Qualcomm stadium is still in diapers

Pro teams want a new venue every 25 or 30 years

Vaught–Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field in Oxford, Mississippi
  • Vaught–Hemingway Stadium at Hollingsworth Field in Oxford, Mississippi

Read a sports-page article and you will hear Qualcomm Stadium described as a “dump,” a “pigsty,” “run-down,” or “ancient.” Ergo, San Diego taxpayers should shell out $1 billion or more to subsidize a new stadium for a football team that has been maneuvering to move to a greener pasture, Los Angeles, for more than a dozen years.

Whoa, Nellie. The stadium now named Qualcomm is only 48 years old — still in diapers, compared with big university stadiums.

Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium

Mississippi State’s Davis Wade Stadium

The average age of a stadium in the Big Ten is 73; the Southeastern Conference, 85; and the Pac-12 Conference, 65. Major university teams such as Wisconsin, Ohio State, Nebraska, Illinois, Michigan State, Mississippi, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Louisiana State, Vanderbilt, Washington, Southern California, Colorado, California–Berkeley, and California–Los Angeles play in stadiums more than 90 years old, although they have been expanded and renovated over the years.

By contrast, the average National Football League stadium is merely 23 years old, and the average Major League Baseball ballpark is age 25.

“Every [pro] team expects to get a new stadium every 25 or 30 years,” says sports finance expert Roger Noll, professor of economics emeritus at Stanford.

Government-subsidized sports stadiums are now amusement parks for billionaire owners. The athletic contest is no longer the primary attraction. New stadiums have posh restaurants, stores, gift shops, museums, electronic scoreboards featuring close-up replays, themed entertainment, luxury boxes and seats, and all manner of amenities appealing to the rich and chic. Therefore, prices zoom as citizens willingly vote to price themselves out of sporting events.

Revenues from these upscale amenities are growing faster than other team-related revenues, says Noll, and that’s why owners “are finding more and more ways to get people to spend money inside a stadium.” After a stadium becomes 25 or 30 years old, the team owner sees confreres generating all that cash “and they want to replicate it.”

And why not? Taxpayers, generally, are picking up 70 to 80 percent of the tab.

The madness began in the early 1960s in Houston and escalated throughout the nation. That history is key to the San Diego Chargers’ attempt to escape northward, where entertainment-industry billionaires will devour the luxuries.

The villain was Houston’s Astrodome, hailed as the Eighth Wonder of the World when it opened in 1965. Baseball could be played in air-conditioned bliss during that city’s hideously hot summers. There were 55 luxury boxes — the first of their kind.

Soon, subsidized domed stadiums replete with luxury amenities were popping up all over. Some have already been razed. Although it was renovated in 1988, the Astrodome was abandoned by Houston’s pro football team in 1996 and baseball team in 1999.

St. Louis, Missouri’s Edward Jones Dome

St. Louis, Missouri’s Edward Jones Dome

The most pitiable victim of the luxury-stadium craze is St. Louis. The Cardinals had departed for Phoenix in 1988. Bereft of a pro football team, the river town felt inferior. It built a domed stadium with 100 percent public money and went looking for a tenant. Out in California, the Los Angeles Rams couldn’t draw fans and couldn’t wangle a subsidized stadium out of local governments. Entertainer Georgia Frontiere had inherited majority ownership of the Rams after the death of her sixth husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, a high roller and investor in Bahamian gambling assets, according to investigative journalist Dan Moldea.

Frontiere (who married a seventh time after Rosenbloom’s death) decided to move the Rams to St. Louis. A shrewd assistant handled the negotiations with the city, desperate to fill its stadium. The deal wound up being the worst lease in the history of the stadium swindle, according to Neil deMause of the website. The Rams pay only $250,000 in annual rent plus half of game-day expenses and get most luxury box and concession revenues and 75 percent of advertising and naming-rights fees. The team also got a $46 million relocation fee and a guarantee of $20 million a year profit from ticket sales.

The worst part, for St. Louis, was the so-called state-of-the-art clause. Incredibly, St. Louis agreed that it would keep the stadium in the top 25 percent of all National Football League stadiums. (The Kansas City Chiefs and Cincinnati Bengals have such a clause, and the Chargers gave up theirs in 2004.) The team could break the lease at ten-year intervals if it could show that the facility was not in the top 25 percent. The contract specified that the stadium must be first tier in such components as luxury boxes, scoreboards, concession areas, restrooms, and electronic and telecommunications equipment, according to Marquette Sports Law Review.

Among those representing St. Louis in the one-sided deal were two iconic Missouri politicians: Representative Richard Gephardt, who had tried to be nominated for president, and Senator Tom Eagleton, who thought he would be vice president until his psychiatric treatments became known.

The Rams occupied the stadium in 1995. The 20-year contract reevaluation period ended this year. Twenty-one new stadiums have been built since 1995. Two years ago, an arbitrator ruled that it would take a $700 million renovation — essentially a teardown — to bring the dome to first-tier status.

