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Roundtable: San Diego's changing sports landscape

 July 8, 2022 at 12:00 PM PDT

S1: This week , we're checking in on an exciting time for local sports. The Padres are contenders. A new stadium is almost here. Big changes are coming at the college level and sports betting is on the ballot. I'm Matt Hoffman and this is KPBS roundtable. Hello and welcome to our discussion this week. I'm KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman. And joining us this week are Craig Elstein. He's the play by Play Voice and chief marketing officer for the San Diego Suckers. He's also the host of the Padres Hot Tub podcast and he does public address announcing for the Way Football Club. We also have two guests here from Voice of San Diego , Andy Keats and Scott Lewis. We're going to be getting their takes on some of the political angles for Snapdragon Stadium and the upcoming election. We really want to welcome you guys all here. We're going to start with the biggest game in town , the Padres. They're stumbling a little bit lately , but they're firmly in the playoff mix now about halfway through the season. And they've been doing all this without their star player , Fernando Tatis Jr Craig.
S2: First , he will definitely be making an appearance. Tatis has been cleared to swing the bat. He's been doing some swings in the batting cage. He's been taking onfield drills for over a month now to have his legs underneath him so that once he got cleared from a broken wrist that he suffered in the off season , he'd be able to progress as quickly as possible through minor league games. With all of that said , it's probably 3 to 4 weeks before we see Fernando Tatis Junior back in the lineup. I think anything before the 1st of August would be a bonus for the Padres and their fans. And are they missing him ? Well , this team is currently 11 games , over 500. They've been doing it on an ice skate thin margin of playing with some of the weakest power in all of Major League Baseball. Definitely the least power in their division. So Tatis instantly , if he's himself brings power. And that's a that's one of the biggest points of the equation to whether the Padres can finish the job this year.
S1: And Craig , you did mention that they are above 500 and were soon going to be finding out which Padres players will be in the upcoming All-Star Game. It's being held up in Los Angeles. Manny Machado , he's likely going to be there. But let's hear from a fan of one of Manny's old teams , the Orioles.
S1: Should be an easy answer.
S3: No , probably not. I mean , I think I think Machado , I think I think you could probably make a case for I don't know , maybe. Minaya Maybe so many.
S3: Musgrove. Yeah. Musgrove , clearly. I mean , I think Machado. Machado slam dunk. Machado is a slam dunk. Musgrove.
S4: You picked the wrong guy to talk about is.
S3: Musgrove is Musgrove in the Cy Young tear obsession.
S2: Right now ? Yeah , he is. He lost his last two , but he's right there in the middle. Yeah. Yeah.
S3: Yeah. So , Musgrove , in the in the rotation and Machado , who's I've had the glorious pleasure of watching every every game of his career except for that unfortunate stint in Los Angeles.
S4: I just think we should make a point that Andy is terrible at talking about baseball , but also that. Tatis will come back and he'll get hurt again. And that's just what we have to live with , that he is such an extraordinary ballplayer that every once in a while he will play so hard that one of his limbs will fly off of his body. And we'll just have to deal with the trauma of watching that happen. They'll put him back together and he'll go back and play again. He's just it's just he's like an angel that will fly into our room every couple of months , maybe every couple of years. He'll entertain us , and then he'll go away. And you never know when he'll come back again. That's just life with Fernando Tatis.
S1: If you're listening to this on Friday , the Padres , they're about to debut their new city connect uniforms. They're designed by Nike. And the look is very neon. Let's get your takes , starting with Scott.
S4: I'm into it. I like the story that they told about why they connected it to Tijuana , to Baja and San Diego , and what the colors and the look does to do that. So I'm in , but I don't know what we are.
S3: Is this polarizing ? I , I thought the reaction to this has been pretty positive.
