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The Union-Tribune admitted this morning (January 14) that those "pointy-headed, sissy" economists were right all along: the San Diego economy remained strong during the year that the Chargers were gone.

Mark Fabiani

Dean Spanos

From the mid-1990s to last year, the U-T, radio and television stations, the hotel lobbyists, and others vehemently argued that the Chargers and Padres were big stimulants to the local economy and deserved huge public subsidies. In my U-T and Reader columns, I regularly interviewed economists who said that was a bunch of hooey.

This morning, the U-T, tail wagging between its legs, admitted it was a bunch of hooey. Hotel occupancy has risen in the year the Chargers were gone. Economists always said that few people came from out of town to watch games. There were a few exceptions: Los Angelenos who came down to watch the Dodgers play, got drunk, and stayed overnight.

Also, in 2016 when Dean Spanos and Mark Fabiani were doing their darnedest to alienate San Diegans so they would lose the election and be free to move to L.A., out-of-towners came to San Diego to see their teams play the Chargers because they could get cheap tickets in good seats at the then-named Qualcomm Stadium.

The U-T noted this morning that 2017 hotel occupancy on the weekends the Chargers played in 2016 dropped. Of course. That’s because 2016 numbers were artificially inflated because of those out-of-towners taking advantage of local hostility against the Chargers.

The U-T wept for certain restaurants and bars that lost business because the Chargers departed. But the U-T admitted that other restaurants and bars made up the difference. The economists were saying all along that the money spent before, during, and after sports events was money that would have been spent elsewhere in the absence of games. It’s called the substitution effect. The spending of local money is just rearranged.

The Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis published a poll of economists in May 2017. A whopping 86 percent of economists said that local and state governments in the U.S. should eliminate subsidies of professional sports franchises.

In every city considering a subsidy for a pro sports team, there is one big problem: the media. Newspapers, TV, and radio stations almost always honk their horns in favor of the subsidy. That’s because the media make a bundle of money from sports. I will bet that advertising in the U-T sports section has declined, perhaps sharply, since the Chargers left. In short, mainstream media have a vested interest in government subsidizing pro sports teams. The media noise drowns out common sense and economists’ intelligent analyses.

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Visduh Jan. 14, 2018 @ 5:28 p.m.

Don, the U-T did feature the complainers prominently in that story, and a superficial reading might have a reader thinking the news was bad. A closer reading, such as yours, revealed the opposite.

I've often wondered what would happen when all those season ticket holders for Charger games no longer were buying them. Put all of the holders together and multiply by the respective prices for a season, and you had millions and millions, ..and millions of dollars going into the Spanos black hole. Maybe those fan(atics) will just put those dollars into the bank and save for retirement, a rainy day, or for some travel adventures. Some might be willing to spend on other sports of the active type, as opposed to spectator sports, and take up tennis, running, bicycling, baseball, softball, or--perish the thought--golf.

A real, full-blown, analysis of just what happened to all that loot would be most revealing indeed. But nobody will want to pay for one.

A final point is that the media, if we're talking about newspapers, is having a steadily diminishing impact on sports, subsidies, and economic value. That's because they, unfortunately, are losing readership, and now really don't carry that much clout. That's very much the case with the U-T and San Diego.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:35 p.m.

Visduh: You make excellent points. It would be interesting if a team of economists studied how San Diego's tourism industry stayed steady despite losing the Chargers. My guess is that 95 percent of the money saved from the Chargers' departure went into consumption -- other restaurants, for example. Hopefully, as you point out, some of it was saved.

I've always said that San Diego is not a good spectator sports town. Because of the weather, there are so many other things to do, often for free.

You are right about the media. Newspapers and TV have suffered -- their business snatched by social media, among other things. Friends of mine in the media ask how long the U-T and other metro dailies can last. I keep saying at least a generation. Some say that is optimistic. Best, Don Bauder


aardvark Jan. 14, 2018 @ 6:21 p.m.

Interesting in that IIRC, the Tilted Kilt in Mission Valley closed last year, and basically blamed it on the Chargers moving to Carson. I don't think the U-T went back over that today (I figured they might as the reason given for closing was specifically the Chargers leaving), but what is also interesting is the OTHER Tilted Kilt closed a few months ago downtown--the one right next to Petco Park. It would appear the TK franchise had more problems locally than just the Chargers leaving.


Visduh Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:20 p.m.

