qualcomm-story

An Insult to Dumps Everywhere

Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Chargers, is a decrepit hulk, but the city government’s comical dysfunction means a deal for a new venue is as far off as ever

By
Jim Trotter
· More from Jim·

When Peter King approached me about writing a weekly West Coast-centric column for his website, I found it attractive not only because I believe Sports Illustrated’s football coverage has had an eastern bias, but also because it meant shorter flights from my home in San Diego.

But then the reality hit me. It also meant more time in dumps disguised as NFL stadiums, namely O.co Coliseum in Oakland and Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego. (Candlestick Park, thank goodness, has just one more year left; the 49ers move into their new building in Santa Clara in 2014.)

Actually, calling Qualcomm a dump really is an insult to dumps. The JumboTron is so old that some replacement parts can only be found on eBay. There’s no capacity for a hi-definition video board or for new electronic signage. In an era in which the NFL is trying to heighten the stadium experience to allow fans to keep up with scores and stats from other games via their smartphones, connectivity is limited in part by structural issues within the stadium. (At the preseason opener this year, one Chargers exec could not communicate via email with his staff during the game because of poor wifi.) White trash bags cover large electrical connectors that hang from a lower wall, and cracks are visible in the concrete in various places. Heavy rains often cause the drainage systems to back up, which is why the team has rubber boots on hand for fans whose seats are flooded. It’s not uncommon for sewage to leak onto the field and into the visiting locker room. According to an independent audit performed for the city, the stadium needs $70 million in maintenance and repairs.

Yes, I know. Stop whining. Things could be worse. I could have to critique One Direction for a living. But what’s especially irritating is that things don’t have to be this way. For the last decade, the Chargers have proposed a variety of plans for a new stadium that would keep the team in San Diego. The latest is a downtown venue near the convention center and the Padres’ Petco Park. Based on the cost of the Niners’ new stadium, the Chargers’ project would come to an estimated $1.1 billion, with $300 million of that from public sources. Whether you object on principle to any public financing for sports venues or not, the simple fact is that the Chargers don’t even have a viable entity to negotiate with. Their management is dealing with the most dysfunctional city government in the country. That is not hyperbole.

The JumboTron is so old that some replacement parts can only be found on eBay. Heavy rains often cause the drainage systems to back up, and it’s not uncommon for sewage to leak onto the field and into the visiting locker room.

At one point in the last decade San Diego had four “mayors” in five years. One announced his resignation five months after a controversial re-election win over an 11th-hour write-in candidate, and his replacement then resigned after three days as acting mayor when he was convicted (though later acquitted in a new trial) of conspiracy, wire fraud and extortion.

In February, former mayor Maureen O’Connor admitted to federal prosecutors that she had taken more than $2 million from the charitable organization of her late husband, Jack-in-the-Box founder Robert Peterson, to feed a gambling habit, and that over the years she had wagered more than $1 billion at casinos across the country. And current mayor Bob Filner has effectively pulled the emergency brake on city business because he faces at least 15 accusations of sexual harassment and mounting calls for his resignation.

The fact that Chargers president and CEO Dean Spanos hasn’t packed up the team already—and there is a gaping NFL void two hours up the coast in Los Angeles—speaks volumes about his sincerity about keeping the Chargers in town, although many of his critics will refuse to accept that. I’ve butted heads with Spanos on multiple occasions over the years, but one thing I’ve never questioned is his commitment to staying in town and doing a deal that’s fair to both sides.

Qualcomm Stadium is in a state of disrepair.
Qualcomm Stadium is in a state of disrepair—the venue is due some $70 million in repairs and maintenance.

His family name means everything to him. As I’ve written before, when his football people are considering a potentially controversial move, his input often is along the lines of: Don’t embarrass my family. He realizes that if he moves the Chargers, he will be to San Diego what Art Modell was to Cleveland. And if he does a deal that gets over on the city while keeping the Chargers in town, well, that would be equally unpleasant.

But how do you do a negotiate with a metropolis that is rudderless? “The city needs mayoral leadership for big projects, and right now it is not there,” city attorney Jan Goldsmith said in a statement to The MMQB. “But, we will get through this turmoil.”

