Playing Hard to Get, Chargers Prefer L.A.

In France, a common mini-scandal is the ménage à trois, a person with two lovers, sometimes under the same roof. The San Diego Chargers, secretly and lustfully eyeing the Los Angeles market, may outscandalize the French with a ménage à cinq, or one team pursued by four wooers.

In next week's election, citizens of Pasadena will vote whether their city should try to persuade the National Football League to put a team there and help renovate the Rose Bowl -- a job that will cost half a billion dollars. Last year, the Pasadena City Council pulled out of negotiations with the league. But sports worshippers got enough signatures to put it on this month's ballot. If it wins, the Chargers might be able to choose among four L.A.-area bedmates, because the league is also considering rehabilitating the Coliseum, putting a new stadium in Orange County, or putting a new stadium somewhere else, possibly near downtown. This is an auctioneer's dream: one product, four bidders.

Of course, the Chargers are playing hard to get, pretending they really aren't interested in L.A. Yeah, and most husbands tell their wives they would spurn advances from Paris Hilton. The Chargers can begin talking with other cities January 1 and can leave after the 2008 season. The L.A. metro area has 13 million people and is the nation's 2nd-largest television market. San Diego has 3 million and is the 26th-biggest television market. The TV-conscious National Football League will subsidize a stadium in the L.A. area but not in San Diego. 'Nuff said. The Chargers will go to L.A. if league owners agree. Recently, in the wake of talk that a new or rehabilitated stadium would cost $1 billion, some owners are said to be getting cold feet. But a billion isn't what it used to be, and the prospect of big profits will warm those toes.

San Diego business leaders want to make this a real orgy. National City and Chula Vista are trying to seduce the Chargers, and the City and County of San Diego are together scouting out another location. If you're keeping score, this would be a ménage à huit, or one person with seven potential lovers -- something that would shock even the French. The idea of squeezing an otiose football stadium into a thriving port area is ridiculous, particularly in depressed and overtaxed National City. Don't those football flacks claim (wrongly) that a stadium stimulates business, rather than eliminates it? This one would kill port jobs, and there would be nothing but a stadium that is empty all but 20 to 30 days a year to replace that economic loss. The stadium would cost $450 million and infrastructure $350 million. It isn't going to happen.

Chula Vista? What amuses me is that the Chargers would be negotiating for land there with HomeFed, the real estate company that is what's left of the savings and loan seized by the Resolution Trust Corporation in 1992. These are shrewd dudes. The company is a developer of San Elijo Hills and Otay Ranch in San Diego County. Five years ago, losses were steep and the stock sold for pennies a share. Now, profits have been rolling in for three years, and (adjusted for a 10 for 1 reverse split in 2003) the stock sells around $68. HomeFed is controlled by New York's Leucadia National, which buys assets cheap and helps them flower, à la HomeFed. In 2002, Leucadia shareholders approved a relocation to tax-sheltered Bermuda, but the company hasn't made the move. Bottom line: the Chargers won't be able to denude Leucadia/HomeFed lawyers the way they took City of San Diego lawyers' pants down. Maybe the team can once again con the city and county, but why should it bother when a juicy market beckons immediately to the north? It appears some in the establishment now know the Chargers are leaving and will use this opportunity disingenuously to blame the departure on Mike Aguirre.

There are rumors that other teams covet the L.A. market. The Minnesota Vikings might like a more hospitable climate, but in this case, an entire state would put up a ruckus. There are rumors that aging Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis needs to dump part of the team for estate tax reasons. The Raiders might return to the L.A. market and share it with the Chargers, according to longtime San Diego sports announcer Jerry Gross, who believes the Chargers are headed for Orange County. There is a rumor that Edward J. DeBartolo Jr. would return as part owner of the Los Angeles Raiders. But DeBartolo was banned from ownership of a team after he got caught bribing a former Louisiana governor with $400,000 in cash to get a casino license. He was fined and got two years' probation, incurring the league's wrath. It's okay to consort with gamblers, but it's not okay to get caught. It's a long shot that the Raiders would return to L.A., with or without DeBartolo.

The New Orleans Saints would be a logical candidate for relocation, but emotion will trump logic on this one. Post-Katrina, the city's population is down 60 percent to 187,525. The metro area is down to a little over a million from 1.3 million pre-Katrina. It has sunk to the 54th-largest TV market. That's not enough to support a team. But in a stunning example of twisted priorities, $185 million was spent to rebuild the Superdome, and most of that came from the federal government's bungling Federal Emergency Management Agency. Although it appears the Saints' owner would like to hike out of town, this team won't move soon. Of course, Louisiana is a football-crazed state, as well as thoroughly corrupt -- two more reasons it has such an affinity with the National Football League.

The league doesn't want a franchise relocation to backfire. When the Cleveland Browns left that city in 1996, some in Congress threatened to reconsider the league's antitrust exemptions. Chastened, the league put an expansion team there. The owners don't want to suffer similar embarrassment with San Diego. But a financially ailing city is different from a hurricane-blown city. The Chargers have been trying to alienate San Diego for more than four years. The strategy may well work. The odds are good that the league will approve the move.

So expect San Diego's ménage à cinq or ménage à huit to begin making the headlines nationally sometime after the Super Bowl. The news will push some other pro sports scandals out of the papers. The Sacramento Kings basketball team is owned by billionaire casino owners Joe and Gavin Maloof. They want a new arena. Voters next week would have to approve a quarter-cent sales-tax boost. The brothers want more, such as all the revenue from the 8000 parking places. And a guarantee that there would be no competing restaurant nearby. (What's that about an arena bringing economic development to the neighborhood?) What's more, the brothers are reluctant to give details of what the voters will be voting on. Mercifully, the polls show the deal losing by almost 60 percent.

The Orlando Magic basketball team would love to get out of the headlines. This team also wants a new government-subsidized arena. The Magic recently admitted that it paid $200,000 to an antitax crusader, a local talk-show gabber, to keep his mouth shut.

The New York Yankees recently pulled off a heist. They will get $400 million of government funds to build a new stadium. They will destroy two parks and hundreds of trees in the process. Neil deMause, writer for the Village Voice and keeper of the website Fieldofschemes.com, learned that the team billed city taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars for some work. What did that work entail? Lobbying the city. So New York City was paying to have itself lobbied.

What do you call that? Ménage à un?

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