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Stadium Thoughts and Musings: 2012 and the Upcoming Apocalypse

Now that the Chargers have finished a highly disappointing season, we have to now turn our thoughts towards the offseason. Some have projected that 2012 will be the last season for the Chargers in San Diego.

With that in mind, let's take a brief look at what has changed in the last few months, and what milestones we have ahead of us for the next few months.

We'll also take a brief glimpse at other teams that have been rumored to move to Los Angeles in the coming years, and see what has changed for them recently.

More below the jump.

Norv Turner and A.J. Smith are retained

The bottom line is that this was not a popular move among the majority of Chargers' fans, and it will not help in generating community support for a new stadium. It will likely impact season ticket sales for 2012.

That being said, any prospective stadium vote will not come up until November 6th at the earliest. By that time, the Chargers will have played at least 8 games. If the team's record by that time is 6-2 or better, odds are that fans will come out and vote yes, and possibly sway other voters. On the other hand, a traditional slow start with the team sitting at 4-4 or worse would likely torpedo any yes vote on a new stadium.

Of course, Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani also said that the team would be willing to finance a special election in spring of 2013, presumably following one of the following events a) the Chargers win (or reach the Super Bowl), b) another slow start is resolved with a fast finish and a playoff spot, or c) the Chargers miss the playoffs, resulting in the firing of Norv and A.J. and the hiring of (insert dream head coaching candidate here).

Since the Chargers were unable or unwilling to make a splashy coaching change (i.e. Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden), the next best hope for generating offseason interest lies with:

Potential Free Agent moves

The perceived notion is that the Spanos family is cheap, in truth, they have never been afraid to spend money. In 1998, the Chargers led the league in free-agency spending ( LT John Jackson, LG Aaron Taylor, RB Natrone Means). John Butler was not shy about spending Dean Spanos' money in free-agency either (remember QB Doug Flutie, DE Marcellus Wiley, CBs Alex Molden and Ryan McNeill, ILB Donnie Edwards, and WR David Boston?). A.J. Smith has signed many in-house Chargers to long term, big money extensions (Rivers, Gates, Weddle, Marcus McNeill most recently), but he has simply chosen not to spend money in free agency as a matter of policy, except to fill holes when needed (i.e. Marlon McCree, Kevin Burnett, Randy McMichael).

This season, however, Smith and Turner are facing the "win-or-else" non-ultimatum, and will certainly not hesitate to spend if they believe the player is the difference between keeping and losing their jobs. The Chargers have holes to fill on the roster, especially on defense. Are fans are going to hate Smith and Turner with the same vitriol if, say, Robert Mathis, or Mario Williams take Shawne Merriman's old spot at the OLB?

Author's Note: I am not advocating the signing, or guaranteeing the availability of either player. These are names that most average football/sports fans know, and create the biggest buzz. I leave it in Wonko's capable hands to identify the best fits for the Chargers.

California kills Redevelopment

On December 29th last year, the California State Supreme Court upheld a bill passed by the State Legislature to essentially kill all local redevelopment agencies, and redirect the money back to schools and local governments. The bill was passed as an attempt to close the gap in California's budget deficit.

Redevelopment programs were initially established as a means for cities and countiesto fund new projects to help combat urban blight and neglect, while using the tax revenue generated to fund additional projects.

What the means for the Chargers is that if (and it was actually a significant if) the area of downtown east of Petco Park qualified as a "blighted area," redevelopment money could be spent to help fund the project without relying on additional revenues such as taxes. Since any tax increase in California requires a 2/3rds affirmative vote, it means that many major urban renewal projects on the planning boards, excepting those already in progress, are now deader than Billy Batts after his last trip to the bar.

The NFL's Stadium Loan program is reinstated

On December 14th, the NFL (flush with coin from the newly completed CBA) announced the return of the Stadium Loan program. This program was used to help fund the construction of 12 new stadiums since the mid 1990s, but had run out over the last couple of years.

For the Chargers, and the city of San Diego, this means that anywhere from $100-$200 million might be available if a financing plan can be created to build a new stadium in San Diego. The question I, and some others surely have, it whether that loan money offsets the city's contribution, or the Chargers' contribution.

