Not long ago, leaders of the Chargers and the Padres met to discuss a problem.

The Chargers are asking voters to approve a joint convention center-stadium – a convadium – in East Village, a facility that could host the football team and, say, a boat show. They’re eyeing Tailgate Park, currently home to about 1,000 of the Padres’ best parking spots.

The Padres lease those spots from the city. There are 16 years left on that lease and the team has an option to renew it for up to 10 more years. The contract, though, acknowledges the city may want to do something else with that parking lot in the future. If it is developed into something bigger, the city is on the hook to replace the spots the Padres lose.

That could be a nightmare for the baseball team and the city. The Padres benefited from a major public investment in Petco Park. Demanding taxpayers come to the table again, to build a new parking garage, could get very awkward.

It appears that the Chargers’ executives don’t see it as a big deal. They believe they will solve this problem with the facilities they want to build.

The Chargers, after all, would only play in the facility about 10 times a year. Surely they can build their own parking that will satisfy the Padres’ needs too.


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The Padres want to get that in writing.

Ron Fowler, chairman of the Padres ownership group, pointed out to me that the Chargers facility is meant to be both a football stadium and a convention center. The conventions it hosts would, ostensibly, need those spots too – and not just for 10 days out of the year.

So the Padres and Chargers were meeting because the Padres wanted assurances – maybe a formal memorandum of understanding. If voters approved the Chargers initiative, the Padres’ executives wanted a deal in place to ensure their parking spots would be there in the future.

“The meeting ended with ‘trust us,'” Fowler told me in an expansive interview about his team’s concerns with the Chargers proposal.

Fowler and the Padres want the Chargers to stay in San Diego. He has said that many times. He and his family are close friends with Chargers President Dean Spanos and his family.

But they need to work some things out.

“There’s no anti-Chargers feeling at all,” he said. “We want to keep the Chargers in San Diego. We want to make sure the ability of fans to get to Petco and park is not harmed and we want to ensure that everyone in East Village gets a solution that maybe nobody is happy with but everyone can live with.”

Fowler’s concerns are not trivial. In addition to parking, Fowler and the Padres are worried about traffic issues – problems that already exist in East Village. The team is producing its own traffic study right now, in fact.

They are also worried about a provision in the Chargers initiative that has, so far, gotten very little attention: If passed, the initiative would allow the Chargers to put up two, very large, digital billboards on the outside of the convadium. The signs could shine until 2 a.m. every night.

They aren’t depicted in the Chargers’ many renderings of the proposed facility.

The signs could cause problems both for East Village residents and the Padres. After all, corporate sponsors might prefer to advertise on those big Chargers billboards facing the rest of the city, rather than signs pointing to the inside of Petco Park with the Padres.

The city doesn’t allow the Padres to put up billboards on the outside of Petco Park. In fact, very few opportunities for that exist in the city as a whole because of San Diego’s restrictive sign ordinance. The Chargers initiative would supersede that law.

Fowler told me if the city allowed digital signs like that for the Chargers, it should allow it for the Padres. However, he doesn’t want either to happen.

“My preference is no signs like that should be available because it’s not in the best interest of East Village,” Fowler said.

After the meeting between the teams ended with the “trust us” from the Chargers, the Padres had a decision to make. Padres CEO Mike Dee is on the board of directors of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, which was about to vote on whether to endorse the Chargers’ ballot initiative. The initiative would raise the hotel-room tax and fund the convadium right next to Petco Park.

Fowler met with Jerry Sanders, CEO of the Chamber. I had heard Fowler asked Sanders not to let the endorsement happen.

That’s not true, Fowler told me. In fact, he said, he knew the Chamber would endorse the initiative because of the close relationship Sanders has with Chargers special advisor Fred Maas.

“I asked him ‘Do you think these issues are sufficiently addressed by the Chargers?” Fowler said of his meeting with Sanders. He said Sanders told him that supporting the Chargers now was the best way to assure the team stays in San Diego.

