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What Do You Want in a New San Diego Chargers Stadium?

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Over the last few weeks, we've been really busy trying to figure out how to keep the Chargers in San Diego, and how to pay for a new football stadium. One thing which has gotten lost is a discussion about what we would want in a new stadium.

Composite image of Heinz Field added onto the Qualcomm lot.
Composite image of Heinz Field added onto the Qualcomm lot.

I love Chargers history, and I have very fond memories of the hundreds of Chargers' games I've seen at Qualcomm Stadium (or Jack Murphy Stadium before that), going back to the early 1980s.

That said, let's all be honest with ourselves for a few minutes. Qualcomm Stadium is not a good place to watch a football game.

We're talking about a 48-year-old facility (this year), and a facility which already has over $80 million in deferred maintenance. We go there because that's where the Chargers play, and... that's about it. Most people I know elect to tailgate, not merely because you can consume higher amounts of booze at lower cost, but also because if you have the slightest skill with a grill, anything you cook is going to better than what you get inside the stadium.

How about the section-long lines to visit the restroom during the game? Halftime, or after the game, you say? You're better off waiting in a non-appointment DMV line. Wading through the dark and narrow concourses? Very easy for someone to lose their kids or group in the hustle and bustle before and after the game.

Cell phone or LTE (or even 3G) reception during the game? You might as well be stuck in the middle of the Nevada desert. If it rains... yeah, let's not go there.

Occasionally, some of us might drop by once or twice a year to visit the Chargers' very small Team Shop. Beyond that, maybe some will attend a SDSU football game (admittedly, some of the problems above don't always apply to SDSU games). Some other might attend whatever concerts or off-roading events which haven't already moved to Petco Park downtown.

So, with the likelihood of a new (and very expensive) stadium vote coming up this year, let's spend some time thinking about the things we as fans or citizens would like to see as features of a new stadium in San Diego.

Improve the Game Day Experience

Start with a seating capacity of 62,000. Qualcomm Stadium currently has a seating capacity of 70,561, which is too big for the San Diego market. Over the last 15 years, the Chargers' average attendance per game is 62,854, which is about 89% of Qualcomm's capacity. By reducing the regular capacity by about 10,000 seats, there will be a lower incidence of blackouts (assuming the NFL fights the FCC's decision last year). To ensure the stadium could be used to host a Super Bowl (of which San Diego should be expected to host at least 2-3 over the next 40 years), I would also suggest open end zones (similar to Pittsburgh, Arizona, and Tampa Bay) which would allow for additional seating areas during special events.

Seats which are closer to the field, and more seats situated along the sidelines. This stems from (then) San Diego Stadium's original design to accommodate both baseball and football. As a result, the field level seats along the sideline are much further away from the field than in most other football stadiums (not to mention being obstructed view). More importantly, it provides an opportunity for the Chargers to get their fans closer to the field, where crowd noise can have a better chance of impacting the game. Ask the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Seattle Seahawks if this makes a difference.

This goes without saying, but one of the biggest problems with Qualcomm Stadium is the lack of modern technological amenities. Any new stadium would need to have 1 or 2 new large HD replay screens. Just as importantly, a new stadium would have WiFi antennas capable of handling 62,000 fans on gameday. A modern out-of-town scoreboard which displays all NFL game scores, with the quarter, possession, and time remaining would be nice as well. Lastly, considering the popularity of Fantasy Football, I think it would be smart to steal an idea from Levi's Stadium, and build a Fantasy Football Lounge on site.

Additional Amenities for Non-Gamedays

Can we have a Chargers Hall of Fame? I get that the Chargers haven't won a Super Bowl, but (thanks to Sid Gillman and Don Coryell), San Diego is the cradle of the modern offensive game, and this is something we should be celebrating. Having a Hall of Fame also does a number of things: First, it actually provides a place of honor for the team's inductees beyond having names on a banner during home games. Second, it allows the Chargers to build a history which can be shared across generations. Aside from winning, nothing is better at building an emotional connection amongst a fan base. Third, it could serve as a place of education: from fans who simply want to know who Lance Alworth was (the best receiver in Chargers history), to local youth and high school coaches who want to host and/or attend football clinics.

Aside: One other suggestion for the Chargers and embracing history - if you'd like to grease the wheels a little bit in advance of the vote, promise the fans you'll go back to the AFL uniforms if the stadium vote passes.

Another thing which I'd really like in a new stadium is a large Team Store. It's just my personal feeling, but the Team Store at Qualcomm is miserably small. By comparison, the Packers Pro Shop at Lambeau Field is a two-story department store. I'm not arguing that the Team Store should be as large as the one at Lambeau Field, but one which is larger and one with a better selection than the sports store at the local mall would be a nice place to start.

I'd like to see a Chargers' themed sports bar and grill. A place for fans to get together and enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner on non-game days. Along with that, I'd also suggest an open local food court and/or local craft beer garden where people looking to pick up something fast for lunch can stop and eat, while also providing some selection if you're dealing with a group of people. Emphasizing local tastes is something Petco Park does really well, and it would be smart to emulate this process at a new stadium.

Lastly, I'd also like to see some combination of meeting rooms and small convention style ballrooms. Places where the Chargers could hold their own annual draft party. Weddings, receptions, birthdays and family reunions. Small business conferences. Away game fan parties. March Madness parties. Fantasy Football Draft Parties. The annual Chargers Blood Drive. Madden Tournaments. I mean, really, the list is endless.

Wrapping Up

Part of what makes a new football stadium such a contentious topic is the idea that the public cost will absolutely obliterate any public benefit. And in even the best circumstances, it's possible that a new stadium might be revenue neutral at best. That said, Qualcomm Stadium already is a drain on taxpayers (at least $200 million over the last 20 years) with very little to offer fans and citizens beyond a great tailgate party (where you have to do the cooking) and the privilege of watching a football game in person.

If we as a community are going to commit hundred of millions of dollars to this endeavor, we should at least maximize the potential benefits. By adding many (if not all) of the features I listed above, a new stadium will at least provide taxpayers the possibility of generating some revenue. A facility which generates money and draws interest year round is also more likely to spur nearby commercial and real estate development.

If there are any features you would like to see in a new stadium , feel free to share them below.

Reminder, the first public forum with the Stadium Group is at Qualcomm Stadium on Monday, March 2nd at 6 PM, Club 5. I hope to see some of you there.