Questions aside, it's still a potential (and significant) source of revenue, especially with the estimated cost of the facility ranging from $800 million to $1 billion dollars.

Mayor Sanders has hired a consultant to help identify financing

On October 12, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders hired George Bilicic of New York-based Lazard Ltd. to put together a financing plan for a new stadium with the Chargers, San Diego, and county of San Diego all participating. The plan is expected to be made public in March of this year, to allow for 8 months of fine-tuning and politicking before a November 2012 vote.

In an article published in this morning's Union Tribune, a couple of interesting tidbits came out. Sanders states flatly that any financing plan will not include a tax increase, Sanders himself saying: 'We made it very clear to Lazard we are not going on the ballot for a tax increase because that’s simply not going to happen. You don’t have to hit me in the head with a hammer twice," referring to a ballot proposition that failed in 2010. Also, the article also states that the Chargers have (temporarily) tabled their idea for a stadium-convention center.

The biggest news in the plan is that Sanders was projecting a public cost of around $38 million per year over 30 years. Do the math, and you come up with the public cost at $400 million. As it stands now, here's my projected money breakdown:

Stadium Cost: $800 million - $1 billion.

Public investment: $400 million.

Chargers Contribution: Anywhere from $100 million - $200 million (Here's the sticky part about the NFL loan - is that the Chargers' contribution, or does the loan come after the Chargers' contribution?).

Naming Rights fees: $150-200 million.

Other potential investors:?

I still don't understand why the city isn't discussing the idea of selling the Qualcomm and Sports Arena sites to help cover/reduce the public costs.

Will the Chargers activate their Qualcomm Escape Clause?

Yesterday, the Chargers (in conjunction with the city of San Diego) announced that they would not be using the "escape clause" in their lease for 2012. Every year until 2020, the Chargers have a window From February through May to escape their lease and negotiate with other cities. As of right now, early termination of the lease would have cost the Chargers about $24 million, with the number decreasing by $2-3 million each year.

What's happening with everyone else?

The Jacksonville Jaguars have a new owner who has already publicly said that he does not want to move the Jaguars from Jacksonville. Also, with the sale, it was revealed that the lease for the Jaguars runs through 2030, and as of now, would cost somewhere around $120 million to break early. Factor in a relocation fee to Los Angeles, and the cost becomes prohibitive.

Jeff Fisher looks like he's going to be the next coach of the St. Louis Rams, although it appears he has concerns about taking a 2nd job where he might have to relocate within a couple of seaons. After the 2014 season, the Rams can escape their lease because of language that states that the Edward Jones Dome must be in the top 25% of stadiums in the NFL.

The Vikings and the city of Minneapolis are working hard to find alternate locations and financing to keep the Vikings in Minnesota. The Vikings had favored a site in the Minneapolis suburb of Arden Hills, however, there are now locations in Minneapolis that are being examined. Key in all this is that the Vikings lease with the Metrodome has expired. As it stands now, the Vikings are on the market, and can leave without paying any kind of exit fee.

Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG), the business entity behind the propsed Farmers Field, is currently waiting on a released Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to determine if they can go forward. Furthermore, according to this column by T.J. Simers in the Los Angeles Times, Dean Spanos has told AEG that a) he's not interested in selling a minority share of the team, and b) apparently, he is non-plussed by the Farmers Field concept.

According to AEG President Tim Leiweke, the EIR should be completed in Februray, and possibly approved by the Los Angeles City Council during the summer.

Closing thoughts

As with Norv Turner and A.J. Smith, it appears that 2012 will be the make-or-break season for the Chargers and the city of San Diego. Especially if you consider the twin timelines for potential San Diego and Los Angeles projects...

February: AEG expects to complete the EIR for Farmers Field.

March: San Diego and the Chargers release a financing plan.

Summer: The LACC approves the Farmers Field EIR; the Chargers are seeking signatures to place the proposal on the ballot.

Fall: Norv Turner and A.J. Smith either save football in San Diego, or kill it for the foreseeable future.

More than ever, it's GO time!