S2: Well , you know , I tell you what , even in our office , it's kind of a show of hands and it's half. We love it. Half. We hate it. When I first looked at it , I thought that maybe Miami and their design team had two good ideas for City Connect and said , Oh , San Diego , you don't have any here. Well , let me give you our alternate , because it does have a very Miami Vice type feel with the with the pink and the mint. But I'll tell you this , when I saw it in person , out at a ballgame when I was at the game Tuesday and I saw people wearing the city connect Jersey , the pink isn't as bright as maybe it comes off in some of the media videos. It's a little bit more subtle. And I'll tell you what , I'm down with it. I'm not down with the that seventies show font for the numbers , which I think is a little funky. But short of that , I feel like they did a good job. And I think there's a lot of our city connect jerseys around the majors.
S3: And compared just compared to all the different players weekend combinations that they've had over the last few years , I mean , these are clearly the best of those. And I like they're going to move a lot of units of these hats. These hats are they're going to sell a lot of these of of merch around this thing.
S1: Well , I think nothing beats those military jerseys. Those are very cool. And we know that this season it started with the lockout and a new collective bargaining agreement. And we know that that process , it also gave us an expanded playoff format. Craig , this goes to you.
S2: I think those numbers even went down over the last week because any time the Dodgers get hot and the Padres have a little bit of a slump , all of a sudden you see that gap open up. And I think it's up to six games now in the NL West. So winning the division is going to be a real long shot. But getting one of those three wild card spots , I think has to be not only the focus , but the expectation for the Padres and their fans. This franchise cannot afford another collapse like they had last year. I expect them to try and add at least one back from the outside and hopefully one reliever as well to the mix. And then you go from there and you hope that the health tatis returning , maybe a couple of the pitchers returning from injury will allow this roster to fill out.
S3: I was surprised last year. So who knows ? They've they've done it. They've done it before. But my expectation is they'll be okay.
S1: And Scott , what about you ? I know you're a big fan.
S4: Yeah , I think the distinction this year is they're pitching. I remember. What was it like three weeks ago ? But is that boy , did they have too many pitchers ? We move on. It's like , no , just just hold on. They they have better pitching this year. And that said.
S3: One thing that is genuinely never a problem in baseball is having too many good players. People often try to try to turn that into a problem. And I got to tell you , it never works out as a problem.
S4: Yeah , I think that'll hold up. Tatis do other things , you know , I do think having more people , more teams available for playoffs makes it harder to maybe get some players from some of those teams that are on the edge. So maybe there won't be the blockbuster trades that we've seen before or free , you know , some pre free agency deals but should be fun to watch.
S1: And to Andy's point , a lot of fans have definitely been happy seeing the Padres ownership , spending a lot more money going out and getting some of these big players. But let's also take a moment to talk about Petco Park , where the Padres play and one of those responsible for getting it built , former team exec. Larry Lucchino. He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame this week. Scott , this goes to you.
S4: I mean , you can look at the before and after of what that area look like now. I think what is often understated is just how much of a public investment that is. If the public invests two or $300 million , you should see a transformation of an area. And we shouldn't forget that both a that was a big part of it , but B , that is not possible right now. The money that was available for that sort of investment was from redevelopment funds sequestered for downtown that no longer exists. And and so , you know , similar type projects , whether it's sports arena or elsewhere , would require a much more public or private investment to be able to come off. And and so but Petco Park is a gems regularly considered one of the top if not the top ballparks around the country and in the area is is still still being built up because of what was spurred there. So a lot to look back on. Sure.
S1: You're listening to KPBS Roundtable. And this week our guests are Craig Elston from the San Diego Suckers , along with Scott Lewis and Andy Keats from Voice of San Diego. Now , Craig , we want to turn to you here. Speaking of venues. There's a couple more on the way. Let's start with some of the news made this week by the soccer's. They're building a new home up in Oceanside and now it has a new name.
