San Diego needs a new NFL stadium like it needs a hole in the head

The news has been filled in recent days with all of the hand wringing over the Chargers and the NFL wanting a new $1.2-1.8 BILLION DOLLAR stadium here in America’s Finest City. I refer to the team as the Chargers and not the San Diego Chargers because the City of San Diego does not own the team and they are free to move where ever they want. Qualcomm Corporation is not called San Diego Qualcomm, why should the Chargers be called San Diego Chargers. I’m a local, native and taxpayer and I have yet to see my citizen of San Diego Chargers profit dividend check in my mailbox. Not to mention I haven’t seen a Super Bowl trophy either unless I go to the website of the Patriots, Raiders, Cowboys, Steelers or nearly any other team in the league.

This post is starting off squarely in the rant column, I’ll admit it. I will also admit to being a long time (looooong time) Chargers season ticket holder. How long? Since the Chargers were in the AFL, pre-merger, pre-NFL. My season ticket holder priority number was three digits and nearly guaranteed seats to every playoff game or Super Bowl (if and when the team actually made it into the post season). I cancelled our seats, which were on the 50 yard line, Gold Club level in the shade of the press level overhang. Cherry seats. I cancelled them because I saw Spanos spending more energy on raising the price of beer and food, of parking, of tickets, of any and everything while investing little on coaching or player talent. To me it appeared he was the NFL team owners version of a slum lord and I got tired of paying for his racket.

That is the thread of this post, the rant leads to this simple concept. Pro sports, specifically the NFL, is a racket. It is a racket that can be broken down to a few simple concepts: Privatize the profits and socialize the risks. Other people’s money and how to use it. You get the gist.

Privatize the profits, socialize the risks

The Spanos family, like nearly all NFL team owners, are billionaires. Billionaires are billionaires to some degree because they know how to use other people’s money rather than their own to get things done. Look at what Alex Spanos managed to finagle out of Susan Golding when she was the Mayor of San Diego. That ticket guarantee and expansion of Jack Murphy stadium (and the city employee pension shenanigans surrounding the 1996 Republican National Convention) are still causing the city financial headaches.

Now in 2015 we are looking at more of the same horseshit, the billionaire owner of a team in a trillion dollar league is looking to the taxpayers to essentially build them a new place of business. When was the last time the city built Qualcomm a new factory?

Forget the fact that we have a topsy-turvy underfunded pension system, that we have so many potholes that its like driving on the Moon, that our sewage treatment system is going on several years of federal fines for being outside of federal guidelines. I am sure you can think up several more to-dos that the city needs to pay for. But no, a new stadium is an imperative. Bizarre logic.

Why do the Chargers want a new stadium? I will admit that Qualcomm (the Muprh) is getting a bit long in the tooth. The Chargers should leave the stadium and it should be imploded, jackhammered and carted off. It served us well. But is that the only reason? Not by a long shot. If you look at all of the newly built NFL stadiums you’ll see a common theme. Lots and lots of luxury box suites and corporate suites. Lots of them. Guess what? Revenue from stadium luxury boxes is not subject to the NFL’s profit sharing system. Meaning that the owners get to keep 100% of the proceeds from luxury box ticket sales. Why do you think the owners, like Spanos, want a new stadium? The kicker is they want you to pay for it. You can’t find an offer this skeevie on a late-late night TV advertisement on a shitty third tier cable station.

Where in the hell do I sign up for this program? Seriously, if you take a step back and look at it this is almost as shameless a deal as a hyped up Bible belt televangelist selling salvation to octogenarians. Except in this case the octogenarians are face-painting football fans and uninformed voters. Spend over a billion dollars in taxpayer money that is desperately needed elsewhere to build a stadium so you can pay $50 for parking and $100 for a ticket to go in and spend $9 a beer and $8 for a shitty hot dog. Talk about grabbing your ankles and preparing to Bolt Up. I want in on this scam. San Diego taxpayers will spend $2 billion to build me a giant pyramid with an alter so I can sell them emptiness. (yeah, that’s a Conan the Barbarian reference)


But what about the revenue and the jobs?

I keep hearing about the jobs engine and revenue engine a new stadium will be. Especially from that shill Sully Sullivan on KOGO. If a new stadium will be such a boost to jobs and the local economy why isn’t our current stadium already that same engine? Why? Because it isn’t and a new one wouldn’t be either. It is empty bullshit, hollow rhetoric to influence public opinion. That or a new stadium will be a jobs and revenue engine because we’ll get another Super Bowl and other big events. So the logic is that we’ll hang greater than $1 billion in public debt on the chance we might get another Super Bowl? Of course behind all the other cities that just ponied up >$1B to built new stadiums. Of course there isn’t just football. There are concerts. Seriously, how many musical acts are touring anymore that can fill a 75,000 seat stadium? I don’t even think the Stones or U2 could sell out a 75,000 seat stadium anymore and even if they could how often does that happen? It doesn’t. So what, monster trucks? We’ll rely on a Super Bowl every 8-10 years, the Stones reunion reunion farewell tour and some monster truck pulls to justify blowing more than $1 billion on a new stadium? Seriously, did someone leave the valve open on a huge canister of nitrous oxide somewhere in the city? Was pot legalized for recreational use and I missed the press release? If there is a legal test for criminalizing stupidity a taxpayer funded stadium is it.

