My favorite commercial the Chargers put out in their $7.6 million campaign to support Measure C was this one.
It starts out with message of how embarrassed we should be:
“Forty percent of the top 10 touring bands did not put on shows in San Diego this year. Here’s what we didn’t get to see in America’s Finest City …
Forty percent of the top 10 touring bands? So … four bands? Then, on the screen flash three artists who didn’t come: Adele, Coldplay and Bruce Springsteen. The narrator continues with her shaming.
So how fine can we be without a world-class stadium in San Diego for hosting world-class musical concerts?”
How fine, indeed?
Then the video turns to Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman:
“I would love to have chance to have Adele come down here but, you know, we need a new stadium to do it.”
I’m sure he really is bummed Adele couldn’t come down here.
Adele has come here, though. Twice. And as the U-T’s George Varga pointed out, she doesn’t like to play in stadiums.
Coldplay does likes to play in stadiums. The band, in fact, is playing in Qualcomm Stadium next year.
And Springsteen? Bruce Springsteen has not played San Diego in decades. However, he managed to squeeze into the 16,000-seat Los Angeles Sports Arena just a few months ago.
That is not a stadium.
This was one of the video ads, like the one about soccer, targeted digitally to persuade non-fans to support the stadium — people who weren’t willing to do whatever the Chargers wanted to stay here.
And yet, there was Merriman as the pitch man. I have to think that, if you find Merriman compelling at all as a pitch man, you already supported the Chargers and Measure C.
The Chargers special adviser, Fred Maas said on the radio on Election Day, as he did several times before, that the Chargers had a problem. The harder they pushed for two-thirds voter support, the more opposition they would drive.
“We’ve tried to slice and dice the electorate in such a way that we didn’t build upon that 30 percent against us and yet continued to grow our support. We think we’ve done that in a really smart and clever way using the highest-tech political tactics that are available out there,” he said.
It might have been clever but it sure was ineffective. The campaign was bizarrely focused on the Chargers — even the efforts meant to appeal to those not all that concerned about the Chargers. So many of the ads and the press conferences featured only men and Chargers fans or dull city fathers like former Mayor Jerry Sanders.
In the end, the push to pass Measure C came off more as a message to fans than it did an effort to actually pass an initiative. And maybe that’s all it really was. A very expensive way to see just how much San Diego values keeping the team. When the first result came out Tuesday, a tally of 136,000 votes, only 39 percent supported the initiative.
I asked Tom Shepard, a political consultant who worked with the Padres in 1998 when they passed Petco Park, what he thought. He’s been critical of the team, once even speculating that long search for a stadium was an elaborate dance designed to persuade the NFL to let it leave San Diego.
Shepard said the Padres and ballpark boosters found out early that they had to pitch the facility as a revitalization of East Village. They couldn’t threaten that the Padres would leave or support would be too low.
The Chargers have made it so much about football and so little about what its other benefits are.
“I have been astounded that the Chargers have not only not made that the central argument but it’s almost been just incidentally referred to,” Shepard said.
Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ special counsel, told me the Padres didn’t use the threat they would leave in their campaign because that would have been ludicrous.
“They didn’t really have any place to go. To talk about them leaving was much more of a brazen threat. It was kind of made up,” Fabiani said.
The Chargers, Fabiani said, are not bluffing. “We have an NFL vote, we have a January decision date. We did not think we could hide the ball on that. It’s an argument that works for some people.”
Over and over, week after week, the Chargers simply pushed San Diegans to get in line. They refused to debate their critics. Any dissent was treated as a desire to send the team packing. When they did respond, Maas, who was supposedly brought in as a milder, smoother diplomat than Fabiani, resorted to personal attacks rather than debates about the merits of the project.
And Maas worked hard to couch Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos as the victim in all this. He described Spanos as having unbelievable patience with this little, backward town. And he said we should be grateful.
When the Mighty 1090’s Dan Sileo asked Maas what he learned from this whole thing, he said he had learned one thing: “How unfortunately small-minded and small-town some people in this community can be, which is really unfortunate to the detriment of the broader community.”
Despite the floundering campaign, the team’s failure was not just a product of it. It was set in motion months ago. Looking back, this end was inevitable. It is not easy (maybe it’s actually impossible?) to slap together a $1.8 billion infrastructure plan behind closed doors and then demand loyalty to it and win over a majority of residents, let alone two-thirds.
And yet they left themselves with no choice. After other owners in the National Football League humiliated Spanos in Houston — leading him to believe he had a chance to build a palace in Carson only to choose his rival’s plan — Spanos had to decide whether to try again in San Diego. He decided he would try for his perfect plan. By the time he did, he had very little time to pull together such a complex scenario — one that would remake downtown San Diego for many decades to come.
The legal, permitting and financial challenges were extraordinary. Lawyers and bankers holed up for weeks. They consulted with potential opponents, including some in the lodging industry, but they could not negotiate in depth or run public hearings or anything like it.
The deal was baked when it finally was out in the public. As much as the mayor may say he got further concessions, he did not. After the mayor endorsed the plan and championed his concessions, Maas would later say on the radio that nothing in the team’s pledge to the mayor was at all new to the initiative.
The Chargers thought the mayor would come around quicker than he did. They thought hotel owners would too. Then, with only a handful of “small towners” opposing them, they could sprint to two-thirds. Instead, the mayor refused to lobby his allies on the City Council for the team. The entire City Council, and the candidates for City Council, opposed it along with a diverse coalition of neighborhood activists, tourism leaders and urbanists.
The Padres would not even support the Chargers’ plan – and the Padres ownership group is managed by one of Spanos’ best friends!
The Chargers and some fans will blame these “small-minded” people. They’ve already started.
“For narrow reasons, for folks who were either Charger haters or for folks who want to protect their fiefdoms, they ran the risk of losing an iconic member of this community, the San Diego Chargers,” Maas said.
It’s a bizarre world, where a billionaire can cook up a plan and then claim he’s the victim when people don’t support it. Fans should look deeper than that. Put simply, Spanos tried to move his team and build a great stadium in Carson and then he tried for his perfect scenario in downtown San Diego.
He failed both times. In both cases, his closing argument was just a plea: I’ve been so good. I’ve been a victim. The company I run is beloved. You must step up and build us a stadium.
Only a handful of San Diegans found that persuasive.