Opinion

Chargers Blackouts: the Ultimate Insult to San Diego Taxpayers

Chargers Blackouts: the Ultimate Insult to San Diego Taxpayers

File photo by Sam Hodgson

Qualcomm Stadium

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.

Scott Lewis on Politics LogoPoor guys. A giant government subsidy for a local business really should be processed more quickly.

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.

Let’s review.

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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Scott Lewis

Scott Lewis

I'm Scott Lewis, the CEO of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

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48 comments
Matt Finish
Matt Finish subscriber

This folks, is why corporate welfare is bad. Just as bad, if not worse, than social welfare.

If there is a market for stadiums, investors will fund them. If they aren't funding them, it tells you there isn't a market for them.

Matt Finish
Matt Finish

This folks, is why corporate welfare is bad. Just as bad, if not worse, than social welfare.

If there is a market for stadiums, investors will fund them. If they aren't funding them, it tells you there isn't a market for them.

Benjamin Katz
Benjamin Katz

How about a new Chargers stadium with no seats or close to no seats? I'm serious. Advantages:

1. No seats at the stadium, means it is sold out every time, means no blackouts. For the vast majority of San Diegans, this is the important part.
2. The cost will be a tiny fraction of the $1B being discussed. Based on my back-of-envelope math, the building savings are higher than potential revenues from ticket sales.
3. No expensive stadium also avoids all the risks of a $1B investment -- including the chargers leaving, football become less popular, increasing problems with injuries.
4. No seats at stadium also helps our neighborhoods by increasing games as a local community event, watching it your local pub. It's also probably safer and better for the environment.

Benjamin Katz
Benjamin Katz subscribermember

How about a new Chargers stadium with no seats or close to no seats? I'm serious. Advantages:

1. No seats at the stadium, means it is sold out every time, means no blackouts. For the vast majority of San Diegans, this is the important part.
2. The cost will be a tiny fraction of the $1B being discussed. Based on my back-of-envelope math, the building savings are higher than potential revenues from ticket sales.
3. No expensive stadium also avoids all the risks of a $1B investment -- including the chargers leaving, football become less popular, increasing problems with injuries.
4. No seats at stadium also helps our neighborhoods by increasing games as a local community event, watching it your local pub. It's also probably safer and better for the environment.

Will Dawson
Will Dawson

THe constant threat of "build us a new stadium or we are going to leave San Diego" is getting a little old. How about "Build us a real team or get out of town" The constant failure and insane trades and cuts shows these Bozos have no idea how to manage an NFL team! And to those who think the Dolts bolting to another city will be the demise of SD I remind you of other teams that left (Or folded)and caused no catastrophe: 1. Rockets (BB) 2. Clippers (BB) 3. Sails (BB) 4. Conquistadors
(BB) 5. Whalers ( Hockey) 6. Gulls 1((Hockey) 7.Gulls 2(Hockey) 8. Sockers 1(Football) 9. Wildcards(BB) and for anyone that buys into the concept of "Field of Dreams" the cellar dweller Padres should answer any questions. It's time to call their bluff, if you want to leave, I'll
Help you pack, The results of the past 29 years prove you don't care about anything but $!

Will Dawson
Will Dawson subscriber

THe constant threat of "build us a new stadium or we are going to leave San Diego" is getting a little old. How about "Build us a real team or get out of town" The constant failure and insane trades and cuts shows these Bozos have no idea how to manage an NFL team! And to those who think the Dolts bolting to another city will be the demise of SD I remind you of other teams that left (Or folded)and caused no catastrophe: 1. Rockets (BB) 2. Clippers (BB) 3. Sails (BB) 4. Conquistadors
(BB) 5. Whalers ( Hockey) 6. Gulls 1((Hockey) 7.Gulls 2(Hockey) 8. Sockers 1(Football) 9. Wildcards(BB) and for anyone that buys into the concept of "Field of Dreams" the cellar dweller Padres should answer any questions. It's time to call their bluff, if you want to leave, I'll
Help you pack, The results of the past 29 years prove you don't care about anything but $!

Frank Lang
Frank Lang

Put me in the camp with Mr. Bjorg, below. I could care less about the Chargers (and blackouts). I DO care about all the ancillary folk who would be financially hard hit if the Chargers disappeared, so I don't know what the answer is. Somebody hep me! By the way, is there still a problem with the ground under the Q? Haven't heard much about that lately...

Frank Lang
Frank Lang subscribermember

Put me in the camp with Mr. Bjorg, below. I could care less about the Chargers (and blackouts). I DO care about all the ancillary folk who would be financially hard hit if the Chargers disappeared, so I don't know what the answer is. Somebody hep me! By the way, is there still a problem with the ground under the Q? Haven't heard much about that lately...

