This post has been updated.

For years, the city of San Diego has spent millions of dollars each year to subsidize the Chargers.

But the city did, after all, get a home football team out of the deal.

Consensus is growing that the Chargers are going to receive NFL approval to move to Los Angeles this week, leaving San Diego without its main tenant at Qualcomm Stadium.

The team’s current deal with the city involves taxpayers actually cutting the Chargers a check at the end of the year, instead of the other way around. But that doesn’t mean the team’s departure is necessarily good news for the city’s bank account.

With the Chargers gone, the city will save some money – but not a lot.

Each year, the team is nominally obliged to pay the city $3 million, but the money the team gets from hot dog, beer and other concessions, along with payments related to a disability-access lawsuit, ends up putting the city in the red. When the team goes, its revenue and costs are essentially a wash for the city.

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Taxpayers will, however, save about $1 million that now goes toward police officers and firefighters working Chargers games.

But remember that it costs money to keep Qualcomm functioning with or without the Chargers.

The city doesn’t make enough from San Diego State football games, monster truck rallies, motocross and other events at Qualcomm to cover expenses. We’d likely still lose about $6 million a year just operating and maintaining the stadium with the team gone. And that doesn’t even count paying for the $85 million in long-term repairs Qualcomm needs.

The Chargers are going to pay the city some money, but not enough to cover its debt.

The Chargers’ much-maligned lease with the city allows the team to leave whenever it wants. But the lease does require the team to pay a termination fee on a sliding scale. If the Chargers give notice by May 1, they must pay San Diego $15.2 million:


You could buy a lot of stuff for $15 million. Unfortunately, we owe more than $50 million.

Back in the mid-1990s, the city borrowed close to $70 million to renovate the stadium – Qualcomm, the electronics company, kicked in some cash, hence the name.

We still need to pay $52 million back on those renovations, a $4.9 million annual hit that continues for the next decade. The idea has been that the money we’d get from the Chargers leaving town would go toward repaying the stadium debt, but city financial officials said that’s yet to be decided. Even if it happens, we’re going to remain pretty upside down.

The city has spent some money planning for the future, but will spend even more.

Back in the summer when the city was still marching to the NFL’s beat, Mayor Kevin Faulconer pushed the city to complete a speedy environmental review for the Qualcomm site – the mayor’s preferred solution for a new stadium. That came at a cost of $2.1 million and was necessary, the mayor said, to show the NFL that the city could have a new stadium ready for construction by the beginning of this year. Of course, the decision to spend the $2.1 million came after the Chargers had walked away from the negotiating table.

Not to worry, the mayor said at the time. If the team left, the environmental review would still be valuable for Qualcomm’s future, especially if a new sports facility like a soccer stadium went there.

But the environmental review’s value depends on what’s ultimately going to end up on the Qualcomm site. To figure that out is going to cost some more.

“The amount of residual value the requested [environmental review] might have for future city projects will largely depend on project specifics and the amount of time that has lapsed,” the city’s independent budget analyst said in a July report. “If the Chargers relocate, it is reasonable to assume there will be some indeterminable amount of additional consultant and/or staff expense for environmental review of a future project at the site.”

Update: As of late December, the city had not finalized the environmental review. According to a mayoral spokesman, the city doesn’t want to finish the review until the Chargers agree to a formal stadium proposal. There’s still $700,000 unspent in the project’s budget.

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Government, Must Reads

    Written by Liam Dillon

    Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at or 619.550.5663.

    Phillip Franklin
    Phillip Franklin subscriber

    So if the Chargers would have left in in 2010 the city would have collected nearly $40 million more plus the tens of millions that they had to give to the Chargers for the last six years.   Plus maybe the city could have retired that $70 million bonded debt years ago.  Instead  the city still owes over $50 million of that debt.  In the mean time the city is over billions behind in needed infrastructure improvements on roads, streets, bridges, water, sewer and other critical transportation needs.  Yet we have a mayor and city council who is throwing even more millions of dollars away by crawling on their hands and knees begging NFL billionaires to take even more tax payer money on a stadium where over 95% of the city's population can't even  afford to attend a NFL game.  

    The sad thing here is that even if the NFL leaves San Diego for good most our  politicians will be chasing them down for years to come by offering them every last tax dollar the city can collect.  It's not considered madness and corruption, but it's called modern day money politics.  You see the politicians are so trained to kiss these billionaires asses to fund their campaigns nothing else matters.  Politicians are exactly  like meth or heroin addicts who will sell their children into slavery for that next hit.  They will rob from the very people who elected them and the people will not care.  This is an epidemic and our democracy is the victim.  All a modern NFL stadium has become is a device whereby politicians can rob from the taxpayers of a city to pay off a few billionaires for political favors.  Our own mayor has become one of the addicted players and he can't stop  no matter what the price.  In the meantime the NFL owners laugh all the way to the bank while telling the fans where they can stick it.  

    Sean M
    Sean M subscriber

    What about the costs of the no bid 24 hour security contract with Elite that expires in 2035?

    Ron Burgundy
    Ron Burgundy

    @Sean M Not sure where you have been Sean, but the City in its infinite wisdom replaced Elite with a company out of Los Angeles called CSC. If you went to the Holiday Bowl you would have spent over an hour waiting in line to get in and noticed the change.

    Chris Brewster
    Chris Brewster subscribermember

    Time to call in the Mac Meda Destruction Company.

    Ron Hidinger
    Ron Hidinger subscriber

    It could become a crumbling tourist attraction like the Colosseum in Rome!

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    Why do I get the feeling that Qualcomm will be standing there for years on end?  All the talk about college campuses, a football/soccer stadium and other amenities will go on for a very long time.  Meanwhile the current stadium will continue to be a money pit. At least the car dealers will be happy as they will have a big parking lot to show their vehicles on the weekends for many years to come.

    Bill Bradshaw
    Bill Bradshaw subscribermember

    @Robert Cohen Remember, If they scrape it, the 52 mil is still owed.  Quite a deal Golding and co. got; If Liam's information is correct, we borrowed 70 mil, have been paying for about 20 years and still owe 52?  Sounds like the Poway school board. 

    And, where do the league champ Aztecs play? I say go after the Rai-duhs and remodel it for them.