In the days before the climactic Tuesday NFL owners meeting in Houston, I predicted the Rams project in Inglewood would prevail and the Chargers would join them there. I wasn’t the only one who did that.
I made the point that Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s plan to persuade the NFL to block a move like that had failed.
I’m not quite sure how wrong I was. The Chargers did get that spot in Inglewood — they can be equity partners with the Rams in what’s being touted as the greatest NFL stadium ever conceived.
But Chargers owner Dean Spanos was clearly and deeply disappointed. His demeanor indicated he had great hopes his plan for Carson — developed with the Raiders and later with Disney CEO Bob Iger — would win approval.
I thought that they would have anticipated this outcome, planned for what they would demand and then, if they got it, take it. Apparently they still have a lot to work out.
The chair of the Republican Party of San Diego, Tony Krvaric asked if I had egg on my face.
The mayor’s political adviser, Jason Roe, claimed triumph. “This is what victory looks like,” he tweeted with a screen shot of the news on television.
But if the outcome of the meeting was a defeat for Spanos, I hope to someday have similar defeats.
Spanos now has successfully convinced his colleagues that he has done all he can to get a stadium in San Diego, satisfying their rules for being allowed to leave a home market. He was given first right of refusal to move to L.A. and he has a spot at the new Inglewood stadium. He doesn’t have to be a tenant there if he doesn’t want to be. He can raise money and be a partner with Kroenke.
Right now, he’s working on that deal and he’ll surely come to some terms. If they’re good, he’ll take it. If he’s unsure, the city essentially pays the Chargers to play at Qualcomm Stadium and he can stay here for another year to decide.
Already, San Diego officials are talking about enhancing the deal they’re offering him. And the NFL owners offered him another $100 million grant to close a deal in San Diego — not a loan, straight cash to bridge the gap between what he has and what the public officials are willing to put up for a stadium here.
Last year at this time, the mayor was just announcing his creation of a task force to decide where a stadium should be and how we would pay for it. Spanos was so disgusted with what he perceived as a slight and another delay, he managed to provoke a mobilization of the city and county unlike anything we’ve ever seen. And now, a year later, and millions in tax dollars spent, the mayor and a county supervisor have produced a stadium plan that they are openly willing to scrap to bend to whatever other wishes Spanos might have. Their only demand is that he talk to them.
Faulconer expressed almost complete flexibility. I say “almost” because he stopped short of saying the city would be willing to offer Spanos more money, and Faulconer is still insisting the voters get final say on any deal.
But Faulconer used to also insist that Spanos commit to San Diego for years in order for Faulconer to justify exploring options downtown for a stadium. No more. Faulconer would not lay that demand out again in his press conference Wednesday.
“As you know, there’s some real challenges to a downtown site. We don’t own the property, you need to move the busyard. It’s going to require a lot more time, and likely a lot more money,” Faulconer said. The Chargers would not only need to show a willingness to go through that.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was only slightly more demanding.
“If the Chargers want to pursue downtown, we’re happy to speak with them. Since it’s going to take multi years to get a lot of these things done downtown, we can’t put our city in a position of where we don’t know if the Chargers are staying while we implement the plan,” Goldsmith said.
Thus, Spanos finds himself in a strong position. He can get back to the table here and they’re practically begging him to demand more concessions of them. If he still isn’t happy with what he gets, he has a path to Inglewood waiting for him.
The NFL itself is ready to help San Diego pull a deal together and it seems clear that if Spanos and San Diego get on the same page, then time doesn’t have to be such a pressure point. In fact, the resolution the NFL owners agreed to says a committee of owners can decide to give Spanos a second year to keep his spot in Los Angeles before they hand the opportunity over to the Raiders.
What’s more, Stan Kroenke, the owner of the Rams, cannot sell naming rights, corporate suites or personal seat licenses in his new Inglewood facility until another team agrees to join him there or until 2017. So he has some remaining incentive to work in good faith with Spanos, and quickly.
Spanos may have lost a contest Tuesday. But in the elite, isolated world of NFL economics and power, even after a so-called defeat, he’s far better off than he was Monday.
As for the mayor, no, the city has not lost the Chargers yet. Perhaps it was because of the mayor’s strategy. But Spanos got the go-ahead to move. The choice is now his. And they’re willing to do a lot to make him choose San Diego.
Forgive me for not being entirely clear who really won this round.