And then, Fowler said, the two longtime allies spent the rest of the meeting talking about how they might help keep the Chargers in town when, and if, the initiative fails.

The Chamber’s spokeswoman, Elizabeth Fitzsimons, confirmed the meeting took place.

“Ron [Fowler] shared his concerns about infrastructure and that they were working with the Chargers on that,” she said. “He said he was supportive of the Chargers. The concerns he and others outlined informed the endorsement and the list of considerations that were included in the letter sent to the Chargers.”

The letter she’s talking about is this one to Spanos the Chamber sent after its endorsement. It said the Chamber supported the Chargers and requested the team address the Padres’ concerns about the loss of parking, the signage and infrastructure.

The Padres’ Dee ended up abstaining from the endorsement vote. “All we’re looking to do is get more information,” Fowler said.

The Chargers declined to comment specifically about the Padres concerns. Maas sent a written statement:

“We have enjoyed a good relationship with the Padres over many years. We look forward to working with them in the future at our new facility downtown.”

The parking dilemma is now turning into a rallying point for opposition to the Chargers plan. Councilman Chris Cate, one of the principals in the official campaign committee set up to fight the Chargers initiative, brought up the city’s liability for Tailgate Park on our podcast last week – the city has to replace the Padres’ parking, and downtown real estate isn’t cheap. Doing so could get expensive.

I asked him for comment about the tension between the two San Diego sports teams.

“Part of the reason the Chargers initiative is flawed is because it was developed in private, without any input from the City, key stakeholders, or the communities that would be most impacted by a stadium and convention center annex,” Cate said in a written statement.

“The Padres and the City were successful in getting Petco Park approved partly because they worked together,” he said. “That process was collaborative, open and transparent, and, unfortunately, that’s not what we’re dealing with now.”

    This article relates to: Chargers Stadium, Land Use

    Written by Scott Lewis

    I'm Scott Lewis, the editor in chief of Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at scott.lewis@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0527 and follow me on Twitter (it's a blast!): @vosdscott.

    17 comments
    Ollie Anntan
    Ollie Anntan

    This stadium is so stupid. First off, how is there room downtown for a stadium when there isn't enough room to expand Comic Con?

    We're famous for how awesome Comic Con is, and we're also famous for how terrible the Chargers are. They always trade away their best players and haven't won since decades before I was born! Not only that, taxpayers still owe millions of dollars from the 90s for their last stadium. Let's take this new hotel tax and apply it to paying that off.

    Janet Shelton
    Janet Shelton subscriber

    Very large digital signs on till 2 a.m.  Just more evidence that the Chargers don't care at all about the "little people" except if they can make a buck off them.  The sign code prohibits this for a very good reason.

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    The latest Union-Tribune/News 10 poll shows 30% of voters are undecided about the Chargers Plan.And 40% have already decided to vote no!Only 30% of voters are currently planning to vote yes. The No Downtown Stadium coalition forwarded a poll indicating similar results.

    So many voters are undecided because they know in their gut the plan is a dumb idea.  This story reinforces the stupidity.  Here we have two Richie Riches arguing over which taxpayer will pay to make him richer: the resident or the tourist.  It’s shameful.

    In response to the polls, Fred Maas says the Chargers will focus their marketing campaign on converting the undecided.  This is the right strategy, but the team will have to convert a whopping 70% of them just to reach 51% of the vote, which may not be enough depending on what the California Supreme Court decides constitutes a majority.

    Whatever benchmark the court sets, my bet is the Chargers Plan will fail.  It will fail because besides it being a bad idea the Chargers don’t have the marketing skill to sell it, because they’re a business built on hubris and not humility.  Hubris doesn’t sell in San Diego. 

    Some of their arrogance is inherent in the business of the pro-football, but it’s also about what Spanos has learned about marketing by operating in a closed, politically-protected and taxpayer-subsidized market. He’s learned he can deliver a crappy product and survive, if not prosper!  This false sense of success will severely limits how he goes about marketing to voters, who are considerably different “consumers” than fans.