Spanos is clearly frustrated, but not broken. “We’ve been over 10 years in this process, and there have been times where we thought we were close,” he said. “But we may be the furthest we’ve been from getting a stadium done because of what’s happened locally. It’s really a sad situation. But we’re not going to stop trying to get a deal done. I haven’t given up. It’s still the greatest place to live. This is where I’m from. This is where I want to be—and that means a lot. But this is a business, and we have to compete with 31 other clubs. It’s my responsibility to put this organization in the best financial position it can be in to be competitive with the 31 other clubs.”

Spanos recognizes the financial issues facing the city, which is why his group is trying to structure a deal in which any public money (more on that in a minute) would not come from the general fund that’s used for police, fire, road repairs and the like. Some residents are against spending any public money on a proposed project for the Chargers, but the reality is that the city already is spending roughly $15 million a year to maintain Qualcomm and the San Diego Sports Arena, both of which it owns.

We may be the furthest we’ve been from getting a stadium done because of what’s happened locally. But we’re not going to stop trying. —Dean Spanos

Spread those costs over the seven years remaining on the team’s lease after this season, add in the $70 million in deferred maintenance that’s due, and the Chargers believe that by bonding against that money it would cover the $300 million public contribution the team expects to seek. The city also would then be able to sell the 166 acres at the Qualcomm site, as well as the parcel that the Sports Arena sits on.

It’s a significant vision—something the area has lacked for years—because it incorporates three different parts of town: the Qualcomm site in Mission Valley; Point Loma, where the Sports Arena sits; and downtown. But the city needs strong leadership to help get a deal done, and there’s no indication such leadership currently exists at City Hall. Without it, San Diego is sure to lose the team.

My words, not Spanos’s. Just do the math.

The Chargers rank in the bottom quartile in the NFL in revenue. Teams share national television money, but local monies, such as those from TV and radio deals, suite sales, sponsorships and advertising, are kept by the individual teams. The Chargers are among the have-nots in this area.

For instance, if they sell all 113 of their suites at Qualcomm, at an average of $125,000 per suite, that totals just over $14 million. If Dallas sells out its 300 suites, at an average of $250,000, that’s $75 million for the Cowboys. In other words, suite sales alone amount to an advantage of more than $60 million in local revenue. Such differences affect how teams spend on their coaches and how they structure contracts for cash flow.

The 47-year-old Qualcomm was originally built for baseball and football and was more suited to the former—which becomes glaringly obvious when visiting a modern stadium. For one, the seats are closer to the field in new stadiums, whereas they flow away from the field in Qualcomm. The first row of seats in San Diego is approximately 70 feet from the playing field, nearly twice the distance compared to Invesco Field in Denver and the refurbished Soldier Field in Chicago. And many of those front row seats at Qualcomm—great for those old Padres games—are obstructed for football.

With all the turmoil in city government, the Chargers’ path to a new stadium looks just as obstructed for now. So, Candlestick for another year. Qualcomm and the Oakland coliseum for who knows how much longer. Suddenly I’m starting to wonder if this West Coast assignment was a good deal after all.

168 comments
locobueno45
locobueno45

Problems with a new stadium:

1) The Bolts will sell seats with PSL's(a) and that will mean higher ticket prices for everyone.

2) There are gas plumbs under Qualcomm and the Down Town site that will cost many millions to eradicate.

3) The Chargers (Dean Spanos) love San Diego but loves money more and the Bolts are not willing to put up the funds.


* The vote by the public was supposed to be on the November 2011 ballot, now it is scheduled for 2016 - good luck with that.

(a) Personal Seat License Fees

ChargerBlue
ChargerBlue

  Man, whatever happened to credible journalism?  You sir have your nose stuck in the posterior of a spoiled teenager.

  I will grant you, the Q is an aged facility and we would all love new digs for our beloved Chargers, but before you go erecting statues siting selfless sacrifice (Mr. Jack Murphy, maybe you've heard of him?) please put down the hookah and let's try to navigate the smoke cloud your stuck in less you step in your own bs.

