The U-T editorialized today (January 31) that the task force on the Chargers stadium is "packed with the right mix of expertise." Of course it is "packed" — just as all the other task forces and special committees are "packed" with corporate-welfare boosters. The task force's job is to shift as much of the burden as possible on to taxpayers and steer the profits to the private sector — socialization of the risk and privatization of the gain.
This time, though, the task force is looking at problems that appear insuperable. For example, San Diego is not only a small market (17th largest in the nation), it is a financially squeezed one.
In recent years, the National Football League's attendance focus has been on the affluent. Teams want to make their money on luxury suites and seats and personal seat licenses. The last time I checked, the Chargers had ditched the idea of personal seat licenses. There isn't the wealth in this market. Also, the team will not make the kind of money other teams do on luxury suites and seats. How many biotech executives will fete their friends in a Chargers box?
The Chargers claim that 30 percent of their revenue comes from Orange County and Los Angeles. If a team or two enters the Los Angeles market, the Chargers will be hurting severely, and the construction of a new stadium won't salve the pain, except perhaps for the first few years when the novelty effect may fill some seats. A strategy of cutting back seating (say, from 70,000 to 59,000) and then charging more for the seats and concessions may not work in the San Diego market. It hasn't worked for the Padres.
The task force may zero in on a domed stadium near Petco Park that would serve as a football field and an extension of the convention center. If the task force honestly checks experts in the convention center industry, it will find that this combination does not work, particularly when the facility is blocks away from the main center. Similarly, the plume under Qualcomm Stadium will thwart any development of that site for perhaps another decade. And does Mission Valley need more development?
If the task force does its job, it will try to determine how much money the Spanos family has. Forbes magazine says the family is worth $1.2 billion, and the Chargers account for about $1 billion of that. You can bet the Spanos family will not put $200 million into a stadium, as it claims it will, even if naming and advertising rights account for $100 million of the sum
I doubt the Chargers can move to Los Angeles unless the Spanos family sells at least half the team. Los Angeles, remember, won't put taxpayer money into a stadium. San Diego shouldn't either, particularly since its infrastructure is in such bad shape, but if the city deals with the Spanoses, it is doomed to putting at least 70 percent of the money into a structure.
The U-T says the task force is "a group that can get it done." I can name one member of the task force who didn't "get it done." He is Rod Dammeyer. He was chairman of the boards' audit committee of San Diego's biggest fraud, Peregrine Systems.
On June 3, 2002, when Peregrine was working to restate its earnings of the previous three years, and the Securities and Exchange Commission was investigating the company, Dammeyer resigned "for personal reasons." Dammeyer has had much more success in other endeavors, but I doubt that he or anybody else on that task force can solve the big problem: neither San Diego nor the Spanos family can afford a new stadium.