Eric Spoerner
Eric Spoerner subscriber

I'm an SD native and a lifelong Chargers fan, but these owners have left me unable to support the team after so many years of wrangling for my tax dollars for their corporate welfare.

Steve Bjorg
Steve Bjorg

Why is there so much opposition for them to move to LA? Do we really need a local team? Or, more importantly, can we really afford a local team?

Steve Bjorg
Steve Bjorg subscribermember

Why is there so much opposition for them to move to LA? Do we really need a local team? Or, more importantly, can we really afford a local team?

Sydney Allen
Sydney Allen

Often the best part of going to the Q for football (or any event) is the tailgate party.

Sydney Allen
Sydney Allen subscriber

Often the best part of going to the Q for football (or any event) is the tailgate party.

Kevin Fleming
Kevin Fleming

It's a hostile sales tactic, bad branding and keeps transplants following the home team even after living in SD for over a decade.
Dean, It's obvious you're not going to sell out games when your letting down loyal customers with the only blacked out games of the entire league & when you're not trying to acquire new customers (read fans) by exposing them to the team. This makes it embarrassing to be a charger fan and it's unfortunate for those who make the effort on your behalf.
Plus, It's a total loss for you. Sales taxes on hot wings and Keenan Allen / Ladarius Green jersey sales from last week alone would keep you afloat.
Nailed it with "short-sighted". They don't consider lifetime value of a fan, rather ticket sales this weekend. It absolutely does not help to sell tickets ROS (rest of season) and ends up in lost revenue for the cumulative season.

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw

Now come on Scott. It’s not fair to air the Whiners’ dirty linen. There’s enough to be angry about...the ticket guarantee, the stadium expansion followed within three years by demand for entirely new digs, sticking the city with the cost of the disabled lawsuit, the frequent management and coaching changes, the lousy record, the idiotic drafts and particularly the lying stadium campaign and the WHINING! Did I miss anything?

I think in the final analysis the Q site will end up the best option, Peter Q. Davis op-ed and the U-T efforts notwithstanding. The idea that somehow current losses go away or are drastically reduced if the Chargers move to new digs is bovine scatology. Does the bond debt go away? Of course not. Does the maintenance cost disappear? Not unless you scrape Qualcomm, and how much would that cost? What about the hydrocarbon plume? Can the property be sold at any price? Not likely without huge further cleanup costs to the city. The place can handle the traffic on Sundays and is pretty convenient to public transit. Why not revisit possibilities there, with or without additional development.

The Chargers currently have no pending viable alternative to San Diego, L.A. talk notwithstanding, so it’s not panic time. Before the city makes any serious proposal to the Chargers, it has to enlist the county to help come up with any public funds entailed. If a public vote is conducted, even in the context of a planned departure, does anyone really think the taxpayers will pony up any significant amount of cash?

Look on the bright side, Scott. When the U-T comes up with their numbers to show how much money the city will make with a new stadium, you'll have a ball picking them apart!

Bill Bradshaw
Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

Now come on Scott. It’s not fair to air the Whiners’ dirty linen. There’s enough to be angry about...the ticket guarantee, the stadium expansion followed within three years by demand for entirely new digs, sticking the city with the cost of the disabled lawsuit, the frequent management and coaching changes, the lousy record, the idiotic drafts and particularly the lying stadium campaign and the WHINING! Did I miss anything?

I think in the final analysis the Q site will end up the best option, Peter Q. Davis op-ed and the U-T efforts notwithstanding. The idea that somehow current losses go away or are drastically reduced if the Chargers move to new digs is bovine scatology. Does the bond debt go away? Of course not. Does the maintenance cost disappear? Not unless you scrape Qualcomm, and how much would that cost? What about the hydrocarbon plume? Can the property be sold at any price? Not likely without huge further cleanup costs to the city. The place can handle the traffic on Sundays and is pretty convenient to public transit. Why not revisit possibilities there, with or without additional development.

The Chargers currently have no pending viable alternative to San Diego, L.A. talk notwithstanding, so it’s not panic time. Before the city makes any serious proposal to the Chargers, it has to enlist the county to help come up with any public funds entailed. If a public vote is conducted, even in the context of a planned departure, does anyone really think the taxpayers will pony up any significant amount of cash?

Look on the bright side, Scott. When the U-T comes up with their numbers to show how much money the city will make with a new stadium, you'll have a ball picking them apart!

Anthony Wagner
Anthony Wagner

This is why I wish I were richer. I'd give more money to Voice of San Diego monthly. Who's welcome at my Christmas dinner table? Scott Lewis and family, absolutely. Spanos family, no thank you. Enough said!

