My wife does these cartoons like the one above. Yes, I sometimes share ideas.
The discussions about a new Chargers stadium will only get more intense in coming months especially if the team continues to perform well — it seems as likely as any to compete for a Super Bowl appearance.
And the talk about a downtown stadium has gotten surprisingly specific. They are now considering changing the limit on how much the city can collect in downtown redevelopment money in order to accommodate, among other dreams, a substantial taxpayer investment in a new stadium.
Let’s set aside the wisdom of such a rule change for a minute and consider something: Many taxpayers justifiably recoil at the idea of investing public money in a new stadium. This is for one reason and one reason only: A new stadium is a benefit to the bottom line of the football team’s owners. The Chargers’ owners want to make more money — that’s at the heart of their drive for a new stadium and that’s what businesses do.
What some taxpayers hate is that the public might be called upon to invest hundreds of millions in this new stadium only to help a family get wealthier. Sure stadiums are nice public facilities but they are used very infrequently and the ancillary benefits to having one are hard to quantify. Yes, for instance, the NFL would bring a Super Bowl back to San Diego, and yes, this would mean money for local businesses and exposure, but it’s OK to be somewhat skeptical about how this benefits the average Joe.
At the same time, California makes it fundamentally harder to publicly fund a new stadium. You can’t pass a special tax for something like a stadium here without getting a two-thirds vote. That’s just a much higher threshold than anywhere else in the country. So other places can simply ask voters to approve a tax and get one with a simple majority of voter support.
In Colorado, for example, 57 percent of voters approved a special tax. In Arlington, Texas, only 59 percent of voters approved a litany of new taxes for that colossal new stadium (though Jerry Jones, the Cowboys owner, is the only one who routinely gets credit for risking so much of his own capital in it). That level of voter support here would have meant death for the new stadium tax, not life.
So that option is effectively nonexistent in California. They have to be more creative.
In the city of Industry, near Los Angeles, developer Ed Roski is trying to lure an NFL team. He will put a lot of money into a stadium, he says, if he can only get a share of ownership of said team.
From a recent Sports Illustrated piece:
Yet if Roski has gone to great lengths to lay the groundwork for stadium construction, he won’t put a shovel into the soil until he is a full or majority owner of a team. He’s not undertaking the project out of altruism or to become a leasing agent. Roski, who helped develop the downtown Staples Center, already owns a minority stake of the Lakers — “I get a good parking spot,” he says — and now he wants to be in what might be the country’s most elite circle, the club of NFL owners. “The day I sign a deal, the team moves to L.A. and we start to build,” he says.
Hmm, what an interesting concept. Makes investing in a stadium a bit more palatable, doesn’t it? A businessman doesn’t want to invest in a stadium unless he gets a stake.
Why can’t we think this way? I mean, why isn’t the city thinking like a businessman, like Roski? Sure, we’ll build a stadium. But what’s in it for us?
Why not let the city take a share of the team? It doesn’t have to be a majority owner, not even a quarter owner. It doesn’t even have to be proportional to the investment. But how about some gravy for this meal you’re asking taxpayers to swallow?
The first answer, of course, about why the city couldn’t get a stake in the team is that it would be against the NFL’s rules for the Chargers to be owned by a city or nonprofit. Though Green Bay has a type of public ownership, the NFL doesn’t want that to happen again.
But there are other ways to think about this. First off, rules are meant to be changed. After all, the Chargers want the city and state to change our rules to fund a downtown stadium. If the NFL really wants a stadium in San Diego, floating a compromise like this would be a huge step toward that.
But we can get even more creative, can’t we?
We might not have a Roski who’s willing to put up big money, but I bet we have maybe hundreds of thousands of people who would be willing to put up an average of $1,000 (some as high as $100,000 some as low as the minimum investment) to get even a small share of the team. Why doesn’t an NFL team do an initial public offering?
Don’t give me rules. Let’s change rules.
When I floated an idea like this on Twitter, it got positive feedback from people like Councilman Carl DeMaio and other fiscal conservatives who see the conflict between a desire to be smart with public money and yet support something so many people are so passionate about.
Bottom line: The reason people resist investing in new stadiums is that one individual or family usually gets the most financial benefit from it. John Moores, for example, made hundreds of millions of dollars on the sale of the Padres, a franchise made much more valuable by the construction of Petco Park, a place the public helped build.
Let’s not pretend this taxpayer complaint doesn’t exist or that we should try to convince critics they’re nuts. Let’s embrace their concern and try to eliminate it. Whether it’s through this route or another, the concern has to be handled. The city is falling apart, it won’t make sense to build a new stadium unless we force it to make sense.
Give people, the city or just the fans a stake and they’ll pony up. I guarantee it.
— SCOTT LEWIS