S2: It was May of 2021 that we had the official groundbreaking up at the El Corazon sports complex area in Oceanside for a new , entirely privately financed sports arena and entertainment complex that is being built and is still on track to be completed by fall of 2023. That will be the new home of the San Diego soccer's. It's expected to be the new entertainment hub for all of North County , San Diego. And this week it was a very exciting week for our organization and for the arena management group. That front wave credit union has signed on to be the name and it'll be Front Wave Arena up in Oceanside. And that's a ten year , $9 million naming rights deal to sea front wave credit union , which has been around North County for about 70 years , really put their stamp on the new entertainment hub for North County. It's an exciting partnership.
S1: And we know that the soccer's they've been playing at the sports arena that's in San Diego's Midway district , and they've been there for decades. And we know that moving to Oceanside will be a big change and a little bit of a gamble even maybe.
S2: The soccer's had been renters their entire lifetime , all the way back to Juli V and Broncos to go to , you know , the championships of the eighties. They've always been renters. And right now they're renters in a very , very crowded arena with the San Diego goals , with the San Diego SEALs , the strike force , never mind all the concerts. Yes , it'll be a little bit of a challenge to migrate our audience. That's a challenge that we accept. And for every fan who feels maybe that it's a little bit too far of a drive , there's another fan in North County that was making the long drive to get down to the Midway District. So , you know , there's always going to be a risk inherent , especially putting something in a new area. But I think there's way more reward in terms of the potentiality of creating something new and generating a new audience as well.
S1: And if you haven't seen them , go check out those renderings. They look very cool. We also have Scott Lewis here from Voice of San Diego with us. And you might hear him sometimes on sports talk radio , especially when the sports arena redevelopment is in the news. The city had to stop and restart that process again. And so , Scott , I guess it's a simple question , but maybe not a simple answer.
S4: You would have to raise the height limit for the area to make them possible , and that's supposedly going on the ballot again in November. We'll see if that goes forward. There is one dealer , one bidder that has the sort of leading edge right now. They're setting the pace and that's the Zephyr Partnership. All three of the bids that have advanced on propose a new arena , along with thousands of housing units , and they propose a whole new arena , as in they're going to bulldoze. Is the old one and build a new one. And I still have a lot of questions about the arena. There were two bids that proposed to rehabilitate the one that was there , kind of like what's happened at the forum in Los Angeles. Those bids did not go forward. So all three of them are committed to bulldozing and rebuilding a new one. That's a that's several hundred million dollars. It also feels weird if they build an arena that's maybe something similar size to what they're building in Oceanside or to what the what the arena at San Diego State is. The VA has like. Why build another one that size and and yet that might be the only one they can afford. And so why would you tear down one that's bigger to do that ? It's like a lot of weird questions. I haven't heard very good answers on about the arena. So the city is trying to drive towards one bidder , though , by the time the election goes forward in November for that height limit issue and we'll see which one of those emerges or which combo of them emerges to make that bid possible. How much money they put into the initiative to make sure it passes so that they can therefore go forward and try to build something. But we're many , many years out from that.
S1: Yeah , it sounds like that. There's definitely still some unanswered questions there. There's another building project happening , and we're talking about the stadium in Mission Valley , the Aztecs and the Wave. FC They're going to begin playing there very soon , just a couple of months in September. Voice of San Diego has been covering the larger transformation of that whole stadium site , SDSU West.
S3: You know , I think , frankly , San Diego State and the people who pushed the ballot initiative that made that possible probably deserve to take a little bit of a victory lap. They came forward promising a really ambitious time frame to take ownership of the land , to finance the development , to actually execute the construction , to work out whatever problems they would need to with labor to come to a deal. And you know , myself included , and I think a lot of other people were skeptical that they would be able to hit a lot of those targets. And they have. They created the land. They developed the land. And as we've talked about with Sports Arena and probably a handful of other projects we could we could talk about in the city if we wanted to. Most people have not been able to hit the ambitious timelines that they've set for themselves. Now , San Diego State , as a arm of the state government as opposed to the local government , has a leg up on that on that front. But whatever the reasons , yeah , they set an ambitious schedule to get that stadium built and they've built it and it's going to to open in time for week one just like they said they would.
