A cast of characters has emerged as local leaders try to cobble together a plan to keep the Chargers in San Diego.
But unlike an actual game, the players determining the outcome here aren’t very familiar faces to most San Diegans. So we assembled a starting lineup, if you will, to introduce you to the people calling the shots. Sadly, to our knowledge, not one of them is known to regularly wear bolo ties.
The Decision-Makers: The Spanos Family
Alex, who’s now in his 90s, has since passed the baton to sons Dean, the team chairman and president, and Michael, the team’s executive vice president. Grandsons A.G. and John have also taken on increasing leadership roles in recent years.
The family’s finances are substantial. Forbes reports Alex Spanos’ net worth at $1.26 billion, which makes him (and his family) among the 500 wealthiest people in the U.S. Still, that’s much less than NFL high-rollers like Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones or Seahawks owner Paul Allen.
The Spanos family has pushed for cushier digs in San Diego for more than a decade. The situation’s gotten more tense since the team unveiled a plan to move to Carson with the Oakland Raiders if things don’t come through here.
Dean Spanos recently told the Los Angeles Times it’s been a difficult time for him.
“It’s a very emotional time right now, obviously,” Spanos said. “But I have to sit here and think about the big picture. I’m not thinking about right now, next year, two years or three years from now. … My focus is on the stadium. That’s the future of this franchise. I’m not trying to diminish the value of the short term, because we do want to win a Super Bowl, we want to do all those things you need to be a successful franchise, but at the end of the day we want a stadium situation that keeps us competitive with the league for the next 25, 30 years.”
The Play Caller: Mark Fabiani
The Spanoses have largely outsourced their stadium battles to war-tested strategist Mark Fabiani, who’s been the Chargers stadium point man since 2002.
The Harvard Law School alum’s resume also includes stints as deputy mayor of Los Angeles, federal bureaucrat, lead crisis communicator for the Clintons during the Whitewater investigation and deputy campaign manager to former Vice President Al Gore. Fabiani and partner in crime, Chris Lehane, earned the title “masters of disaster” from Newsweek during former President Bill Clinton’s 1996 campaign.
Fabiani’s continued to rack up high-profile clients since he and Lehane opened their own crisis communications shop in California. They’ve included Lance Armstrong, Goldman Sachs and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
Perhaps Fabiani’s 2014 comment to the New York Times offers the best window into his methodical approach to ensuring his clients get what they want, whether that’s an Election Day win or a reputation rehabilitation: “You take a calendar. You say, ‘The vote is going to be here; let’s work back and figure out every week.’ ”
The bottom line: Fabiani’s all about strategy. He doesn’t criticize or publicly shame anyone on a whim – and he’s no doubt applying that approach to his Chargers gig.
The Referees: The NFL Commissioner and the 31 Other Team Owners
The Chargers can say all they want about bailing on San Diego but they can’t actually do it without the league’s blessing.
Dean Spanos is keenly aware of this.
“It’s really not going to be up to me, it’s going to be up to the 30 other owners in the room who are going to vote on this situation,” he told the L.A. Times.
Indeed, 24 of the league’s 32 owners must sign off on a relocation.
The NFL executive evaluating potential L.A. moves recently said he thinks there’s “a good possibility” that a team will move there in 2016.
But the Chargers have competition.
St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, one of the league’s wealthiest owners, is working on a stadium proposal of his own in Inglewood.
So Kroenke, Spanos and Raiders owner Mark Davis likely had some awkward moments during last week’s owners meetings in Phoenix. Each probably wanted face time with Commissioner Roger Goodell. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s stadium task force is looking forward to the opportunity, too. It’s scheduled to hear from NFL executives twice this month.
Coach of the Home Team: Mayor Kevin Faulconer
San Diego’s agreeable mayor has been thrown into a street fight he didn’t seem to see coming.
Faulconer likely thought his January announcement that he’d put together a task force to assemble a stadium plan would be seen as an olive branch. Fabiani treated it more like a poke in the eye – he criticized a task force member who wasn’t actually a task force member and later, potential conflicts of interest.
Then word of the Carson stadium plans added insult to injury.
All the bad news has been challenging for Faulconer, who often takes a backseat to bolder personalities in political fights.
The Home Team: The Stadium Task Force
Wary of fruitless past efforts, Faulconer nonetheless opted to do what others before him had done to solve the stadium issue: create a task force.
Except he didn’t want to call it a task force. The mayor dubbed his group the Citizens’ Stadium Advisory Group and appointed nine local leaders and experts to propose a location for a new stadium and a plan to pay for it. He initially gave them until fall 2015 to show their hand but now says they’ll need to tie things up by May 20.
Here’s its roster.
Adam Day: Day, the longtime assistant tribal manager for the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, is essentially the task force quarterback. The politically savvy Republican is chairing the task force. Day previously worked for county Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Greg Cox, and then-Sen. Pete Wilson. He also serves on countless local boards, including the California State University Board of Trustees and the board that runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
The latter post got him some negative press in 2012 when he failed to properly report free tickets he’d received for a concert. A state agency ultimately opted not to punish him.
Jason Hughes: Hughes, the group’s co-chair, is a local commercial real estate guru. He got lots of ink in 2009 when he disputed the city consultants’ projections for the cost of not building a new City Hall, saying the city could actually get a better deal on its current leases. He later offered to negotiate for the city free of charge. Then-Mayor Jerry Sanders rebuffed the offer but ex-Mayor Bob Filner took Hughes up on it in 2013.