    I see evidence of his blindness in his choice of spokesmen.  Hyper-aggressive lawyers like Fabiani and Maas are perfect front men for the cutthroat world of real estate deals, but they’re completely wrong for selling to the broader culture of San Diego; a culture that includes the undecided voter.  Remarks like “trust us” also speak to his tone deafness. 

    You’d think most voters would be for the stadium after all the cheerleading by the Chamber of Commerce, sports journalists, and UT editorials.  The fact they’re not suggests the Chargers are in deep doo-doo.  It’s precisely because most voters don’t trust them.

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    I have to agee with councilmember Cate.  The Chargers' proposal is being foisted on downtown without any real planning or cooperation from other stakeholders.  I will be voting against it and will also vote against the Briggs plan because it too, is being proposed by a small group of people who seem to think they know what's best for everyone.  Both plans show arrogance by the proponents.  I doubt when citizen's initiatives were first proposed, these types of projects were  contemplated.

    Bob Gardner
    Bob Gardner subscriber

    Don't forget that Petco Park has now been opened 12 years. And since sports franchises start clamoring for a new stadium after about 30 years, we are 40% of the way to the Padre ownership wanting to have yet another new publicly funded stadium. 

    Stephen Hon
    Stephen Hon subscribermember

    I plan to vote no on both the Charger initiative and the Briggs initiative. Both are bad plans. It is hard to determine what the Spanos family is worse at, city planning or running a football team. They have been very good at alienating a large percentage of the population of San Diego County.

    richard brick
    richard brick subscribermember

    "Open and transparent" as Cate stated was key in getting Petco built. Since when has any discussions with the Chargers and the City, and voting public been "open and transparent"?


    The lies that are being told by talk radio, specifically 1360 is just ridiculous. "7 thousand permanent jobs", the City will make money to add police and firemen, fix all the roads infrastructure needs. If stadiums are such money makers why aren't the big money investors jumping all over this new stadium? 


    Remember folks, this new tax on hotel rooms could be used for many things besides building a billionaire a new sand box.      

    David Crossley
    David Crossley subscriber

    @richard brick  --The clowns on 1360 are just trying to save their jobs.  No need for multiple sports stations if there is to be only one major sport in town (assuming the Chargers head north).

    Robert Cohen
    Robert Cohen subscriber

    @David Crossley @richard brick Yes, not only will the sports talk stations be using the same old tired, and disproved, statements about the number of jobs created by a stadium and the other so-called economic benefits, but pretty much every television and radio news organization will be enlisted as well. We will be hearing a lot about future Super Bowls, World Cup soccer matches, Final Fours, etc, that will all of a sudden flock to SD because, of course, we are America's Finest City and where else will those events take place when they can come here.  It will be an onslaught, both paid and unpaid, of publicity in support of the convadium and of course dissenters will be be labeled "obstructionists", "dead-enders",  or "Bruce Henderson types".  

    Bob Stein
    Bob Stein subscriber

    @Robert Cohen @David Crossley @richard brick Our local commercial media make huge money off football.All the outlets have a large financial interest in ensuring the Chargers stay in San Diego.Their bias towards the team is 100%.Here are some reasons:

    NFL broadcasts remain among the highest rated TV shows, even average games.  Higher ratings translate to higher advertising prices for local advertisers.  A commercial for the “white glove guys” in a football game probably earns the local TV station 15x what they earn for the same commercial running in their mid-day news show.   

    Local TV stations can also charge a premium for airing commercials in the sports segment of their local news broadcasts.  They’re able to do this because sports reports attract a male audience, and some advertisers must focus their advertising towards men.  Car dealers are a good example.  I’d guess commercials in sports reports cost 30% more than regular newscast commercials.

    Further, broadcasting sports news costs stations very little.  So not only do the higher advertising rates bring in more revenue, but the lower cost of producing sports related programming means higher profit margins.

