Putting aside everything which has happened over the last 20 months is going to be a stiff challenge for many San Diego voters.
In a sense, what's done is done. But there is one group which has the overwhelming resources of money to throw at the campaign, the perfect message delivery system in NFL football games, and the greatest ability to affect public perception.
That group is the San Diego Chargers themselves.
We saw first-hand how much the Padres benefited from fielding the best single-season team in franchise history in 1998. While the Chargers are unlikely to replicate that level of performance, the Chargers have a chance of reaching the playoffs or winning the division this year if they catch some breaks.
I'm not making the case the Chargers are a sleeping giant this year. But the AFC West is relatively evenly matched (the Chiefs are my nominal favorite), and the Chargers' schedule avoids other traditional AFC heavy-hitters (such as the Steelers, Patriots, Bengals, and Ravens) as well as avoiding NFC divisions with multiple strong teams (except for the Panthers). The Chargers have to maximize that opportunity. With that in mind...
Sign Joey Bosa.
At this point, it really doesn't matter anymore who is most at fault. I've contended the team is at fault, others have pointed out Bosa's agency has a significant role to play, while others have criticized the player. Doesn't matter anymore. The Chargers need all of the positive publicity they can get right now, and getting Bosa signed represents a 2-for-1 opportunity. He likely makes the team better immediately, which will help them win games, and getting him signed ends most of the negative commentary about his not being signed. The sooner this negotiation process is concluded, the better it is for everyone involved.
Don't Punch Down.
It's a bad idea for the Chargers to go out of their way to attack opponents of their initiative. The Facebook ads against San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate, which encourage voters to call his office and vent, are a textbook example of "punching down." Whatever annoyance and harassment Cate endures due to these ads are at best a Pyrrhic victory for the team.
The Chargers can and will likely outspend the opposition by a huge margin in this campaign. Instead of punching down, the Chargers could spend their money making people want a new stadium (for example, show images of Qualcomm side-by-side with images of Petco Park or your new stadium). If you're going to challenge Cate or other opponents of the plan, do it with reports and numbers demonstrating why their claims are inaccurate or misleading.
Voters in San Diego have been around long enough (and remember 2015 well enough) to recognize Chargers' Special Counsel Mark Fabiani's political attacks when they see them. Speaking of 2015...
I understand why the Chargers felt compelled to take their shot at Los Angeles in 2015. It was a business decision. Some didn't resent the business decision - but virtually everyone resented the campaign. It was filled with strategic press leaks and convenient public announcements. Frequent blaming of local leaders (even if it was warranted in some instances). The stressing of the 25% of season-ticket holders north of San Diego County at the expense of the remaining 75%. The partnership with the Raiders. By any standard, it was negative and manipulative.
In order to have a Special Election in San Diego before the Los Angeles relocation vote in January 2016, the team knew they needed a deal by April 2015. Their failure to make that point publicly early in 2015 let San Diego's political establishment off the hook, no matter how much responsibility they actually bore for the situation, and even if they engaged in what Fabiani called "political cover." People in San Diego also largely sided with the political establishment because the Mayor and his group let citizens see their work and remained solution oriented.
I'm not asking the Chargers to apologize for making a business decision in trying to get to Los Angeles in 2015. What I'd do if I were running the campaign is acknowledge that it was a brutal year (on top of the relocation business, the team suffered through its worst regular season in 11 years) for their fans, and acknowledge their process trying to get to Los Angeles angered and hurt a lot of people in the community.
Bring back the AFL Uniforms Permanently.
One, it honors the history of the franchise (like it or not, the Chargers best-sustained success came in the early years of the AFL). Two, a lot of people associate the AFL uniforms with the 1994-95 AFC Championship Season, which further reminds people in this community how much damn fun it was when the Chargers beat Miami and Pittsburgh in the playoffs to get to the Super Bowl. Three, they're unique, iconic, and flat out look great.
