San Diegans sent a message to their football team Tuesday night: “We dare you to leave.” That’s the long and the short of what happened with Measure C, which was roundly defeated during this year’s election. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, the proposition lost with just 43 percent of the vote, well shy of the two-thirds it needed for it to pass. Now all we can do is wait for the San Diego Chargers to figure out their next move.
Measure C would have raised the city’s hotel transient occupancy tax by six percent in concert with a $650 million commitment from the Chargers for a new downtown stadium and convention center expansion. Because it involved a tax increase the measure needed 66.7 percent of the vote to pass. No one expected that to happen, but the vote was seens as a barometer for the city’s interest in funding a similar project to keep the NFL in town.
It seemed most of the “No on C” supporters agreed that the Chargers need a new stadium and the city needs to expand the convention center, they just didn’t believe this was the right deal for the city.
So what now?
Chargers owner Dean Spanos has been steadfast in his desire for a downtown stadium similar to what the San Diego Padres have at Petco Park. While that idea isn’t dead, it clearly is not going to happen with a tax increase any time soon. The Spanos family likely does not have the money to build a new stadium on its own, which means the city and the franchise are going to have to work out some kind of deal.
San Diegans want the Chargers to remain in the city, as does the NFL. That said, by completely rejecting the team’s preferred stadium option, the citizens of San Diego basically dared Spanos to pick up and move to Los Angeles, where he already has a spot saved for him.
Several things need to happen if the Chargers want to remain in San Diego and the city wants to keep them. First, mayor Kevin Faulconer must meet with Spanos and team representatives immediately to discuss what options are on the table. A high-profile round table will calm fears that the team is already out the door. Next, the Chargers need to establish a completely new public relations team to get citizens on their side. Their outreach program has been woeful and the commercials in support of Measure C were few, far between and looked as if they had been produced in a middle school video/film class.
Lastly, Dean Spanos needs to come out and publicly assure the citizens of San Diego that he wants to remain in their city despite the defeat of Measure C. Many people weren’t passionate about voting in favor of it because they didn’t feel Spanos cared about the city that had supported the Chargers for 50 years. When he started negotiating with Los Angeles it felt like Spanos and his family had turned their backs on the town and destroyed any good will they had left (which didn’t amount to much to begin with). He has to repair those wounds.
As for the Chargers’ future, moving to Los Angeles would likely be a disaster for the franchise. The Rams already have a year head-start on them, and being nothing more than a tenant in Stan Kroenke’s new stadium can’t be an appealing option for Spanos. Additionally, we have very little evidence that LA would actively support two teams. The Rams play in America’s second-biggest city and are only filling their stadium to 89.5 percent capacity this season. That ranks 28th in the NFL.
While Los Angeles is averaging more than 83,000 fans per game (second in the NFL), after 20 years without football those games should be selling out if the city has a desperate need for the sport.
Meanwhile, with a terrible on-field product, a dilapidated stadium and awful relations with the community, the Chargers are only filling to 79.4 percent capacity this season. That said, last year before all the “moving to Los Angeles” stuff appeared real, San Diego filled its stadium to 94.6 percent capacity even with an awful 4-12 team. With a good on-field product and a new facility the Chargers would draw fans. I have zero doubt of that.
San Diegans are clearly daring Spanos to pick up and move north. If he wants to stay in “America’s Finest City” he’s going to have to make nice and work out some compromises. He’s got a lot of work ahead of him.