March 4 2015 12:02 PM

It’s numbers crunch time


“My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?” —Theodor “Dr. Seuss” Geisel

On Monday, Mayor Kevin Faulconer sat before a fidgety cluster of third-graders at the San Diego History Center and read to them the Dr. Seuss classic Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Since he took office a year ago this week, Faulconer’s irony-awareness abilities have been difficult to gauge, at least to Spin Cycle’s satisfaction. The “Neighborhoods First” candidate stomping on the community-planning desires of Barrio Logan residents or the “1SanDiego” mayor dumping on a local minimum-wage hike aimed at boosting income equality seem to belie the mayor’s “We’re in this together” politispeak.

So, the choice of reading material Monday was no surprise, really. It’s uplifting, devoid of the subversive undercurrent coursing through The Lorax or Butter Battle Book and riddled with exclamation points. Faulconer incarnate!!!

“Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act,” Seuss implored. “Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.”

Faulconer’s clumsy San Diego Chargers solution—pulling a new band of thinkers together, calling them the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) and telling them, in Seussian essence, “Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so, get on your way!”—was met with yawns and scowls from the fidgety NFL team that finds itself in a 14-year slump to secure a sparkling new home.

As Seuss noted in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, “Un-slumping yourself is not easily done.” Chargers fans can certainly appreciate that notion when it comes to on-field performance. And it’s also clearly wearing thin among team executives. The tension among all parties—the city, team honchos and fans—is palpable, as was exhibited later Monday when hundreds of Bolts devotees packed a public forum at Qualcomm Stadium.

Whether CSAG members heard anything new to ponder as they hurtle toward a Faulconer-shortened May deadline to devise a plan to keep the Chargers from skipping town is anyone’s guess. As many noted afterward, the event—a creation to counter criticism of CSAG’s secrecy—was more pep rally than substantive discussion.

The consensus of armchair quarterbacks seems to indicate that Mission Valley, rather than the Chargers’ preferred East Village, is now the focus of site deliberations. While well and good, site selection will be the easiest part of the task force’s duties.

Figuring out how to pay for a new stadium that the Chargers speculate could cost upwards of $1.7 billion? As Dr. Seuss would say, “And when you’re alone there’s a very good chance, you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.”

Erik Bruvold, president of the National University Institute on Policy Research, said Monday that he’ll soon release a report analyzing how San Diego compares with other NFL markets and Los Angeles—an NFL void on three teams’ radar—when it comes to the likelihood of selling of so-called personal seat licenses, or PSLs, the financing tool du jour for new stadiums.

Bruvold said that after reviewing median and $100,000-plus household figures and the number of companies with 250 employees or more in those metropolitan markets, “I think the data is going to show that San Diego is pretty much smack-dab in the middle.”

His hope is that the analysis helps answer the question: “If we’re saying that NFL stadiums are now a $1.7 billion endeavor, and that there are certain markets where you’re not going to be able to afford PSLs, and that’s sort of the going price, what is the NFL saying in terms of the kind of metros that can support stadiums?” 

Bruvold thinks the numbers suggest that San Diego isn’t a PSL holy land like Dallas or San Francisco—or Los Angeles, which he described as the “second biggest metro in the country. Demographically, L.A. should do fine.”

“If you look at where the most recent wave of serious, huge NFL stadiums are,” Bruvold said, “they tend to be located in the largest metro areas of those regions. So, the question is, if you’re going to keep up with the Jerry Joneses and the 49ers of the world, that’s going to be a challenge.”

The NFL seems focused on two imperatives, Bruvold added: drawing fans to the stadium and away from “their 78-inch high-definition TVs in their man caves” and providing a Disneyland-like experience that will “keep them in the building for as long as possible and extract from them all the spending they’re going to do during the day.

“You see that in new stadiums with how much they’ve dedicated their space to clubs and restaurants and bars versus tailgating in parking lots,” he said. “It’s all about increasing the percentage of spending that’s done inside the walls of the stadium.”

Citing competitive reasons, Mark Fabiani, the Chargers’ point man on a new stadium deal, has declined to provide financial assumptions regarding PSL sales here or for the proposed Carson site, saying only that the team is modeling its effort after the 49ers’ Levi Stadium approach ($550 million in PSL sales) and that “we are completely confident in the conclusions we have drawn.”

Asked about the prospects in San Diego, Fabiani, in an email, seemed to bristle: “BTW, if the city thinks it can sell PSLs, the city should sell them and, if they fall short of $550 million, then make up the difference with city money!! I don’t think there are going to be any takers for that offer!” 

Bruvold called that “disingenuous”: “The Chargers will absolutely demand input and control over pricing and selling of PSLs,” adding that the big question will be “who’s on the hook” if sales underperform.

“Until we see the deal sheet [for Carson], it’s nothing,” Bruvold said. “The key issues are risk and contribution. In three months, the city might find itself dealing in a lot better position. The omelet isn’t ready yet. But either way, I think you’re looking at either a renovated Qualcomm or a decent mid-level NFL stadium. A $1.7 billion stadium is problematic.”

As Dr. Seuss would say, “Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

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