San Diego Jerry Sanders said allowing wireless communications giant Qualcomm to temporarily change the name of the city’s football stadium last month, “didn’t cost taxpayers a dime.”

But, according to one expert, taxpayers left plenty of dimes on the table.

Eric Wright, president and research director at Joyce Julius & Associates advertising firm, estimated Qualcomm received $125,000 to $135,000 worth of television exposure from the deal.

Wright’s firm calculates estimates based on the value of national television commercials during game telecasts. In this case, Wright used typical rates for college bowl and nationally televised NFL games. It excludes additional exposure value from radio and other media coverage and changes to the signage inside the stadium.

Qualcomm, with Sanders’ blessing, switched the stadium’s name from Qualcomm Stadium to “Snapdragon Stadium” for 10 days in December to promote the company’s new line of mobile processors.

The stadium carried the name during three nationally televised football games — two college bowls and an NFL contest between the Chargers and Baltimore Ravens. Sanders allowed the deal to go forward against the advice of City Attorney Jan Goldsmith, and defended the decision not to charge the company aside from $1,000 for staff time.

“The city was duly compensated for its staff time, but any notion that we should have exploited the occasion to shake down the holder of the naming rights is absurd,” Sanders said in a statement Friday.

“Shake down” is a strong phrase. According to Goldsmith, the city had a contractual right to more money from Qualcomm. And that’s not just any contractual right. The city had something of value at a stadium that costs taxpayers $12 million a year to operate. It also needs the cash. The city’s budget gap currently stands at $31.8 million.

Qualcomm projected that 30 million television viewers and 150,000 fans would see Snapdragon advertising during the three games. In 1997, the company paid $18 million for 20-year naming rights as part of a plan to renovate the stadium.

Perhaps Qualcomm has been such a solid corporate citizen that it shouldn’t have paid to change the name. Sanders has argued that Qualcomm’s success translates into more good, local jobs. The company’s founder, Irwin Jacobs, is the primary donor on two Sanders’ legacy projects, a new downtown library and a plan to remove cars from Balboa Park’s central plaza.

But even if Qualcomm deserved to receive the name change for virtually no cost, it shouldn’t have been the mayor’s decision. Goldsmith said explicitly that both his office and the City Council needed to sign off on a change like this. Neither did.

One issue is financial. The other is about checks and balances. In a case like this, it’d be easier to dismiss the money question if the mayor had followed the rules.

(Disclosure: Jacobs is also a major donor to

Liam Dillon is a news reporter for He covers San Diego City Hall, the 2012 mayor’s race and big building projects. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

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Liam Dillon was formerly a senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He led VOSD’s investigations and wrote about how regular people...

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