As I said a few years ago, it's a simple and relatively inexpensive means of generating goodwill among your fanbase. It helps evoke nostalgia - which Don Draper would tell you is the best way to advertise a product. It fosters shared history among fans of multiple generations.
Bring back the AFL uniforms, use the Air Coryell era jerseys as one alternate, and the 1994 navy blue jerseys as the other alternate. Show the fans you respect them by paying tribute to the teams, players, and coaches they fell in love with.
Show Voters the General Fund is Protected.
Notice this is the first point I've made which involves the actual initiative itself. This for me is the single most important issue for voters who aren't going to be emotionally swayed by the actions of the football team on-or-off the field. The cornerstone of the plan is that by raising the Transient Occupancy Tax, the vast majority of the public money burden will be placed on tourists, not residents.
What the Chargers have to show, conclusively, is that the plan is viable. They got at least some help in that regard this week, with the release of a report which indicated that if current market trends continue, the plan is viable. The Chargers themselves have touted a report which also claims to prove this. Get. That. Report. Out. Now.
Further, this is the smartest way to counter your opposition. Produce the report and challenge opponents to produce information proving otherwise. As of now, no report has been presented which demonstrates the TOT financing plan is not viable, without counting on an economic collapse or the collapse of San Diego's tourism industry.
Meet With Everyone - Even If They Hate You.
A few weeks ago, the Chargers indicated they weren't going to waste their time meeting with people who they assumed were against them, by deciding not to meet with the San Diego County Taxpayers' Association. In my opinion, that's a bad look. When you're chasing two-thirds, you'd better be turning over every stone looking for votes.
Furthermore, it gives the impression you're running away from your opposition. It's a much better look to say "We've met with (insert opposition here) multiple times, attempted to address their concerns, and we'll continue meeting with them anytime they want."
Get Current and Former Players Involved.
This plays off the same emotional vibes that the throwback jerseys evoke. People don't want to meet with door-to-door campaigners. Here's what people would love...
Meeting players at a booth in the mall or other public places. Seeing players at local libraries and community centers. Sending a group of players to a workplace with lots of employees. Have a chance to talk with former players who have become a part of the community, like say Nick Hardwick, or Hank Bauer, or Lance Alworth. Have a couple of special rallies where you can pull in a LaDainian Tomlinson or Dan Fouts - such as the party downtown to kick off the initiative. Offer bonuses to players who are willing to go door-to-door a couple of hours on off days or during the longer break following the Thursday night home game against the Broncos.
People don't remember door-to-door campaigners, except how they hate having their dinner interrupted. People will fondly reminisce about meeting a former or current professional football player during their dinner.
Figure Out How to Improve the Convention Center Elements of the Plan.
Several criticisms of the plan have come from the convention center elements of the plan. One report came from City Councilman Scott Sherman's office regarding the Chargers' integrating the stadium into convention floor space. The other was a report produced for San Diego's Tourism Marketing District which said in no uncertain terms that this particular convention center plan is a terrible return on investment. It's technically not convention center related, but I'll throw in the Padres' parking concerns as well...
These issues cut to the heart of the sales pitch of a joint-use facility. Further, the Chargers' silence thus far on publicly answering these challenges or mitigating these concerns creates (or emphasizes, depending on your perspective) a troubling perception - the Chargers' are not good partners or neighbors. Especially when the team punches down at opponents instead of directly addressing their concerns or rebutting with facts and information.
The Initiative makes clear that there is no finalized design as of yet. What absolutely must happen between now and November is for the Chargers to substantively answer these questions. Not only does it make them look like better partners and neighbors, but it also potentially adds powerful allies to your campaign.
Trust is built through reliability, truth, ability, and strength. There's no denying the Chargers have a trust issue in the City of San Diego. There are long-standing and legitimate reasons for this lack of trust.
As of right now, the Chargers stand at a cross-roads. They have a unique opportunity to begin forging a new relationship of trust with the people of San Diego. This opportunity requires some re-examination of existing tactics, learning from old mistakes, and taking responsibility for being an active and productive member of the community.
As always, the question is whether they will take advantage of it.