Editor: A version of this article originally appeared on the now defunct SDNN.com. With the Chargers’ season over, and the chatter about the L.A. stadium proposals generating a lot of attention of late, we thought we’d revive the debate here.
There’s a common misconception that a new NFL stadium for the Chargers is strictly a Chargers issue. That since the Chargers stand to gain the most from building a new stadium, then they should be entirely responsible for paying for it themselves. And if they’re not willing to do so, then they should just leave. The city will survive without them.
And although that may be true—that San Diego will go on without the Chargers as it has gone on without the Rockets and the Clippers—it is extremely shortsighted to look at the stadium as merely a Chargers issue, as if they’re the only ones affected. They’re not. And it’s about time folks started to understand that.
The stadium issue is a San Diego issue. It is an economic issue that has much greater ramifications than whether or not we have an NFL franchise to call our own. It will largely determine SDSU’s ability to continue to field a Division I football team. It will absolutely determine whether San Diego maintains its ability to host the Poinsettia Bowl and the Holiday Bowl, one of the premier non-BCS bowl games in the country. San Diego greatly benefits from having fans of participating teams visit our fine city; they not only buy tickets to the game, but they stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, visit our landmarks and attractions, patronize our stores……
But even that is only a small part of the economic impact a stadium brings to our city. San Diego is a tourist destination, so a significant chunk of our local economy depends on brining in tourist dollars. By losing an NFL franchise we lose an awful lot of free advertising on national (indeed international) television. When CBS, Fox, NBC, or ESPN broadcasts a game from San Diego in December or January they include video panoramas of the harbor, our beaches, and the skyline. Images of a cloudless sky and 75 degree temperatures get beamed across the world. And when commentators like Al Michaels declare that the NFL should hold the Super Bowl in San Diego every year while telling the hundreds of millions of viewers about the clear blue sky and the 90 degree day we are experiencing at the end of January while more than half of the United States is buried under three feet of snow; well, there simply is no better endorsement of our city than that.
And about the Super Bowl: There is a lot of debate about the actual economic impact hosting that event has on our city. The NFL says that the 2002 game had an overall economic impact of over $300 million. Detractors claim it was less than $100 million. But whatever figure you believe it is undoubtedly a huge net positive for our economy in direct numbers. In indirect terms, though, one cannot underestimate the value of having a giant, 10,000 megawatt spotlight shined on our city for two weeks solid leading up to the game. The state of California has spent millions of dollars on a national ad campaign to boost tourism in the state, yet we get even better direct exposure for our city for free! And make no mistake about it: The NFL is dying to bring the game back to San Diego, as it was an enormous success the previous three times it was here.
Although the U.S. lost its bid to host the 2022 World Cup, San Diego was squarely on the list of cities being considered as a venue had we been chosen as the host nation. There is little doubt that a new stadium in San Diego would have entrenched the city as one of the 12 chosen sites. It was estimated that the World Cup would have a national economic impact of at least $5 billion, with San Diego reaping between $350 million and $500 million of that haul. We can be fairly certain that the World Cup will be making a return to the United States at some point in the not too distant future, and San Diego needs to be positioned to be a part of it.
There’s also a line of thought that the new stadium in San Diego should feature a soft, retractable roof (which would be much less expensive than the typical domed stadium). San Diego would then be eligible to host the NCAA’s Final Four—the national basketball semi-finals and championship games. Houston’s Reliant Stadium is scheduled to host the event this year, and was the host of the Regional rounds of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Last year’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 rounds are estimated to have generated over $38 million in revenues to the Houston economy, with an expected $60 million from the 2011 Final Four.
San Antonio, it is reported, saw approximately $61 million poured into its economy from the Final Four when it hosted in 2008, up from the $55 million it saw from the event in 2004. St. Louis in 2005 reported nearly $72 million in economic impact for the weekend long event. There is currently no venue on the West Coast that meets the NCAA’s standards for the event, so San Diego would be virtually assured of being selected to host.
Consider, too, the need to expand the San Diego Convention Center. Mayor Sanders’ Convention Center Task Force recently published a study that estimated that “39.7% of prospective customers that do not book San Diego Convention Center attribute that decision to “Center Unavailable,” or a lack of space.” The study found that in 2007, convention attendees generated $921 million in direct spending here despite an inability to accommodate the largest events. Without the added capacity, San Diego is losing out on a lot of business.
The proposed convention center expansion combined with the availability of a downtown stadium for added space would guarantee that no event is too large to be held in San Diego. When not being used for sporting events, the stadium floor itself could be used as a convention venue, not to mention the various club lounges and skybox suites that can be used to entertain smaller break-out groups as a part of the larger event.
Without a new stadium, San Diego will be limited in its ability to play host to our country’s biggest sporting events. The U. S. Open, which was held at Torrey Pines in 2008, only comes around every so often……actually, it has only made its way to America’s Finest City once (compared with three Super Bowls), bringing with it an economic impact of $142 million. Since just about every other major sporting event requires a top caliber stadium, San Diego would automatically be out of the running.
The impact of losing the Chargers must also be considered. What message does it send to business leaders around the country about San Diego’s ability to support their business when we’re unwilling or unable to support an industry that brings as much attention to our city as the NFL? I know, I know……L.A. has survived without the NFL for more than 15 years now. But I’ve got news: We’re not L.A. L.A. still has two basketball teams, two baseball teams, and two hockey teams. And Los Angeles is still the epicenter of the entire entertainment industry. San Diego can claim no such distinction.
Critics abhor the idea of using any kind of public funds to build a stadium for a “private enterprise.” But the Chargers are more than that; they are a public asset in terms of the civic pride they generate in the community at-large and the revenues they help to create. Yet a stadium can be more than just the team that calls its field home. With the right location, a stadium can become a significant part of the economic engine that drives the city. There’s also the $17 million the current Qualcomm Stadium drains from the city’s coffers to take into account.
The city absolutely should not bear the financial responsibility alone, nor will it. But since the city stands to benefit from the presence of such a facility, the tax increment bonds that would be issued to help build it should be considered an investment in the overall economic viability and vibrancy of our community for years to come.
An investment in a stadium is an investment in the future of San Diego.