First things first...
At about the exact moment the recent Mayoral runoff election took place, the Chargers gave their annual recommitment to San Diego, and announced they would not be triggering the escape clause in their lease for 2014. This guarantees the team another season playing in Qualcomm Stadium.
In the last few months, there's been some interesting news related to Los Angeles, most of it relating to the St. Louis Rams. Some of it also affects the Chargers, and whether or not Los Angeles has become the Chargers' market.
What's going on with the Rams?
The Rams ownership, headed by Stan Kroenke, is currently engaged in a kind of stalemate with the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) of St. Louis over the current lease with the Edward Jones Dome (hereafter referred to as the "Dome").
As of right now, the Rams' lease expires in March of 2015, if the Dome is not considered in the top 25% of stadiums in the NFL, and it becomes a year-to-year lease, which is similar to the Chargers situation in San Diego. This is especially unfortunate for the city of St. Louis, as the Dome is less than 20 years old (it was first used in the 1996 season).
The Dome was one of the last stadiums built before the emphasis on luxury boxes and premium seating came into focus, and as such, has become a candidate for renovation or replacement. The CVC proposed some time ago to provide $124 million in upgrades to the Dome, while the Rams asked for over $700 million in improvements. Almost one year ago, arbitrators sided with the Rams - noting the language in the contract requiring an upper tier facility.
That's where things stood until the beginning of February, when Kroenke announced the purchase of a 60 acre lot in Inglewood, between the Forum and Hollywood Park. The site had previously been earmarked for a Wal-Mart Superstore, and was valued at approximately $100 million. Importantly, Kroenke notified the NFL of his intention to purchase the land prior to it being publicly announced. It should also be noted that the location was very nearly the location of a new stadium for the then-Los Angeles Raiders in the mid 1990s.
Most recently, the speculation is that Kroenke wants to place a third Major League Soccer team in the Los Angeles area, and build a facility for the team at the site. The other current MLS teams in Los Angeles, the Galaxy and Chivas USA, play at the StubHub Center, which is controlled by Philip Anschutz's AEG - the same AEG behind the proposed Farmers Field.
It goes without saying that Kroenke could build a stadium for both a soccer AND a football team, which increases the amount of events and the revenue generated at the facility.
As of right now, there doesn't seem to be much negotiation happening with either the city of St. Louis, or with the Missouri state government.
The Subtler Impact for the Chargers
Meanwhile, the Chargers will likely wait until Mayor-Elect Kevin Faulconer takes office before making any solid proposals. In the meantime, however, Chargers Special Counsel Mark Fabiani stated the following in a recent interview with ESPN's Eric D. Williams:
"We have always kept our focus in San Diego to try and get something done here. But at the same time, we have to be cognizant of the fact that if three-quarters of the owners were to allow a team to move to Los Angeles, it would devastate us economically. It would be catastrophic for the team financially if the league were to allow another team to go into the Los Angeles market and wipe out 30 percent of our premium sales." - Mark Fabiani
This shouldn't come as a shock to anyone.
With both the Rams and the Raiders leaving Los Angeles following the 1994 season, that left the Chargers as the only franchise with an ability to reach the L.A. market. Frankly, the Spanos family would have been criminally stupid not to take full advantage of the opening. But this opens the door to a larger question, and one that might make things even harder for the Chargers to get a deal done in San Diego.
The larger question is this: Who controls the Los Angeles market?
Honestly, that privilege should belong to whichever owner is willing to pay what's expected to be at least a billion dollar relocation fee to move to Los Angeles. But Fabiani's statement indicates there are likely to be at least 2 vocal opponents to a relocation. The Chargers, who clearly don't want competition, and possibly the Raiders - late owner Al Davis always contended the Los Angeles market was his. To block a move, the Chargers would need only to marshal 9 total votes out of 32.
Thus, this statement by the Chargers seems to be a preemptive move to do one (or more) of the following:
- Secure some sort of future agreement to split the marketing in the lucrative Orange County region.
- Secure extra financial rewards for giving up rights to the Los Angeles market, in exchange for not fighting a move.
- Send an unofficial signal that the Chargers are readying a move of their own.
The problem with such a statement is that it conveys the impression the Chargers are not nearly as committed to the San Diego market as they'd need voters to believe. Some voters who might be on the fence, regardless of whatever stadium proposal is made, might view this as the Chargers hedging their bets and vote against the Spanos family.
The darker view is that if the Rams do not reach a deal to stay in St. Louis by next spring, it might cause the Spanos family to take the best deal available - whether in San Diego or otherwise.