The "sister" operation to Tilted Kilt, Hooters, has been shutting locations too. Maybe the concept, if you can call it that, just doesn't sell nowadays. Hooters went through a huge fight to open in Rancho Bernardo, and in just a few years was gone when the property was redeveloped. There was one in Oceanside that folded about three years ago. If you can't make it there, you can't make it anywhere (with all those horny Gyrenes from Camp Pendleton). I find it hard to believe that one restaurant/bar in Mission Valley flopped and closed up because of a few Sundays in the year no longer had a Charger game at the nearby Stadium. How about all the other 360, mas o menos, days of the year?


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:54 p.m.

Visduh: Do you think Hooters could possibly survive in our enlightened but belated feminist culture? It would be closed down by marchers in pussy hats. There is another march coming up, and let's hope it is even bigger than last year's. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Jan. 14, 2018 @ 8:16 p.m.

There is one in San Marcos in the complex of Costco, Walmart and Kohl's, off of Nordahl Drive. It took over some sort of steakhouse operation that didn't make it. That's a super busy street with shoppers coming and going in legions. Uh, no, I haven't been there.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 9:26 p.m.

Visduh: Liar! You've been seen there many times. Just kidding, of course. I didn't know there was a Hooters there. I can say honestly that I have never been in a Hooters. But it has been described to me -- in Trumpian language.

One time in Santa Fe, my wife said we were going to a tapas restaurant. I thought she said "topless." As I recall, she slapped me. Best, Don Bauder


Ponzi Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:27 p.m.

They must have been under capitalized or mismanaged. The Chargers leaving did not cause their problems, it may have just been the last straw.

San Diego used to have several Trophy's Sports Bars (including a unit near Petco Park), and they went out of business long before the Charger's left. Why? Because their overpriced food sucked and they were mismanaged.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:42 p.m.

Ponzi: Boy, I am getting some perceptive observations in a short period of time. Of course those restaurants must have had other problems. Possibly sports bars got oversaturated everywhere. I haven't looked into that.

One factor cutting into sports attendance is that golf prices have come down. Why go broke watching a pro game when you can play 9 or 18 holes for a reasonable price now? Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:38 p.m.

aardvark: Great observation. The closing of that restaurant near Peto shows that the restaurant must have had other problems. I guess they could always blame the Padres because they have had lousy teams for several years. The fans lose their appetites after a game. Best, Don Bauder


Ponzi Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:24 p.m.

I’ve posted this is the past and feel it’s worth sharing again. Years ago I worked in aerospace at McDonnell-Douglas Long Beach (now Boeing) and later at Convair and General Dynamics Space Systems in San Diego. At all of the plant buildings I worked in there were newspaper stands in front of the security gates. Employees (mostly male) would buy the newspaper, and then toss everything but the sports section. In the large bathrooms within these various plants would always be the sports pages stuffed away inside the toilet stalls. I learned that a majority of the newspaper buyers were only interested in the sports section.

I was always interested in the business section. But that is a different story. The only observation I came away with was that blue collar union employees liked the sports section and management enjoyed the other sections (as well as sports). Anyway, sports news has always been a big driver of subscription and newsstand sales. The loss of sports news has an outsized impact on the revenues of local news providers whether it is print, TV, radio or internet.


Visduh Jan. 14, 2018 @ 8:23 p.m.

Yeah, for almost all of my adult life, when I would go out to lunch from my office job, I'd see guys with the paper, and all they looked at was the sports section. I was amused by that, and I was also appalled that they ignored real news that they had paid for. For me it was a cultural thing, and I never came to terms with it. BTW, at that time, I was reading the Wall Street Journal. My conclusion, if we can call it that, was that most of the men didn't want news because it was too depressing (bad news crowds out the good news, as it should.) The sports section was full of fun stuff to read about, and was reporting on things that really didn't matter.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 9:29 p.m.

Visduh: However, the local sports sections haven't been so full of cheery news in recent years.

Both men and women in the financial business almost have to read the Wall Street Journal. Under Murdoch, It's not as good as it was before, but it's still good and reliable. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 7:51 p.m.

Ponzi: On my last day at the Union-Tribune, I had lunch with David Copley, Karin Winner, and Chuck Patrick, who, in effect, was chief executive officer, although David held that title. I explained to them that I was fully aware why the U-T propagandized daily for subsidized stadiums. They needed the advertising. But I argued that in the long haul, for the sake of the community, subsidies for billionaire sports owners are unwise spending. In the long run, the U-T would be better off if the community were better off. That fell on deaf ears. The U-T is failing for the same reason other metro dailies are failing: the product is too late with too little. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh Jan. 14, 2018 @ 8:27 p.m.

