Ever since the Chargers arrived here from Los Angeles in 1961, the football team has had a godfather in what used to be known as the Union-Tribune, and before that the morning Union and the Evening Tribune.
Owned by Jim Copley, the papers heavily promoted construction of San Diego Stadium in Mission Valley, the name of which was subsequently changed to Jack Murphy Stadium, in honor of the Union’s sports writer’s role in the development.
When it later became necessary for the city to sell the stadium's naming rights to raise cash for an expansion demanded by the team, Copley's widow Helen quickly signaled support for replacing the dead scribe's name with that of mobile phone giant Qualcomm.
Political alliances between the Chargers and Jim Copley, one of the first to befriend Dick Nixon's ill-starred career, also blossomed. Star quarterback Jack Kemp was virtually adopted by Union editor and Nixon PR man Herb Klein and molded into a Republican New York congressman from Buffalo.
This week the game changed.
News that the team is partnering with the Oakland Raiders on an L.A. stadium in case San Diego taxpayers don't come up with enough scratch for one here could spell the beginning of the end for the U-T, already struggling under the ownership of voluble real estate mogul Douglas Manchester.
Exactly how much Chargers coverage and related advertising contribute to the U-T’s bottom line is a tightly held secret, but is believed by some to be one of the operation's last dependable streams of cash.
Under Manchester and his once second-in-command John Lynch, a former NFL player, the paper has loaded up on Chargers news and promotion. Consequently, readership and revenue could take a significant hit if the team leaves town.
Already, the U-T’s chief operating officer Mike Hodges has departed to run an internet marketing company, leaving the paper’s management in the hands of editor Jeff Light.
And sharks are circling in the form of Malin Burnham and his yet-to-be-identified backers, who seek to obtain the paper from Manchester and operate it through a non-profit corporation.
One in particular who may have an interest in the fate of the once-proud GOP journal is Qualcomm co-founder Irwin Jacobs, the La Jolla Democratic billionaire who is rooting for Hillary Clinton in next year's presidential derby. He already has helped finance San Diego State University's public broadcasting operation and the non-profit Voice of San Diego news and opinion website.
A change of editorial posture by the paper, or its electronic successor under non-profit control, could shake up local politics in a post-Chargers era.
Like Burnham a supporter of Republican-turned-Democrat Nathan Fletcher for mayor in 2013, Jacobs is helping to stage what is billed as the first annual fundraiser for the California Young Democrats of the San Diego Region, featuring a galaxy of Democratic office holders and putative candidates.
According to an emailed invitation, politically ambitious San Diego school-district trustee Kevin Beiser heads the March 5 event at Hillcrest’s Bamboo Lounge. In addition to Jacobs, listed sponsors include Fletcher, city-council hopeful Barbara Bry, and Assembly speaker Toni Atkins.
Hosts include former council candidate Sarah Boot, port commissioner Rafael Castellanos, possible Bry council rival Joe LaCava, and Nancy Chase, a onetime top aide to Roger Hedgecock.
The fallen Republican mayor was a chief U-T adversary when the operation was owned by Helen Copley, who favored his rival and her close friend Maureen O'Connor.