Build it! It’s more than JUST a stadium

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—if not 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 broadcast 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.

Building a new stadium also puts San Diego squarely on the list of cities being considered as a venue for the World Cup should the United States be chosen as the host nation for the 2018 or 2022 tournament. There is little doubt that a new stadium in San Diego would entrench the city as one of the 12 chosen sites.  It is 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.

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 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.

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.

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