Georgia Frontiere died in 2008, and the ownership passed in steps to Stan Kroenke, a multibillionaire who is married to another multibillionaire. Kroenke has purchased land in Inglewood in the Los Angeles market and wants to build a $1.9 billion, hypermodern stadium with private funds. Missourians now want to build a new stadium with public funds to keep him in St. Louis.

It’s assumed he will try to move the Rams to Inglewood. The National Football League could try to block him, but that’s not likely. It tried to block Frontiere’s move, too, but backed down after she threatened to sue.

Sports experts such as Noll think Kroenke will succeed in moving the Rams to Los Angeles. Some believe he will want another team to be a tenant in the stadium. It’s a good bet that the Chargers would love to be that other team, although ownership insists it prefers to share a new stadium in Carson with the Oakland Raiders. (Don’t believe that.) Admitting it covets the L.A. market, the Chargers have flipped the bird at San Diego, so staying home would be quite difficult, especially since the team would lose its large L.A. audience.

San Diego, with its moderate incomes, high cost of living, relative paucity of billionaires and multimillionaires, and small TV market, may no longer be cut out to host a National Football League team. Blame the Astrodome.

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"Qualcomm stadium is still in diapers"

that still does not explain the stink

Murphyjunk. some would spend a billion dollars on a diaper change. Best, Don Bauder

Very good story Don.

Chargers fans (and locals who go to occasional games) should realize that a new stadium will be an entirely new game day experience. The good old days of tailgating will mostly be gone because all the land will be consumed with development. What parking is available with be at astronomical expense; like $50 to park. The experience will not be cheap for those who do not arrive by bus or trolley. Uber and Lyft? They will have high prices based on their demand pricing model. Once the NFL has their customers trapped inside, you'll have to pay much higher prices for food and drinks. Advertising will be everywhere begging you to buy NFL themed stuff, and your children will be tugging at you to buy them stuff too. That is, if you can afford to take your family to an NFL game anymore. Ticket prices would probably increase about 30%.

I doubt they will pay toilet. But I'm certain the amenities will be different for the people that have club level seats.

I think there would be a lot more segregation between the classes. There will be off-limits areas that cater to the spending crowd and the rest of the folks will use the regular facilities.

I've bee to the box seats before for Padres and Chargers games (at Jack Murphy), but I don't recall if the boxes had their own bathrooms. I am pretty sure a new stadium would have private bathrooms, several large wide screen monitors with their own Tivo like playback, order-in-seat food service and other luxuries not furnished presently.

Ponzi. The fanciest, most expensive seats would have toilets to sit on. The buyers would be honored by being members of the prestigious privy council. Best, Don Bauder

Murphyjunk. Do not give them any ideas. Best, Don Bauder

Ponzi. It is a scam all the way around. Best, Don Bauder

Yup. I've been to Levi stadium a couple of times...what money pit hole. I bought Section 400, which are the $100ea 'cheap seats', and don't even appear on the seating maps..I had to ask some random security guard, who pointed to the sky flying escalators, and as I rode, we passed ultra uber rich buffets behind posh glass and glaring security (don't get off the escalator peon!).

Parking was $40 in the 'out lying area' (like parking in front of IKEA at Qcom), which was gravel lots and closed business lots. $50 for the closer lots (shared with great america).

Food was lame, PETCO is ultra superior in this regard. Levi was plain white signs of HAMBURGER/TACO/TORTA etc. 2xTortas ($14ea), 2x beers ($12ea) =$52 and I had to argue with vendor, who couldn't tell the difference between carne asada and carnitas..c'mon man, im from san diego.

Expense summary for two: 2x nosebleed tickets $100, food $52, parking $40= $292

Watch what we ask for san diego..

mmmata: It still amazes me that citizens vote to price themselves out of stadiums. You didn't mention that the sun beats down unmercifully on people in that Santa Clara stadium (except on those sitting in luxury boxes.) Best, Don Bauder

Many or most of the die-hard Charger fans don't attend the games because they can't afford the tickets, let alone all the usual add-ons. As they continue to vote and support keeping the team here, they are putting the tickets farther out of reach for themselves. That's an ironic outcome for those whose lives are so heavily involved in following the team's every little move and watching the games (courtesy of TV, of course) closely. Stadia take up big land parcels, and the parking to go with them takes up even more. Gone is the time when people would arrive in cars, every seat occupied, or by streetcar or bus. Oh, Qualcomm and, I suppose, a downtown stadium, would have trolley service. But I hear that Charger games already overwhelm the capacity of the trolley Green Line to take them to and from the stadium without long waits. So, the attendees will still rely upon the private car for transportation to games, and that means, as Ponzi pointed out, sky high parking rates.

Visduh. Probably the most likely outcome is the Chargers going to Inglewood. But that might not happen. The worst outcome for the team would be returning to San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

I saw a picture of a stadium in Florida the other day that has a swimming pool in one of the luxury suites. The pool was filled with young lovelies who I assume were there to massage the egos of the fat rich guys in the pool.

