Now that we know the Chargers are staying for at least one more season, it's time to get real about the reality of getting a new stadium built in San Diego.
And that means questions. Lots of them.
Where? Downtown or Mission Valley? Forget which site the Chargers want -- which site makes more sense for the City of San Diego? Can the team circumvent the use of public funds somehow? How can the stadium be built so that it's a commodity to the citizens of San Diego, and not just to the organization?
Chargers chairman Dean Spanos faces an uphill battle. It's not impossible, but it will take heavy lifting, finesse, compromise. Not only does Spanos need to earn back the favor of many fans, but he also has to convince non-fans to want this stadium as badly as he does. And, he faces the same opposition that any stadium built these days faces: The reality that it's not necessarily economically viable.
From Roger G. Noll, professor emeritus of economics at Stanford University, in an editorial for the L.A. Times:
"When cities battle to attract or retain a pro sports franchise, proponents frequently claim that a team will provide massive economic benefits — more jobs, new corporate headquarters, higher incomes, greater tax revenues. But it's just not so. One settled issue in economics is that a professional football team produces no measurable benefit to the local economy.
NFL teams just are not big businesses. Stadiums employ fewer than 100 people full time, and a few hundred more who work less than 100 hours per year. Most of a team's payroll goes to a small number of players, coaches and executives, who often don't even live nearby. By comparison, a single Macy's department store employs about 200 people.
NFL stadiums also aren't magnets for commercial development. Bars, restaurants and retail shops do not locate near a facility that is rarely occupied. Ten NFL games, a few concerts and tractor pulls, and Sunday flea markets are not the stuff of which thriving local retail centers are made.
The design of modern stadiums actually worsens this problem. Their massive concession areas and sea of parking lots minimize spill-over foot traffic from ticket-holders."
We've been hearing about the reality of stadiums for years, just like we've been hearing about the reality of Super Bowls, which usually end up costing the host city money instead of making the host city money.
Still, there is more to an NFL team than wins and losses and a tricked-out stadium. There is community goodwill. There are charitable contributions. There is a feeling of camaraderie amongst citizens of the city, a unifying thread that can ignite optimism in the best of times and shared misery in the worst. There are children who grow up making memories with their families. There are emotional ties, and those are tough to label with a price tag.
It is up to Spanos and his team to communicate those to the people in San Diego. It is up to Spanos to show why this stadium will be good for ALL of San Diego, and not just for the team and not just for sports fans and not just to put money into owners' pockets. It is up to Spanos to put the necessary resources into fielding a competitive team, one that will win, since winning tends to cure all (it might not cure all in this case, but it will definitely help). And it is up to those who live in San Diego to demand answers and to set high expectations. Most of us are struggling to make a living these days. If we're being asked to pay for a new stadium, there should be a clear understanding of what we're getting in return.
The time is now. Your move, Dean.