Can we take away from this account that David, Winner and Patrick didn't care about what was good for the community? That would be my conclusion. Perhaps they had a belief that what was good for them and their careers was also good for the city and county. I actually think that Helen Copley and a couple others saw it that way.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 9:34 p.m.

Visduh: After 30 years with the Copley organization, I can assuredly say that it was more interested in its own bottom line than in the community. And the brass were more interested in THEIR communities -- La Jolla and Rancho Santa Fe.

I must add that Helen and David were good to me, even though I wrote many things they disapproved of. Two presidents, Hubert Kaltenbach and Hal Fuson, were also good to me. Best, Don Bauder


Ken Leighton Jan. 14, 2018 @ 8:27 p.m.

Hey Don- It must feel good to know that you were right all along about the value of Chargers on the local tourist economy. Congratulations. But I have some questions about this article.

You write: "There were a few exceptions: Los Angelenos who came down to watch the Dodgers play, got drunk, and stayed overnight."...Is this quantifiable based on data or just something you came up with? If it is real data please share. I'd like to know what the difference is between football fans who get drunk and stay overnight is between those who just stay overnight.

You also write: "That’s because 2016 numbers were artificially inflated because of those out-of-towners taking advantage of local hostility against the Chargers." Really? How does that work? Does that mean the Chargers fans getting unhappy with Spanos encouraged more people to fly in who supported opposing teams? Please explain and please tell us what data you reference. I may just too slow to follow.

Also, I'm sure you must know that the UT opinion page you reference has radically changed in the last year (just like Issa's district, for instance), and that it reads nothing like it did during the decades you were there. The fact that they want to point out life is just as good or better without the Chargers reflects both their tilting leftward and the fact they want to rah-rah contemporary San Diego, I would assume.


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 9:44 p.m.

Ken Leighton: The line on Los Angelenos getting drunk and staying overnight was just a joke. A columnist can make such remarks. I am sure there are no data on that.

The 2016 numbers that were artificially inflated were only eight weekends a year when the Chargers had home games. San Deigns were disgusted with Chargers management, and good tickets were available at low prices for out-of-towners. Hordes of fans from Boston, Pittsburgh and other cities visited San Diego for games on those eight weekends.

Yes, the U-T editorial page is different than it was when I was financial editor and columnist from 1973 to 2003. I used to tease the editorial writers all the time because they preached free enterprise and little government, yet wanted subsidies for a business (sports) that helped their own bottom line. In those years, the editorial page was always quoting a conservative think tank whose name escapes me now. But that think tank opposed pro sports subsidies. The editorial page never quoted it on that topic. Best, Don Bauder


aardvark Jan. 15, 2018 @ 7:46 a.m.

Don: Actually, good tickets were always available, but many local season seat holders always sold many of those tickets for inflated values. I have friends who had 4 season tickets--2 for them, and 2 to sell to out-of-town fans. Did it for years, and usually made enough money on the 2 sold season seats to pay for all 4 again the following season. One of the reasons why there were many fans of visiting teams at Chargers home games here.


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2018 @ 8:42 a.m.

aardvark: Suppose in those prior years out-of-towners made up 3 percent of the people in seats. That would be around 2000, maximum, and not enough to make a big dent in tourism numbers. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2018 @ 8:44 a.m.

aardvark: Add: In 2016, of course, when San Diegans were hostile to the Chargers, the percentage would have been higher. Best, Don Bauder


aardvark Jan. 15, 2018 @ 11:16 a.m.

Don: As I am sure you are aware, there are many fans of other teams living in San Diego and Southern California. I never meant to infer that thousands were coming in from out of town each home game, but thousands of local fans of many other teams would, and did, buy individual tickets from season ticket holders. That is even more obvious since the move to Carson--that, or ticket brokers will continue buying lots of tickets to resell in StubHub Center.


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2018 @ 1:06 p.m.

aardvark: Yes, there are southern Californians who are fans of other teams, and for a long time they have been coming to San Diego to see their beloved teams play. Their numbers might have increased in 2016 when they could get better seats for less at a time the community was hostile to the Chargers. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 14, 2018 @ 10:04 p.m.

Ken Leighton: I just remembered: the conservative think tank preaching non-interference of government in the economy was (is) the Heritage Foundation. It dominated the U-T's editorial page back then -- except, of course, its opposition to government subsidies of sports palaces was never mentioned. Best, Don Bauder


Ken Leighton Jan. 15, 2018 @ 11:29 a.m.

