Friday, Feb. 20, 2008 | Building a new Chargers stadium is simply unfeasible for a city on the brink of bankruptcy and asking taxpayers to carry a significant portion of the cost is unrealistic and unfair.
As of Oct. 31, the city pension fund was $2.78 billion under-funded, according to figures released by former City Attorney Mike Aguirre (Washburn). Even considering building a new $600 million stadium in this economic situation is irresponsible, especially when the current facilities at Qualcomm are perfectly adequate.
Supposedly, the Chargers need a new stadium to remain financially competitive with teams like the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Giants.
The financial success of a team — television, merchandise, and ticket sales — depends on a large, dedicated fan base. These factors, contrary to what some believe, come more from a winning record than an innovative stadium.
Take Petco Park, the new Padres stadium in downtown, as a case study of the same phenomenon. Going into 2009, season ticket sales were well below a third of what they had been in 2008 (Krasovic). The Padres are facing a drop in ticket sales that hasn’t been seen for over a decade, and certainly not since the new stadium was constructed.
Club CEO Sandy Alderson explained the decline in sales as “a function of the economy, and … to some extent, how we played last year,” (Krasovic). In the case of the Chargers, it is likely that a successful season would have a larger effect on financial success than a new stadium.
Moreover, the long-term benefits of building a new stadium are questionable. Alderson also said, “It is not unusual to see season ticket numbers erode from the first year of a brand new stadium, because of the novelty value a new stadium provides over the short term,” (Krasovic).
There is no doubt that replacing Qualcomm Stadium would create huge increases in revenue for the Chargers, but these gains would probably be temporary. With athletic facilities constantly improving, there is no way to tell how long the Chargers would be satisfied before demanding the next stadium. Furthermore, if the Chargers decide that they want an upgrade 10 or 15 years from now, whichever city ended up building a new stadium would be left with a huge structure of limited uses and high redevelopment costs.
The Padres had greater promise of revitalizing the city by building Petco Park than do the Chargers; downtown San Diego had been suffering for years because of low investment and commercial activity. After Petco Park was built, property values in the surrounding neighborhood skyrocketed 500 percent by November 2007 (Kieran). The Chargers, on the other hand, would not have this same opportunity by redeveloping Qualcomm Stadium. Already equipped with two major shopping malls and countless condo complexes, Mission Valley is much more economically active than downtown was before the Padres built their ballpark. In Chula Vista, the proposed location of the stadium is the South Bay Power Plant, which cannot be demolished without the development of another energy source (Davis).
The circumstances needed to build a new stadium seem to override the potential benefits of short-term increased revenue.
As for SDSU’s desire to lease Qualcomm or the pending Chargers stadium, it is impractical to make a contract with a team that is losing profits. Especially now, with CSU budgets being slashed by $312.9 billion, keeping a struggling football program afloat by pouring money into a new stadium lease is not feasible (Lieberman). SDSU has no claim on the use of a new stadium in this economic crisis. The main responsibility of a university remains academics, not athletics; student fees should not increase in an attempt to revitalize the losing team.
Once again, a new stadium would not raise football revenue significantly because the underlying issues are the program’s unsuccessful coaching and losing seasons. Dwindling attendance to SDSU games has caused negotiations between the university and the city to be tense and drawn out. Drops in attendance have caused the city an estimated $310,000 over the course of the 2006 and 2007 seasons (Schrotenboer). This is a result of SDSU’s poor statistics: the Aztecs have not had a winning season in a decade. A new stadium would only create potential for more expensive contracts, leaving the university and the city to assume the debts of the football program.
Ideally, Alex Spanos and the Chargers would drop their insistence on a new stadium and accept improvement to Qualcomm Stadium. Centrally located, “the Q” has ample facilities to host Super Bowls and is well served by mass transit. The Cowboys and Giants-Jets stadiums may have better luxury seating, but the cost of building a new stadium for improvements that don’t serve average fans and have nothing to do with the actual game of football should not be borne by taxpayers. The argument that being an NFL city provides San Diego with civic pride and tourism does not stand up to the disadvantages of investing in a new stadium. Major cities like Los Angeles and Portland have no shortage of cultural value, yet do not have NFL teams.
The Chargers may claim to leave San Diego if things don’t go their way, but until they find a better site, this is an empty threat. As the list of potential locations dwindles, the Chargers will have to come to terms with the rejection of new stadium plans. National City, Oceanside, and San Diego have already abandoned bids for the stadium, and the Chula Vista sites seem more unlikely as time passes.
Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and San Antonio each have problems of their own, so the likelihood of the Chargers leaving San Diego County is slim. Since football has become more of a business than a sport, the Chargers will undoubtedly follow the laws of the market and choose the most profitable location for the development of the team. If San Antonio provides the best facilities and most support for the Chargers to excel, maybe it is best that they move, if only for the progress of football.
Anna Ponting is a senior at Patrick Henry High School. Her piece was the winner of voiceofsandiego.org‘s 2009 Essay Contest. Congratulations to her. More than 300 essays came in and we’ve run as many of the finalists as we could. We were very impressed with the level of thought and effort the writers put into them and the judging was extremely difficult. Click here to see a sampling of the finalists and thank you to the students who participated and the teachers who inspired them.
Kieran, Christopher. “San Diego Padres Ballpark/Petco Park.” BusinessWeek 18 Nov. 2007. 19 Jan. 2009.
Krasovic, Tom. “Team could draw fewer than 2 million because of low season ticket sales.” Union Tribune 16 Jan. 2009. 18 Jan. 2009.
Lieberman, Bruce, Sherry Saavedra, and Tanya Sierra. “Governor’s budget would be a major setback for schools.” Union Tribune 13 Jan. 2008. 18 Jan. 2009.
Schrotenboer, Brent. “Talks in overtime between city, SDSU.” Union Tribune 14 Nov. 2008. 19 Jan. 2009.
Washburn, David. “Pension Deficit: $2.78 Billion.” Voice of San Diego. 19 Jan. 2009.