File photo by Sam Hodgson
The owners of the San Diego Chargers occasionally like to remind us how much money they have spent hunting for a new stadium in San Diego.
As the U-T put it last Sunday, it is now “well in excess of $10 million so far.”
“Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley has merely gotten 14 years older, and the Spanoses’ patience no doubt a little thinner,” wrote the U-T.
But while the team’s owners, the Spanoses, might be spending a ton of money looking for a new subsidy, the family is not spending a comparatively tiny amount to avoid TV blackouts of its games.
And each time they enforce a blackout, it’s an insult to fans and taxpayers who are every year helping the owners generate wealth few of us can fathom.
This Sunday, we may see the second blackout of the year. As of Thursday, the Chargers were 3,000 tickets short.
If it happens, many will blame lackadaisical fans. But that isn’t fair. San Diego taxpayers spend millions every year supporting the team.
The Chargers have all kinds of means at their disposal to avoid blackouts. The team chooses not to exercise them.
Ironically, one of the Chargers’ best arguments for a new stadium is how much taxpayers lose on the old one.
The amount is disputed, but we’ve determined that the city loses at least $12 million a year on Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers put that number much higher.
Part of that comes from the $78 million renovation of Qualcomm in 1997 that the Spanoses demanded and received.
The city is paying off that debt every year.
The deal is complicated because the debt is wrapped up in a bunch of other debt. But in 2011, the city still owed $52 million.
It’s unclear what the Chargers are demanding from taxpayers now. They haven’t actually put a proposal in front of us for a decade.
But all signs point to them re-introducing a vision the team worked on in 2004 and 2005. In that vision, the Chargers and an investment partner would get the rights to develop the land around Qualcomm Stadium, make money and use some of that money to help build a new stadium.
The team may also suggest that the stadium have a retractable roof. This would give the city a new, enclosed arena and allow us to bulldoze the Sports Arena. Then, they would build homes or other things there, making more money and further helping balance the cost of a new stadium.
All total, the value of the assets the Chargers want from the city will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Which is why it’s so odd that the team would insult fans and taxpayers now with more blackouts.
Last year, the NFL changed its policies to make it easier for teams like ours to avoid blackouts. Yet the Chargers refused to join counterparts like Tampa Bay and make it so that even if only 85 percent of tickets to a game were sold, the games would not be subject to blackout.
That’s one decision the Chargers made. Here’s another they make each time a blackout approaches.
The Chargers could purchase unsold tickets at 34 cents on the dollar to avoid a blackout. In other words, even if the 3,000 tickets that are left cost $100 each, the Chargers could avoid the blackout for $102,000.
How’s that compare to the $10 million the Chargers are spending lobbying for a new stadium?
Actually, the tickets likely cost much less. The Chargers could buy them and avoid blackouts. But they don’t, and we get blackouts. A possible public relations success each week is turned into an odious affront to taxpayers.
When I’ve asked the team about this in the past, Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston has said ticket sales are a vital revenue stream. The threat of a blackout helps them sell tickets.
So it’s worth it. And this week, it might work.
It seems, however, so short-sighted. There are other blackouts on the horizon. The team is willing to insult millions of taxpayers to sell a few thousand seats to desperate fans who do not want to miss the game.
All this at the same time it’s ramping up to ask taxpayers for a new subsidy.
So be clear, it’s the team, not the NFL, not the fans, not City Hall, that wants to punish taxpayers for not actually going to the game and giving the team even more money.
This is a conscious decision.
Somehow I don’t think it’s the Spanoses’ patience we should worry about wearing thin.
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