivals have offered.
Here’s what he said at an Oct. 19 debate about building the fumbling football team a stadium:
What if they give the city a piece of their profits, a piece of the ownership, a piece of their team? Why don’t they give back to the city that they want support from?
He’s said it a few times in various ways: If taxpayers are going to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in a stadium, why don’t we get chunk of the team in return?
After all, people are always telling government to act more like a business.
OK. In Los Angeles, the big-shot business guys are going to build a stadium themselves. Their major demand: Whatever team moves to the new facility must give them a share of ownership.
It stands to reason that, in San Diego, if the government bureaucrats are to act like government businesspeople, they would demand something similar.
So what’s the hold up?
I’ll let Filner’s rival, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher explain.
Bob Filner apparently failed to read the NFL bylaws, which prohibit public ownership (partial or otherwise) of NFL teams. The Green Bay Packers are an exception, grandfathered in when the league was originally formed.
Oh excuuuuse us! I forgot about the most hallowed of all sets of rules beyond the Ten Commandments and U.S. Constitution. The NFL bylaws reigneth.
I pledge allegiance to the flag and the National Football League’s bylaws, and to the Republic …
Yeah, I’m not all that intimidated by the NFL bylaws. And something tells me the war veteran Fletcher shouldn’t be either.
The other day, a link to a law review article about public or stockholder ownership in a stadium came across my desk.
The piece by Jorge E. Leal Garrett and Bryan A. Green is a fantastic read on the issue. You can cull some priceless nuggets out of it.
For instance, Major League Baseball has a similarly sacrosanct rulebook. And yet, behold, He Hath Changed It in 1997 to allow for public ownership.
And that begat an idea by the Cleveland Indians, which in 1998 sold stock. The owner still got to keep 99.88 percent of the team but he suddenly had $60 million to work with.
You see, the thing is, sports fans (or at least I) know deep down that rooting for a team is irrational. They don’t actually get anything out of the team winning and they don’t lose anything tangible when they lose. They just feel good and feel bad.
Gambling and fantasy sports change this. They offer tangible consequences to the games.
But there’s another, more soulful, route to feeling better about devoting your Sundays to something so irrational: Ownership. Fans flock to any opportunity to actually own a piece of their favorite team that comes by, however insignificant. In just two days, the Green Bay Packers sold 185,000 shares, at $250 a share. The team netted $43 million. The shares are basically worthless. They allow their owners a vote on team business and directors. But they’ll never send a dividend and you can’t exchange them easily.
The shares are just a nice thing to put on the wall, basically. Avid fans adore them.
The authors of the law review piece I cited above make a rather entrancing conclusion:
“Aside from the corporate disadvantages of going public, the opportunity to go public appears to provide a professional sports team owner access to a sleeping giant of additional capital,” they write.
So what are we doing here? Instead of waking this sleeping giant and getting it to pay for the stadium, we’re trying to tap a dying giant — the city — for a massive amount of capital to build the stadium. Instead of giving fans a true, tangible ownership stake in the team they so desperately love, we’re trying to force taxpayers to contribute to it with nothing in return but the responsibility to maintain this big facility.
Now look, it may be unrealistic to hope for the NFL to change its hallowed rules. And the people running the city now are just like Fletcher: scared to upset the big shot football guys with any disquieting request like that.
Yet, Fletcher’s the guy, who, remember, hastily changed our own rules about redevelopment to hopefully make a stadium and other construction projects possible.
Filner taps into something powerful with his stance: A desire for the city to have principles when it negotiates, to be able to show tangible returns on its investments that go beyond “Look, what part of being on national TV during the Super Bowl don’t you like?” and “It’ll create a vibrant downtown.”
If we are to build a stadium at a time when the city is crumbling we will have to tap into this too. Maybe the city doesn’t just pay for the stadium, maybe it loans the Chargers the money — payable in full if the team leaves. Maybe it negotiates to send a share of the team’s profits to the city to support firefighters and streets.
But start from ideals and then compromise down. If we are to change our rules, perhaps the NFL can bend some of its own. This city is plainly tired of watching its leaders negotiate so meekly.
I’m Scott Lewis, the CEO of voiceofsandiego.org. Please contact me if you’d like at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it’s a blast!):
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