  Rest assured, NO ONE has taken a lead to improve anything at the Q, especially not the Chargers.   They have treated the Ol' Murph like a spoiled rich kid would treat grandma's hand-me-down sedan after their big brother (Padres) managed to finagle a new 'Vette.  

  They beat the hell out of it and complain to whoever will listen when the truth is they don't know what a dipstick looks like... much less (gasp!) how to change the oil....nor do they want to.  They only hope it breaks down so they can jump on the hood and make a public spectacle and further their argument about how abused they are and how we should buy them a shiny sports car.   

  And you suggest we should cast bronze in their likeness? .  

  The fact is, ‘they’ have more disposable income than the very people who are busting their asses to keep a roof over their head.  We say: You want a new sportscar, go buy it.  Put your skin in the game and spend some of your birthday money you’ve been hoarding.  And PLEEEAAASE quit telling us about how lucky we are you still live at home and threatening to move out.  

GO!   We will stare at your room with fond memories and miss you.   But we will eventually sell the house and realize that we have 800 million in equity and finally get to retire.  You on the other hand will wake up in Smell-A and realize your parents weren't so bad after all.  

  The real question for Mr. Spanos is this:  We will all be dead one day and the only left will be your legacy.  What will be your legacy Sir?  You claim to love this Beloved City that has been so good to you.  Will you be  worthy of bronze... or porcelain.  

   And finally Mr. Trotter, for your efforts, you have secured your credentials to the pressbox for yet another season.  Help yourself to all the frozen pizza, lukewar weiners and absolutely crappy coffee the Chargers are kind enough to provide.  Just please leave your shoes outside, they smell funny.

jfm8000
jfm8000

let it rot and turn to dust before any taxpayer money in any way or in any shape or any loans from taxpayers is spent on stupid sports stadiums. its a business, let the owner pay or shut it down.

OK
OK

Jimmy,

Since you tried humping for Dean Spanos, you haven't posted a single thing here on SI.

Could it be that the SI editors grew a veritable set and canned your sorry, Jim Gray Wannabe, worthless backside?

Let's hope so.

Cory3
Cory3

They want the taxpayers to pay for a new stadium and then pay outrageous prices to fill it because if you don't fill it you won't get to see it on tv. It's amazing how you are forced to pay for something that you are entitled to get to watch. Screw that. Taxpayers should never be bilked into having to pay for anything for a 9+billion yearly industry.

Cory3
Cory3

*Not entitled to watch

BTW, you are never done paying for it either because before it's paid off they come to you and tell you then needs 100's of millions more to upgrade it because it's getting too old.


Translucent
Translucent

Quote: "The fact that Chargers president and CEO Dean Spanos hasn’t packed up the team already—and there is a gaping NFL void two hours up the coast in Los Angeles—speaks volumes about his sincerity about keeping the Chargers in town..."

No it doesn't. Mr. Trotter, San Diego has perhaps one thing in common with Los Angeles: Neither city has a viable NFL stadium. If Spanos "packed up the team," he wouldn't suddenly find a stadium in L.A.

Anybody willing to build in L.A. will want to buy into the team that comes to town. With the cost of building, they will want to buy in at a discount. Given what NFL teams are worth, no NFL team will be willing (or allowed) to sell shares in the franchise at a discount.

Potential stadium builders want a discount they can not have. We have an impasse. The Chargers not coming to L.A. has nothing to do with Spanos' supposed loyalty.

sjannese
sjannese

the old ''Sullivan-Stadium'' in Foxborough,Mass. makes Qualcomm look like a state-of-the-art/~palace~......!

Phroggo
Phroggo

Dean Spanos is a notorious sandbagger. After showing up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Golf Tournament claiming to be from Stockton and winning the pro-am portion twice, he hasn't been invited back because they, reportedly, believe his handicap wasn't legit.