Hughes later helped the city out with a major lease.
Jim Steeg: Steeg is a former NFL executive considered responsible for making the Super Bowl the week-long spectacle it is today. Steeg later served as the Chargers’ executive vice president and chief operating officer for more than five years. Many saw Steeg’s place on the task force as a good sign that a deal was possible. He’s become a fan favorite.
Walt Ekard: The East County native served as the county’s chief administrative officer for more than a dozen years, earning a reputation as a careful steward of the county budget and a talented manager who helped transform county government.
Ekard, a Republican, was also the city’s temporary chief operating officer in 2013 as the Filner scandal embroiled City Hall.
Rod Dammeyer: Dammeyer is a financing expert who chairs CAC, a firm that offers capital investment and consulting services.
Aimee Faucett: Faucett is chief operating officer of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce. She previously served as chief of staff in Faulconer’s City Council office and as director of policy under Sanders.
Jessie Knight: Knight is chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric, and executive vice president of external affairs for Sempra Energy.
He once led the Chamber of Commerce.
Mary Lydon: Lydon is an urban planning expert and executive director of the Urban Land Institute-San Diego-Tijuana, an international nonprofit focused on land use, sustainability and smart growth.
The Home Team Strategists: Tony Manolatos and Jason Roe
Faulconer and the task force have a couple of political operators looking out for them.
Tony Manolatos, once a staffer in Faulconer’s City Council office, is serving as spokesman for the task force. Manolatos is an ex-U-T San Diego scribe who’s worked for many right-leaning candidates and organizations in recent years, including the Lincoln Club of San Diego County and City Councilman Chris Cate. Manolatos also served as Faulconer’s mayoral campaign spokesman during the primary race, sometimes serving as the nice-guy candidate’s attack dog.
Manolatos went on the offensive against Fabiani and the Chargers last week, suggesting the Chargers are “all in on LA” and more focused on persuading NFL owners to OK a move than working with San Diego.
Veteran Republican political consultant Jason Roe doesn’t have an official role in the stadium showdown but he’s gotten pulled into the stadium wars anyway.
Roe’s a longtime consultant for Faulconer and other San Diego Republicans who’s also got some national street cred. He’s managed the campaigns of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and ex- Rep. James Rogan, who prosecuted the Senate impeachment trial of former President Bill Clinton, and also served as a deputy campaign manager for Mitt Romney‘s first presidential run in 2007.
Roe has sat in on multiple stadium task force meetings and appearances, often lurking in the background.
Fabiani seized on those appearances – and the hiring of Manolatos – in a Feb. 17 letter to Faulconer.
He said that the Chargers weren’t interested in working with the task force if it’s “a process that is designed simply to provide political cover,” which he said Manolatos’ and Roe’s involvement suggests.
Roe fired back with a cutting statement of his own: “Ryan Leaf is no longer the worst personnel decision in Chargers’ history.”
Manolatos later said Roe has no official role with the task force but is monitoring its work because the voters will eventually weigh in on a new stadium and he’s the mayor’s political consultant.
The Power Players: San Diego County Supervisors
San Diego’s been budget-strapped for years. The county, on the other hand, has lots of money in the bank.
So last week’s news that the county may partner up with the city on a stadium was a big deal.
County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts, who formed the county’s stadium subcommittee almost a decade ago, said the county would split the cost of consultants and attorneys needed to help the region negotiate with the Chargers on a new stadium. The City Council and the County Board of Supervisors are set to vote on that plan soon.
Roberts, a former architect, previously said the county provide upfront cash – known as a bridge loan – to foot the public cost of a new stadium before surrounding developments that may be proposed, say condos or businesses, help pay the bills.
Jacob, a retired teacher, says she’s just seeking a good deal for taxpayers.
The Opposing Team: Carson, Calif.
The Chargers dropped a bomb in February: They’d partnered with the Oakland Raiders on a stadium proposal in Carson, south of Los Angeles.
City and labor leaders crowed about a $1.7 billion privately financed stadium and the potential economic boon for the area. Carson City Councilman Albert Robles added fuel to the fire with his split Chargers-Raiders jersey.
Fabiani stayed off camera during the big press conference but the teams released a joint statement saying they were pursuing the out-of-town stadium option because “if we cannot find a permanent solution in our home markets, we have no alternative but to preserve other options to guarantee the future economic viability of our franchises.”
Last week, Carson stadium supporters turned in almost double the number of required signatures to get the proposal on the ballot there.
If enough are valid, the City Council could simply sign off on the project or schedule an election.
The Potential Game-Changer: Goldman Sachs
The Chargers and the Raiders were noticeably absent from the Carson press conference in February but a representative for one international financial powerhouse did take the mic.
Goldman Sachs managing director Tim Romer said the company would be willing to help finance the Carson deal.
“We’re committed to helping get this done,” said Romer, who said the project would follow the model of Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, which relied on personal seat licenses as a major source of cash.
Fabiani later told NBC 7 San Diego that the bank would “cover the team’s operating losses with in the first few years and renovations to a temporary venue, if needed.”
Goldman may have an extra incentive to be so helpful.
The firm’s also working with Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon on a publicly funded stadium proposal to keep the St. Louis Rams there – and out of Inglewood. The Inglewood proposal is far less likely to survive if the Chargers and Raiders move to Carson.