S1: And we know that also who's going to be playing there is the new wave AFC. They're part of the recent expansion in the National Women's Soccer League. And Craig , we know that one of your many jobs is public address announcing for this new team. How has San Diego taken to this team ? We know that there's a lot of soccer options in San Diego , even with the loyal.
S2: It's basically been a sellout every single game at Torero Stadium and , you know , as the voice , you know , it's exciting to be there. I hadn't really been around the level of , you know , World Cup class women's soccer on a regular basis and been there in person before. And I think for a fan of soccer , maybe if you're more of a fan that's gone to a lot of men's games , a lot of outdoor games , it might take a game or two to get adjusted to the slight change in pace , but the talent is so clear and there's just no better draw than going out on a night and knowing that you're not just going to see Alex Morgan , clearly the best striker in the world in her sport. But you're also going to see five , six , seven different players across the two teams , maybe more , that are not only U.S. national team players , but might be Swedish , Mexican , Canadian national team players. So NWSL is truly the highest level of women's soccer in the world. It's the equivalent of bringing , like the British , you know , the English Premier League here and having that in the United States. And I think it's just been an easy sell. It's very interesting thing , though , Matt , and briefly , it's a very different audience. It's a very different crowd that you see out there. It's not the average Padre fan crowd or even loyal fan crowd. And that's been fascinating to me demographically , and I think it's really exciting for them , too.
S4: They tried something that the Loyal wasn't willing to do , too , which is they're moving into the big stadium. The Loyal has taken the approach that it's better to be in smaller stadiums for these initial years as they build their brand and they're following that , you know , make sure they're in a packed stadium that small as opposed to a half full stadium that's large. And the wave has just said , now let's go , let's go into the big stadium right away. Let's see how it goes. That's a big , bold risk and an interesting decision for them to make. And I think it also illustrates that in. Sort of major league soccer , although this is useful for the for the loyal that that there's a lot more involved in the real estate and in the in the wealth building side of that enterprise than in the just straight soccer side of the enterprise. And I think that that's playing out in in how these two teams are approaching their near-term future here.
S1: And then moving on to our final topic , they never say mix sports and politics , but that's sort of what California is doing this November. Let's talk about the news that two sport ballot measures will be on the upcoming ballot. One has to do with online betting and another with in-person sportsbooks. We know it's been a while since the U.S. Supreme Court opened the doors to legalized sports betting. But Scott , native tribes , they've had their own gaming industries for a while.
S4: So they would have sportsbooks within their their casinos , which I think a lot of people who've been to casinos in Vegas would recognize. And that's what they want to do. They want to limit it there. And at four racetracks around the state , they are really also running a lot of ads against the other initiative. And this one is sponsored by some of the big players in online gaming that have emerged. FanDuel and DraftKings. Now , a lot of states have gone forward with online gambling after some of the legal opinions and rulings came out. But this so the online one would allow them to , with a major upfront investment , allow companies to host online platforms for sports gaming. The tribal sportsbooks ones would just allow for these casinos that are on tribal lands to host sportsbooks. It would not have an online component. So one of the questions that people keep coming up is what if they both pass ? I think there's a pretty reasonable opinion and I think it would hold up that both of them could pass and and mobile sports betting would be allowed and that these tribal casinos could put up their own sportsbooks as well. So what I think the near-term impact is for for anybody out there is you're going to start to see a ton of ads about gambling , about tribal casinos and about online gambling and the horrors and benefits of it. It's going to fix homelessness , but it's also going to cause homelessness. You take your pick , there's going to be a tremendous amount of rhetoric on both sides of this as people try to , you know , make the case to to voters.
S1: With that in mind , does anyone have any thoughts on , you know , maybe how normalized sports betting has become , especially maybe how it's presented , you know , fantasy sports , it's a major industry. We've also seen networks like ESPN and others , they mix in the odds and other gambling information during game broadcasts. I've also seen a lot of these viral tiktoks of big bets that pay off people go crazy. Is there a stigma around gambling or what do you think maybe has erased it ? Yeah.