JimmyAlbin
JimmyAlbin

OK, to start I'm not even a chargers fan, but most of you guys seem to be missing the point.  Have you ever even been to a Chargers game?  This stadium is a disgrace and needs to be repaired.  Plus the revenue generated by having an up to date stadium goes to help out the local economy.  Don't worry I'm by far rich and work 2 jobs to make ends meet.  However when I finally get to go to a football game live, I spend money on a hotel room, rental car or public transportation, food, and finally maybe even some of the local sites the day before.  Imagine how many other people do the same.  This in turn goes to pay for these businesses to pay rent, for supplies and taxes.  Which in turn pay for your local services and local peoples pay checks.  You'd all be surprised how much revenue is actual generated.  Seeing that the NFL is offering to pay almost 80% of the cost, saving the city 70 million in repairs and the cost of maintaining the stadium at 15 million a year.  That savings once again can back into needed projects in the city. 

johnogre68
johnogre68

@JimmyAlbin The NFL isn't offering to pay for anything.  The NFL G-4 program provides up to $200 million in loans to NFL owners to build new stadiums.  The Chargers want the city to spend over a $billion of taxpayers' funds on the stadium.


It's be proven over and over that NFL stadiums and Super Bowls do not bring in the revenue to make these projects anything but a drain on the taxpayers.

danb
danb

Public funding should NEVER be used for sports stadiums.  Any talk of these new stadiums benefiting anyone other than the team owners is a crock of s--t.  


LeilaniHernandez
LeilaniHernandez

O CRY!!!!   NOBODY IN SAN DIEGO CARES ABOUT THE CHARGERS. THERE ARE NO FANS IN SAN DIEGO. BURN THE STADIUM AND RELOCATE THE TEAM TO ANOTHER CITY, PREFERABLY IN CHINA!

dcs1256
dcs1256

What a crock of crap.  Those pictures look like the same ones the Dolphins posted to show the "dire" need for the public to pony up and help renovate their stadium.  Their stadium where billionaires own the playground that millionaires play in.  The choices for the Chargers are quite simple.  Sell a controlling interest to Ed Roski and move on up back to LA.  Or, get the cash you need from the NFL and build your stadium and quit whining about it.  

ianlinross
ianlinross

Written by a man who's probably never paid for coffee and pizza at any stadium.

mystafugee
mystafugee

@ianlinross agreed, how about NFL teams if they take public funds agree to share stadium profits along the same lines of investment or give an ownership stake to the city/county/etc.  

pamperofirpo
pamperofirpo

The building of all of these billion dollar stadiums will prove to be folly. The NFL experience has gotten to be so good at home on big screen TVs that there is little reason to attend in person. And, with the billion dollar stadiums, the cost is just going to get bigger and bigger. Beer will be $20 a cup soon in some venues. The total cost for four people to attend a single game will ultimately approach $1000.

Stay at home people. Save your money.

BillAbendroth
BillAbendroth

@pamperofirpo 

I share Commentator Pamperofirpo's point of view.  I write separately, though, to describe the last time I attended a Charger game in person.  This was the last game of the season in 2009.  The Chargers had already cliched a playoff berth, and were playing Jim Zorn's Washington Redskins, for which (I'm sure) was the last head coaching position of Mr. Zorn's career.

The tickets were roughly $65. USD a piece (if I remember), and we sat about twenty rows from the top of the lip of the bowl that is Qualcomm.  Now, my eyes aren't what they used to be, but still--I could hardly make out the action on the field, and (with everyone else) largely depended on the replays on the large screen.  So, I'm paying to sit in an uncomfortable seat, to watch crappy television.  Why NOT stay home, and watch good television from a comfortable chair?  (not to mention, the refreshments are much better and more affordable).

But because the game was meaningless (in every sense of the word), the Chargers' first string played (maybe) two series.  From then on, the game was a preseason exhibition.....

What is lost, though, by not seeing a game live is the instant camaraderie with people in your section.  I loved heckling players on the field (even though my voice wouldn't carry more than five feet away) and listening to the catcalls from folks around me (again, all less than five feet away).  Nevertheless, as clever as some of the wits were (and they were funny), they weren't a hundred and thirty bucks clever......

Public funding to subsidize more luxury boxes is just a poor use of money...................  

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