But the jobs…

Yeah, the jobs. Eight NFL games per year. Single day events. Concessions workers, ticket takers, security guards, parking attendants and all part time and well under the hours for health insurance. No disrespect to any of the hardworking people in these jobs now but these are shit jobs. I mean they are jobs and I respect those who work hard in them and make what they can but these are not the types of jobs taxpayers should be investing to create. If creating jobs is the goal lets float a $750 million dollar bond backed by the taxpayers and combine the $750 million along with the land at Qualcomm stadium and offer it to Elon Musk to built a Tesla factory in San Diego. You know, high paid full-time skilled jobs. Career jobs. Full-time, 40 hour per week high-tech innovation jobs. Not someone that warms hot dogs eight Sundays per year.

This bond is burning a hole in my pocket

Like a kid with five bucks in their pocket at a Disneyland gift shop the politicos in San Diego are attached to the idea of putting a bond on the ballot to do something splashy, something they can point to or take photo ops in front of. A stadium, a waterfront ferris wheel, a skyride or zip line from Balboa Park to downtown, a sky spire. How about city-wide beer plumbing from all of the craft breweries to our homes. An extra faucet at the sink. Grapefruit Sculpin out of my sink faucet. Why not? If we’re willing to entertain a billion dollar stadium for an owner and league that could afford it themselves why not city-wide beer plumbing? I bet it would get better election numbers than a stadium.


The nice folks over at Voice of San Diego coined the term Convadium® and I like to give them credit. It was the idea that a new downtown convention center could be combined with a new NFL stadium thereby giving the Chargers and NFL what they want by piggybacking on a convention center expansion that has the backing of a lot of smart and influential people. A convention center is a wise investment if we absolutely need to blow lots of taxpayer dollars we can’t really afford. I’ll get more into why I think it’s a good idea in a minute. The combined Convadium idea is awful. Large convention planners want a single, large contiguous space so convention goers don’t have to walk or navigate shuttle routes to move between convention space locations. Trust me on this, I’ve been doing big conventions for 23 years. The only convention center expansion that makes any sense is expanding the existing convention center downtown by building into/over the waterfront. No Convadium, no football. Just a convention center. Actually we don’t have to worry about the Convadium® or any downtown stadium project anymore because San Diego MTS announced this week that the downtown bus yard would take years to cleanup and relocate the buses and equipment…and clean up the ground from leaking diesel tanks. This makes me chuckle because I know of a new real estate and land people who have been quietly speculating on an east village NFL stadium and now the buildings they’ve been holding on to just dropped in value. Wha-wha-wha-wha..

So a convention center and not a stadium?

Yes, exactly. Here are some comparisons between stadiums and convention centers.

Stadium events are mostly on weekends. Conventions are mostly on weekdays. Five days of operation per week compared to one or two.
Stadium events draw mostly local or area residents. Convention events draw mostly out of town visitors. Locality of money.
Stadium would have eight NFL games per year. A convention center can have a convention 52 weeks per year.

Those are just a few examples of how stadiums and convention centers are different. Locality of money is a big one. It is a concept I made up in my own head and I am sure there is a more official economist term for the same concept (feel free to enlighten me). The real battleground for success of a city or state is locality of money. You don’t benefit from the same local money spinning around from buyer to seller to government and back to citizen. A region benefits much more from pulling remote money into the local economy and capturing it, thereby increasing the local money supply. Concepts like buying local, Mom & Pop retailers help this by not giving what money our region has to large corporate entities that transfer our money away from the area. An active and successful convention center is a money locality engine, a magnet that draws in money from remote places through attendee travel, hotel, restaurant, entertainment and other direct spending. Where a stadium asserts that we’ll eventually get a Super Bowl with all of the money it brings in, a bigger/better convention center can do that 4-5 times a year, every year. Convention attendees by in large are traveling on business expense budgets which means more spending. A week of hotel room, meals, entertainment, shopping for those obligatory business trip gift for the kid or wife (secretary, girlfriend, mistress, etc).

The consistent financial benefit to the city from having an expanded convention center is obvious. Comic-Con is a big, shiny example. Imagine getting the Consumer Electronics Show, National Association of Builders, National Homebuilders, or any other 50,000-100,000 attendee convention? Imagine one of those, a week long each, 5 times per year or more? That is revenue and jobs. At the convention center, the city’s hotels, the restaurants, transportation, retail, airport. That is real and consistent impact. A stadium, not so much.

We really need to be spending taxpayer money on potholes, sidewalks and infrastructure.

If we must invest in some large project then it’s simple math:  convention center > stadium.

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