    This is most manifest in the symbiotic relationship between the Chargers and local sports reporters. Stories about the Chargers run practically every day year-round.  The stations don’t pay for these stories, they’re given these stories by the Chargers.

    Now it’s not that stations pay for any stories, any time, on any subject.  That’s not journalism. But keep in mind finding real news stories costs time and money.  It requires having journalists investigate some activity, which can take weeks of work.  Having stories handed to you every day means the station is optimizing the cost of its reporters.  Their daily work is directly tied to revenue of the daily broadcast. 

    All of this carries over to radio.  For instance, a two hour “sports-talk” segment on football has virtually no costs attached to it other than the salary of the host and the electricity bill for beaming the signal.  All “content” is generated for free by the Chargers and their call-in fans.  The profit margins are huge.

    And then there’s the Union-Tribune.  They too earn premium prices for advertising placed in their sports section.  And based on the importance the paper gives to the Chargers, I’d say football is the biggest attraction to the sports section. 

    I’d further guess 30% of the entire revenue of the UT is directly tied to the Chargers and the Padres, which is one reason why the paper often seems like little more than a sports paper.  They run thousands of articles a year on these two teams.

    Steven Greer
    Steven Greer subscriber

    Chargers in East Village?  No thanks.  Move 'em to the suburbs where their fans live.

    Or move them out of town completely.

    wadams92101
    wadams92101 subscriber

    Want to see how the East Village South site will develop without a stadium?  Check out the recent illustrated East Village South Draft Focus Plan at the following link.  Drafted by the City's top architects and sponsored by AIA-SD and C-3.  It will happen faster than a stadium too - it's happening now. And unlike a "Convadium," it will generate public funds via property taxes, sales taxes, payroll taxes, and development impact fees.  It will also generate thousands of units of housing, high paying jobs, and expand the educational presence South of I-8. http://sandiego.urbdezine.com/2016/08/02/downtown-san-diegos-east-village-south-focus-plan-draft/

    ZachW
    ZachW subscriber

    The Charger's initiative is one of the most selfish and greedy ballot measures I've ever seen. It was constructed 100% by the Chargers and their lawyers and thumbs its nose at all other stakeholders including East Village residents, Bario Logan residents, hoteliers, the city government, the Padres, ComicCon and other convention interests, and the list goes on. Spanos doesn't give a rat's backside about the city or the neighborhood he's trying to defile; he cares only about himself and is even willing to play city planner and convention expert to do it. The media is also not doing enough to scrutinize this plan - we need more in depth coverage like this. Were convention center experts even consulted on this plan? Why is it OK for a football team to decide the trajectory of, design, and build our future convention infrastructure?

    Leah Swearingen
    Leah Swearingen

    I have lived and worked in the East Village for eight years. I love this neighborhood. While I was an enthusiastic backer of PETCO in the late 1990's, I am dead set against a downtown Charger's stadium. Just a few reasons: 1) The Convadium concept is misguided, period. A bifurcated convention center is impractical and asinine. 2) Placing a humongous stadium on this vital East Village parcel(s) is like shoving a size 12 shoe on a size 7 foot. It will be hideous in scale. 3) It will wall off our neighbors -- from Golden Hill to Barrio Logan. 4) It will permanently disrupt lovely view corridors, e.g., the view of the Library rotunda as you return to San Diego from the Coronado Bridge, water views looking south on streets such as 15th, etc. Keep the Chargers in San Diego -- in Mission Valley at Qualcomm where they belong. This would be a tragic and unforgiving mistake to put the Charger's stadium in the East Village. 

    ZachW
    ZachW subscriber

    We also need to defeat the "thing" Lawyer Briggs is bringing to the ballot; you see Sanders quoted in this story, they are already trying to find alternate ways to force a tax subsidized stadium on us even if we vote against the Charger's initiative. My guess is the Briggs initiative will be used as a tool to erect this monstracity downtown if the Charger's initiative fails