S3: I mean , you know , it used to be the thing , if you are if you are a gambler , if you like to put a bet on a couple of things , you would pick up moments in a sports broadcast that maybe a typical viewer wouldn't with Al Michaels would decide to speak in code about about some late in the game score that that crossed the line. But , you know but he he never came out he would never come out and say explicitly what he was really talking about. And like that veil came off last year. Last year , you just had you had announcers openly talking about it. Like one of the most popular segments on SportsCenter now is Van Pelt doing his his bad beat segment , where people talk about the most obscure games that had some shocking outcome that changed the , you know , who who got paid out. It's certainly a big change. And I think we'll continue to see in like the sports media world , you'll continue to see expert experts materialize and verticals , you know , establish themselves as as revenue sources for those for those media entities. I mean , I could say also that like the people I know who live in New York , when when it became easy to bet online , man like the friction that went that used to go into getting a bet placed and paid out were moving that significantly increased the number of people who are out there gambling I mean the number of people I know who were willing to jump over all the hurdles that you needed to jump over to get a bet in and to get a bet paid out. You take all those down and a lot of people said , well , in that case , I'll I'll absolutely put put some money down. So , you know , I think if , you know , right now , a handful of friends that that bet each. We can. I think in a in a world where it's all legalized , you should expect that number to increase pretty substantially.
S2: And I think fantasy is truly what open the door. And specifically fantasy football once it became normalized that we were going to talk about that , which is gambling. It's just a different version then to move from there to the more direct spreads and overs and unders. It was just one more step. The window , it already shifted.
S1: Scott , go ahead.
S4: I was really jarred last year in Thanksgiving when I was watching college football , and I noticed that they had the lines , the betting lines on all the sports , the scores ticker like. So it would say , like , this game's at 4 p.m. and here's it's , you know , minus six for Michigan. And it's like , whoa , that was a big leap for. And so I think the college space is really something to watch. There's still ads at the Rose Bowl , at the urinal that say like , don't bet on sports. It's it's , you know , deleterious to our mission and , you know , stay away from it. And and yet on TV , they're they're putting the lines up there. There's a lot of mixed signals , but I think it has potential like really bad outcomes. Let's say you have a college class with with the star football player and you lose a thousand bucks and you go to class on Monday after you lost 1000 bucks. Like , is that the kind of environment we're comfortable with that student being in right after that ? And I think there's a lot of questions like that that'll be really interesting to watch as this becomes just part of life , as opposed to this thing that was , again , hidden underground and a lot more friction. And I absolutely believe what Andy said , like , if it's if you remove the barriers of how hard it is to pay in cash and get a bed in , and and you make it easy to push a couple buttons to do like Venmo or easier you're going to have a lot more participation. And then the downside of gambling could really show up a lot more clearly.
S1: We're going to have to leave our discussion there. I want to thank everyone so much for coming. Craig Eggleston from the San Diego Soccer's Scott Lewis and Andy Keats , both from Voice of San Diego. You can listen to the KPBS Roundtable podcast anytime at KPBS dot org. I met Hoffman. Thanks so much for being here with us. We'll be back with you next week.

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Construction at SDSU Mission Valley is seen in this photo taken Feb. 10, 2022.
Nicholas McVicker
Construction at SDSU Mission Valley is seen in this photo taken Feb. 10, 2022.
The Padres are making a playoff push, football and soccer teams will soon move into a brand new stadium and California will ask voters to weigh in on sports betting.

KPBS reporter Matt Hoffman hosts a discussion on local sports with San Diego Sockers executive Craig Elsten and Voice of San Diego's Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts. Topics include the ongoing season for the San Diego Padres, construction of Snapdragon Stadium in Mission Valley and two statewide measures relating to sports betting on California's general election ballot.