Don- Just don't think your correlation that because some Chargers stopped going, that made more fans want to fly in from Buffalo because the tickets were a little cheaper. Who came up with that economic theory? How about this: There were almost as many Raiders fans than Chargers fans at Qualcomm games because the Raiders were almost as popular as popular as the Chargers.


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2018 @ 1:11 p.m.

Ken Leighton: For one thing, 2016 was the only year in which media were commenting that as many or even more people were wearing the colors of the opposition than wearing Chargers' colors. The point announcers were making is that with the rocky relationship the Chargers had with the area, fewer local fans were showing up, and more good tickets were available for those coming in to root for New England or Pittsburgh, for example. Best, Don Bauder


swell Jan. 15, 2018 @ 2:17 p.m.

In the 50s sports were big across the US. We were glued to the radio, and later the television during the big games. Even schools let the kids listen in. Fathers and sons bonded over baseball and football. Little League was big ... But what else was there to do? No TV for most people, no internet, no smartphones ... Heck, most people didn't even have access to decent porn! Remember that in those days adults did not ride bicycles, do yoga, go to the gym or seek a healthy diet. I don't see spectator sports ever returning to what it was. Adults generally are more active now than the couch potatoes of the past, and everyone has more options than spectator sports. [Um, don't ask me for the definition of 'decent porn'.]


Don Bauder Jan. 15, 2018 @ 4:36 p.m.

swell: Will porn replace pro sports? It would be interesting to get a read on the size of audiences for porn compared with sports. Best, Don Bauder


swell Jan. 16, 2018 @ 8:31 a.m.

Don: I never understood the willingness to pay money to watch grown men play a children's game for two hours. I do understand paying to watch a well crafted movie (or even an opera) for two hours, but it has to be great to be worth the time and effort. There are many better uses for our time. Today I'll bicycle to Balboa Park and visit the Japanese Friendship Garden and possibly the Art Museum.


dwbat Jan. 19, 2018 @ 7:16 p.m.

I'm 100% in agreement about the children's games grown men pay big bucks to watch. Seems crazy to me. Even worse is those who watch the games on TV, then cheer and scream back at the TV. Uh, WTF? Even worse insanity! I'd rather watch paint dry.


Don Bauder Jan. 20, 2018 @ 7:01 p.m.

dwbat: There are a lot of San Diego people with your predilections about sports. I have always said San Diego is not a good pro sports town because there is so much to do for a low price (or for nothing.) Best, Don Bauder


dwbat Jan. 25, 2018 @ 6:56 p.m.

Predilection means a strong liking for something. I don't like sports. I think you meant my aversion to sports.


aardvark Jan. 16, 2018 @ 11:33 a.m.

Don: Just glancing at a few articles, it appears that worldwide, porn is approaching $100 billion as an industry. The NFL is what, an $11 or $12 billion industry? Also, again on a quick glance, U.S. expenditures on porn is approaching (or has surpassed) the $11-12 billion figure. Porn seems to be doing better than the NFL, IMHO. At least the porn industry doesn't have CTE or concussion issues to worry about. I guess.


Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2018 @ 10:07 a.m.

aardvark: I think you would have to figure the economic size of all sports -- amateur as well as pro football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, and then compare that with the porn industry. It would be an interesting study. Best, Don Bauder


MURPHYJUNK Jan. 21, 2018 @ 9:18 a.m.

that would make an interesting event if they had playoffs and a equivalent of the super bowl.


Don Bauder Jan. 25, 2018 @ 11:45 a.m.

Murphyjunk: Good idea. Who would make the decisions on which porn stars qualified for the playoffs and the championship? Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Jan. 17, 2018 @ 10:02 a.m.

swell: As an opera lover, I agree with you completely. However, I am a hypocrite. I began in this business as a sports editor in high school and college (although in college I eventually worked my way up to editor in chief, and should have natured.) But I have been writing for years against taxpayer subsidy of billionaire sports team owners -- yet I still watch sports on TV. (However, I regularly watch a game while listening to opera, symphonic, or chamber music -- not hearing the announcers.) Best, Don Bauder


swell Jan. 17, 2018 @ 8:41 p.m.

Don: many of us know of your love of both sports and opera. We forgive you because of your valiant fight against the greedy team owners who want taxpayer subsidies. Also your exposure of other fraudsters. You have my thanks.


Don Bauder Jan. 18, 2018 @ 10:36 a.m.

swell: Many thanks. You ought to try it some time. Watch a game, turn off the jabbering announcers, and listen to music. (Incidentally, I am not only an opera fan. I love symphonic and chamber music as well.) Best, Don Bauder


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