It’s hard to feel sorry for Dean Spanos, even if he looked like someone had just kicked his dog the other day in Houston.
His fellow NFL owners had sold him out, rejecting what he surely thought was a slam dunk project that would pair his Chargers with the Oakland Raiders in Los Angeles. Even a parting gift of $100 million to spend on the stadium of his choice wasn’t enough to ease the pain.
What had to hurt even more was that Spanos had always been a company man. For the most part he went along with what others thought best for the league, sure that he would be rewarded in the end.
But loyalty is not always a two-way street, something San Diego fans know better than most. Several generations of them grew up rooting for the hometown team, only to have Spanos scheme to move it north after 55 years in San Diego without as much as a proper goodbye.
So it was perhaps poetic justice to fans that the person causing so much pain to so many is feeling some himself.
Spanos went to the owners meeting in Houston expecting to slap the backs of other owners and get formal permission to team with the Raiders in Carson. He flew home a loser, with Stan Kroenke’s plan for a stadium in Inglewood for his Rams winning in a 30-2 landslide vote.
Now he’s left with a pair of options he couldn’t have envisioned when crafting the master plan to flee San Diego for a spot between freeways in Los Angeles.
Does he move the team to Inglewood to share Kroenke’s complex and risk being overshadowed by the Rams, a team that already has a fan base in Southern California?
Or does he go back, tail between legs, and negotiate a new stadium in San Diego with city leaders who now hold most of the cards?
Forgive San Diego fans if they’re chuckling a bit. This couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.
Spanos wanted the taxpayers of San Diego to build him a new stadium, and was dismissive of the fans who begged him to stay. When he couldn’t extort more money from the local populace without a public vote, he voted to abandon the very fan base that made his team so valuable.
They supported the team long before family patriarch Alex Spanos bought a majority stake in the team for $48 million in 1984. They’ve bought season tickets every year and filled Qualcomm Stadium to cheer a team that has never won a Super Bowl and always seems to underachieve.
They are the main reason the Chargers are now valued by Forbes at $1.5 billion, with operating profit of some $65 million in 2014 alone.
Yes, the Chargers are a private business allowed to chase money wherever they can find it. But lost in the frantic rush to move is the reality that NFL teams are part of the fabric of a city and should be treated like a public trust.
Spanos didn’t like the last deal offered by city officials, which called for a $1.1 billion stadium with $350 million paid by taxpayers. The Chargers, who would have been on the hook for $362.5 million, rejected the plan outright, with no real negotiation.
Easy to see why. For years, the team had a deal where, incredibly, the city of San Diego paid the team for any seats it didn’t sell. Compared to that sweetheart deal, $350 million in public money for a new stadium seems like peanuts.
Now the NFL is offering another $100 million to the team if the Chargers stay, which might be enough to make Spanos reconsider. But San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer doesn’t seem terribly inclined to offer much more than is on the table now, and wants a public vote on any tax increase for the team.
The Chargers can still move to LA, but would have to share a stadium developed by a rival owner with the Rams. And make no mistake about it, they would be LA’s second team, much like another San Diego transplant, the Clippers, remain subservient to the Lakers at Staples Center.
Making matters worse is the Chargers will have to pay — something NFL owners don’t like to do — for the right to be there. The relocation fee alone is a reported $550 million, with another $900 million or so for half of the Inglewood stadium unless the Chargers opt to merely be tenants at the new facility.
Still, as much as it must have stung Spanos to have his best-laid plans rejected by fellow owners, the argument can be made that either way he’s ahead.
Take the Rams offer and the franchise is suddenly worth more, even if it costs to play. Stay in San Diego and there’s $100 million less Spanos has to spend, plus whatever he can con the city out of in future negotiations.
Anybody feeling sorry for Spanos now?