Securing the Bolts

 

After a January announcement by San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, Phillip Rivers knows he will have work for another year in San Diego. But the burning question on too many San Diegans’ minds is this: Who is Phillip Rivers?

The San Diego Chargers suffer from a somewhat apathetic fan base, and while there are certainly diehards for the “Bolts,” its fan atmosphere is not nearly as tightly knit as those of the publicly owned Green Bay Packers or the borderline-terrifying Oakland Raiders. An ESPN ranking lists the Chargers as having the 28th- (out of 32) lowest average attendance during the 2012 season. Wishy-washy support for the team renders the Chargers vulnerable to relocation.

As the only NFL team in Southern California since 1995, the Chargers have unprecedented access to a tremendous geographic fan base. Los Angeles and San Diego, California’s two largest cities, are closer in distance to Qualcomm Stadium than to either of the Bay Area football squads. Unfortunately, however, spatial proximity has not translated into a strong and active fan base. In fact, there is a strong possibility that the Chargers may relocate to Los Angeles in the coming years. But San Diego needs the Chargers, and the city should do what it can financially to incentivize the team to stay here.

The lack of a football team is an ongoing sore subject for Angelenos, and dueling plans to build a stadium have popped up in recent years. Los Angeles needs a team’s commitment to relocate to the City of Pollution, and the stadium will follow.

The metropolitan area that is home to nearly a third of UCSD undergraduates also houses two professional basketball teams, two baseball and hockey teams, two soccer teams, and — not counting the years that USC illegally recruited some of its players — zero professional football teams. Outside of football, San Diego, on the other hand, is home to a mediocre baseball team and not much else.

As UCSD students, we understand the struggle of not having a football team, L.A., but taking San Diego’s is not the answer.

Mayor Filner announced in January that the Chargers would not file to relocate this year, locking them into another season at Qualcomm. During an October debate in Price Center East against Republican opponent Carl DeMaio, Filner and his rival both listed keeping the Chargers in San Diego as a priority during their terms. Filner can list this as a “success” for his first year in office, but San Diego government will need to do more to keep the team from “bolting” to L.A.

As the Guardian reported last month, Filner is working with former Massachusetts governor and La Jolla resident Mitt Romney to coordinate a bid for San Diego to co-host the 2024 Olympics with Tijuana. Not only is the plan flawed (it is against the current International Olympic Committee policy to allow multiple countries to host the Summer Games) — it is also ill-timed. San Diego’s economy, in the years following the Great Recession, is not necessarily prepared to foot a multi-billion dollar bill to host the games. On the other hand, a new stadium or heavy-duty renovations to the existing one would probably not cost more than a few hundred million dollars — a bargain next to the Olympic bid.

Government money, at this point, is much better off going toward building a new home for the Chargers than to supporting an improbable Olympic bid. A new stadium for the Chargers and their quarterback Phillip Rivers, who is under contract with the team for a few more years, would provide an attractive venue for other attractions like concerts or big RV shows — both of which bring money and jobs to San Diego.

The Chargers are doing what they can internally to improve. During this current off-season — which comes on the heels of a pathetic 7–9 run — the team hired Mike McCoy (who had previously worked as an offensive coordinator with the 13–3 Denver Broncos) as a new head coach. On the facilities side, the Chargers are in need of a new stadium, in a better location, to boost the local economy and revamp its fan base. A recent U-T San Diego op-ed emphasized the need for a new stadium before relocation begins to become a more real threat.

San Diego needs to prioritize the Chargers and other big-money guns, or else we won’t be shocked to see them leave. And some of us are rooting for a blue and gold football team in this town.

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