What better way to watch football? Cougars and jaguars swimming in the end zone.

Ponzi. Ah, Florida. Do fans of the visiting team bathe with the alligators? Best. Don Bauder

AlexClarke: So true. Maybe that is why they encourage fans of the visiting team to go swimming. Best, Don Bauder

Murphyjunk: But the sharks don't bite the politicians. Professional courtesy. Best, Don Bauder

"sharks don't bite the politicians. " - professional courtesy

Dennis. maybe those who do not make cheerleader get to be lovelies in the pool. Best, DonBauder

I was a football fan in another life. A rather dedicated one at that - I've traveled to Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, Green Bay, Kansas City, New England, and San Francisco to watch our soon-to-be-departed franchise mostly get walloped.

From experience, I can say that the local stadium is certainly among the league's worst facilities - even considering I visited San Francisco back in the Candlestick days and Buffalo's facility that hasn't been updated, every location I visited (except, notably, New England's new-ish facility) provided a considerably better game day experience.

Heck, in Atlanta the seats built for the commoners were so well-designed that one could get up, use the restroom, visit a concession stand, and be back in one's seat before the end of a TV time out without missing a play. And they're tearing that place down to build a new one.

This isn't to say that San Diego can afford a new facility, or that even getting one would be a net positive - in New England the stadium seemed designed to cater to the premium seating locales, where I sat in the poor man's seats access ramps, concessions, and restrooms were all woefully inadequate. Take away the tailgating experience (which for some odd reason supporters of Mission Valley failed to grasp would be lost to infill development if a stadium was ever built there anyway), and it's hard to fathom anyone without $5000 or so in disposable income to direct toward 8-10 annual sporting events getting excited about keeping the team in town.

Dave Rice: I don't think anybody argues with the fact that Qualcomm is one of the oldest facilities in the NFL. The point of this column is that college fans are satisfied to sit in stadiums that are three times older than pro stadiums. After all, it's only three hours, and ten games a year unless there are playoff games.

There is little doubt that San Diego's infrastructure is worse than that of most NFL cities. This is where San Diego money should be spent. Best, Don Bauder

College teams have not completely sold themselves to the god of greed. But they will bet next. Isn't sports the most expensive department in many popular colleges these days?

Ponzi: Sports teams routinely take money from academic departments. Best, Don Bauder

When the head football coach at Division 1 schools is paid in the $ millions, several times the salary of the campus president (or chancellor in the UC), you know that college ball has already been taken over by greed. Maybe two generations ago college ball was played by students for the benefit and gratification of students. But now? Forget it. Yet those universities that have a history of athletic accomplishment do seem to keep their alums in the fold and sending them money. Locally, there is little alumni spirit involving UCSD, the school that eschewed big time intercollegiate sports.

Visduh: Good point. UCSD has a splendid reputation even without major conference football. This reminds me of a story. The football coach at a big university learns that the president has suspended the team's star quarterback. The coach rushes to the president and screams that the team was headed for a big bowl game, and now won't make it. The president replies, "Look, you earn five times what I make, but I am in charge of academics. Your quarterback is a horrible student. So I called him to my office and told him that if he could add 2 + 2, he could play the rest of the season without going to class. He counted on his fingers, took off his shoes and counted on his toes. Finally, he said that 2 + 2 equals 6." Screams the coach, "Have a heart. He only missed it by one." Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: A well nigh perfect arrangement: silly old men and sillier young girls. Best, Don Bauder

Flapper: There is no fool like an old fool -- an elderly, obese man of wealth thinking that young ladies find him physically attractive. Best, Don Bauder

Don, I have to share that I have at least 10 friends/acquaintances that are 60+ and 70's, here in San Diego, that have wives 20 to 30 years their junior. I call them "retreads" or other names... anyway. there are many women who will marry a wealthy man twice their age. Its so common here and sometimes I wonder if economic factors drive this phenomenon.

Ponzi: You WONDER if economic factors play a role when pretty young ladies marry men twice their age? No need to wonder.

One of the big scams these days is women (often caretakers) marrying demented rich men. Best, Don Bauder

How about elderly women with young men?

Flapper: Good point. Yes, it works the other way, too. Young studs marry rich, demented elderly women and collect the inheritance. Best, Don Bauder

Well, at least they have a gay old time.

Flapper: And a gray old time. Best, Don Bauder

Randy Poal: One of the NFL's scams is waving a Super Bowl at a city those citizens are voting whether to build a stadium, and price themselves out of games. The NFL claims a Super Bowl can bring a city $500 million or more. Actually, $30 million is more like it, and some argue cogently that a city loses money when it sponsors a Super Bowl. A city would be lucky to get a Super Bowl ever 15 years or so. Best, Don Bauder

Ian Goodfriend. I salute you. Affordable housing is a critical need in San Diego. A subsidized stadium is an abomination. Best, Don Bauder

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