San Diego Would Feel Little Financial Pain If Chargers Bolt
Chargers owner Alex Spanos is selling a minority stake in the football team. The sale has people wondering whether one potential buyer could be a stadium developer in Los Angeles who would move the Bolts north.
Sports economists say the Chargers moving to L.A. is far from certain: The team would have to compete with other franchises looking for a new hometown; plus, a team has to pay the NFL for any increase in franchise value a move creates. If the Chargers were worth more in L.A. than in San Diego, the Spanos family and minority-share owners would have to pay the difference to the league in order to complete a move.
It’s that second reason that makes team owners want to stay put, according to Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College in Massachusetts who has written extensively on the economics of professional sports.
“It’s not a bonanza really, to move your team," he said. "Most owners who are in decent markets – and I consider San Diego such a market – try to work out their relationship in that market for those reasons."
Reviving talk of a possible move could be one way for the Chargers to work out their relationship with San Diego, according to Rodney Fort, an economist with the University of Michigan's sports management program.
"If they can convince people in San Diego they're about to lose their football team because L.A.'s right down the road, then it's more likely that people in the area will help chip in to build a new stadium," he said. "This ploy is as old as pro sports."
If the team couldn't get what it was looking for here and did pull up stakes, the city’s economy probably wouldn’t notice.
“As a general proposition, sports teams don’t have a significant effect one way or the other on local economies,” Zimbalist said. He added that depending on the terms of a plan for a new stadium --the current proposal for a downtown home for the Chargers includes $500 million in taxpayer funding -- it could benefit the city's finances to let the team go.
So, why don’t San Diegans send the team off with our best wishes for their success elsewhere? Fort cautions against discounting the intangible quality-of-life value the team adds for many residents.
“That is a value that only the people of San Diego can assess for themselves and then decide through their representative government whether they’re willing to pay it,” he said.