Anthony Wagner
Anthony Wagner subscribermember

This is why I wish I were richer. I'd give more money to Voice of San Diego monthly. Who's welcome at my Christmas dinner table? Scott Lewis and family, absolutely. Spanos family, no thank you. Enough said!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Isn't it more of an insult to San Diego to televise a chargers game than to not?

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Isn't it more of an insult to San Diego to televise a chargers game than to not?

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen

The latest word for this Sunday is that the NFL granted an extension so it looks like the game will be televised after all.

As to getting a new stadium the Chargers have been very clear that the public has to come up with at least 60% of the cost. How that gets derived is probably from sales of land (like the present Qualcomm site and the Sports Arena (sorry, I guess it's now the Valley View Casino Center), and an increase in the tourist tax plus possibly dedicated tax increments from the development of the stadium and arena sites.

I notice Peter Q. Davis wrote an op-ed in today's UT calling for a Padres-style commission to determine where the site should be and how to finance it. As I recall, those commissions he was talking about were as about as objective as a Stalin show-trial, Bruce Henderson notwithstanding. The cake was already baked in whether it was necessary that a new baseball park was needed. No great shock about the final decision. Davis again brings up the 10th Avenue Terminal as a preferred site, even though again and again the port has said no.

I don't know what will happen but a lot of pressure will be used by the UT and other Charger-friendly media outlets to get something done. I'm sure opponents will be called obstructionists, naysayers, and other assorted names. It will get real nasty before the seemingly endless process is done.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen subscriber

The latest word for this Sunday is that the NFL granted an extension so it looks like the game will be televised after all.

As to getting a new stadium the Chargers have been very clear that the public has to come up with at least 60% of the cost. How that gets derived is probably from sales of land (like the present Qualcomm site and the Sports Arena (sorry, I guess it's now the Valley View Casino Center), and an increase in the tourist tax plus possibly dedicated tax increments from the development of the stadium and arena sites.

I notice Peter Q. Davis wrote an op-ed in today's UT calling for a Padres-style commission to determine where the site should be and how to finance it. As I recall, those commissions he was talking about were as about as objective as a Stalin show-trial, Bruce Henderson notwithstanding. The cake was already baked in whether it was necessary that a new baseball park was needed. No great shock about the final decision. Davis again brings up the 10th Avenue Terminal as a preferred site, even though again and again the port has said no.

I don't know what will happen but a lot of pressure will be used by the UT and other Charger-friendly media outlets to get something done. I'm sure opponents will be called obstructionists, naysayers, and other assorted names. It will get real nasty before the seemingly endless process is done.

shawn fox
shawn fox

Hmm; would we be able to have microphones attached to TVs so that they could create crowd noise from viewers home living rooms? It seems like an impractical idea considering how important crowd noise is during the game.

richard brick
richard brick

Having no seat stadium is a great idea. From articles I've read about the NFL you could have no one buy a ticket and the individual teams would still make money. How is this possible? The NFL signed a contract with the different TV networks that is worth billions of dollars, add in the money that is split between the teams for all merchandise that is sold with the NFL logo on it.

The NFL because of a law passed by congress has the right to hold all money taken in by the league a secret. No one gets to look at the books. That's why when a new stadium comes up for discussion, like here in San Diego the city council has no idea how much the Chargers make. Yet the league extorts money from the local taxpayers by playing the move the team to another city game, or no more Super Bowls until the billionaire owner gets a new playground.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen

Actually they had stadiums with no seats in the soccer stadiums in England with disastrous results. Rowdy fans, stands collapsing, injuries and death. Be careful what you wish for.

Catherine Green
Catherine Green

Plus! All the benefits of standing desks. #teamstandingdesk

shawn fox
shawn fox subscriber

Hmm; would we be able to have microphones attached to TVs so that they could create crowd noise from viewers home living rooms? It seems like an impractical idea considering how important crowd noise is during the game.

richard brick
richard brick subscribermember

Having no seat stadium is a great idea. From articles I've read about the NFL you could have no one buy a ticket and the individual teams would still make money. How is this possible? The NFL signed a contract with the different TV networks that is worth billions of dollars, add in the money that is split between the teams for all merchandise that is sold with the NFL logo on it.

The NFL because of a law passed by congress has the right to hold all money taken in by the league a secret. No one gets to look at the books. That's why when a new stadium comes up for discussion, like here in San Diego the city council has no idea how much the Chargers make. Yet the league extorts money from the local taxpayers by playing the move the team to another city game, or no more Super Bowls until the billionaire owner gets a new playground.

Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen subscriber

Actually they had stadiums with no seats in the soccer stadiums in England with disastrous results. Rowdy fans, stands collapsing, injuries and death. Be careful what you wish for.

Joseph Monroe
Joseph Monroe

And if the Chargers get a stadium built downtown you can kiss the tailgate parties goodbye. Just like the Padre fans did.

Joseph Monroe
Joseph Monroe subscriber

And if the Chargers get a stadium built downtown you can kiss the tailgate parties goodbye. Just like the Padre fans did.

Eric Spoerner
Eric Spoerner

I'm an SD native and a lifelong Chargers fan, but these owners have left me unable to support the team after so many years of wrangling for my tax dollars for their corporate welfare.

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin

No kidding. Hasn't one stadium cost us enough?

Mark Giffin
Mark Giffin subscribermember

No kidding. Hasn't one stadium cost us enough?

Jeff Brazel
Jeff Brazel

That is why VOSD should keep Jim Jones comments, that could be the comment of the Week, Month, Year! Were all the other ones supposed to be funny too?

Jeff Brazel
Jeff Brazel subscribermember

That is why VOSD should keep Jim Jones comments, that could be the comment of the Week, Month, Year! Were all the other ones supposed to be funny too?

Jerry Hilburn
Jerry Hilburn

As a past season ticket holder and now ardent critic of the Charger's security goons which drove me to give up my seats, I hope that they leave town. They, like the Padres, have eliminated much of what made going to the games fun, and replaced it with extortionist fees on everything offered at a game. Food, Drink, Apparel, and ticket prices are insane. Especially when management fields LOSER pro sports teams year after year.

There was a time long ago when going to a game at Jack Murphy, Pads or Chargers, was actually a fun time had by all for a comparatively reasonable price.

Back then you didn't have to be frisked by TSA style goons to get in, or be treated like a criminal by showing your ticket to no less than 5 guards on your way to your seat, or being shuffled out of the aisles by the same goons that frisked you at the gates after the game is over. It's all a memory now, nothing about today's Chargers or Padres stadium experience can compare to the past.

It's no surprise to me that they won't buy tickets to lift a blackout, as this management group is blind to what the stadium experience has become. All they see clearly is dollars.

I like that NO SEAT idea quite a bit. And no teams even better.



Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen

I disavow any notion of a firing squad. There is enough violence and destruction in the world. Even joking about violence is bad form. The Spanos family are not bad people. We can disagree with the way the business of football is conducted and how stadiums get built, but a personal attack mentioning violence, even if meant in jest, is inappropriate.

David Benz
David Benz

The Chargers know they will lose a city wide referendum, not sure how a county wide vote would turn out.

The best case scenario is to run the Spanos family out of town and sell the stadium and sports arena land. I'd tar a feather the Spanii and and line them up on the 50 for a firing squad. That would sell out the stadium.

Jerry Hilburn
Jerry Hilburn subscriber

As a past season ticket holder and now ardent critic of the Charger's security goons which drove me to give up my seats, I hope that they leave town. They, like the Padres, have eliminated much of what made going to the games fun, and replaced it with extortionist fees on everything offered at a game. Food, Drink, Apparel, and ticket prices are insane. Especially when management fields LOSER pro sports teams year after year.

There was a time long ago when going to a game at Jack Murphy, Pads or Chargers, was actually a fun time had by all for a comparatively reasonable price.

Back then you didn't have to be frisked by TSA style goons to get in, or be treated like a criminal by showing your ticket to no less than 5 guards on your way to your seat, or being shuffled out of the aisles by the same goons that frisked you at the gates after the game is over. It's all a memory now, nothing about today's Chargers or Padres stadium experience can compare to the past.

It's no surprise to me that they won't buy tickets to lift a blackout, as this management group is blind to what the stadium experience has become. All they see clearly is dollars.

I like that NO SEAT idea quite a bit. And no teams even better.



Robert Cohen
Robert Cohen subscriber

I disavow any notion of a firing squad. There is enough violence and destruction in the world. Even joking about violence is bad form. The Spanos family are not bad people. We can disagree with the way the business of football is conducted and how stadiums get built, but a personal attack mentioning violence, even if meant in jest, is inappropriate.

David Benz
David Benz subscriber

The Chargers know they will lose a city wide referendum, not sure how a county wide vote would turn out.

The best case scenario is to run the Spanos family out of town and sell the stadium and sports arena land. I'd tar a feather the Spanii and and line them up on the 50 for a firing squad. That would sell out the stadium.

Benjamin Katz
Benjamin Katz

I don't mean standing room only, I mean TV only.

Benjamin Katz
Benjamin Katz subscribermember

I don't mean standing room only, I mean TV only.

David Crossley
David Crossley

There is still Tailgate Park--which ironically is part of the land the Chargers want to use to build, oops, want the city to use to build, their new stadium.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

There is still Tailgate Park--which ironically is part of the land the Chargers want to use to build, oops, want the city to use to build, their new stadium.