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New Football League Adds to Intrigue Over San Diego Stadium Development

Several Factors Likely to Decide What Becomes of Chargers’ Former Home
June 7, 2018
The new Alliance of American Football will play its San Diego games at SDCCU Stadium, formerly Qualcomm Stadium, on a site where multiple development issues remain to be decided.
Photo Credit: Twenty20 /mark619.

San Diego still has much to sort out when it comes to what gets developed on the Mission Valley stadium site that housed the NFL’s Chargers for nearly a half-century, before the team departed last year for Los Angeles.

The latest wrinkle, with potential to impact what types of businesses and properties ultimately locate on or near the stadium property, is San Diego’s recent selection to host a team in a new pro football league called Alliance of American Football.

That eight-team league is scheduled to start play on Feb. 9, 2019, the week after the NFL’s Super Bowl, with Alliance San Diego playing at the city-owned San Diego County Credit Union (SDCCU) Stadium, formerly known as Qualcomm Stadium. The 70,000-seat venue hosted the Chargers starting in 1967 and remains the home stadium for San Diego State University’s Aztecs football team, along with the annual college Holiday Bowl game.

Miro Copic, a lecturer at SDSU’s Fowler College of Business, notes that one potential outcome of the new pro football league’s arrival at that time of the year – with a 10-week regular season spanning well into April – is that the Mission Valley site eventually could become activated nearly year-round as a sports venue.

While there are numerous other non-sports events held there, the stadium currently is a relative quiet zone for sports from January through August. If another developer group is successful in bringing a Major League Soccer team to the stadium site, with a regular season lasting from early March to late October as college football caps off the year, that could make the stadium a considerable generator of regular business activity for every month of the year except January.

Copic said that has implications for the types of businesses – hotels, retailers, restaurants, sports bars and offices – that will ultimately want to locate on or near the stadium site. In downtown San Diego, for instance, Petco Park has proven to be a steady seasonal generator of traffic for surrounding businesses since Major League Baseball’s Padres began playing there in 2004.

Assuming multiple other sports-related elements fall into place, and that remains far from certain, the fledgling pro football league could have similar impact in Mission Valley, even if its initial fan following is moderate.

“Even with crowds of 25,000 you could have some pretty good ripple impacts,” Copic said.

In part because of political, business and other uncertainties about the stadium redevelopment, Alliance of American Football has so far just committed to a one-year lease term at SDCCU Stadium, with exact financial details not immediately available. The league is open to further play there as it evaluates factors including its own operations, and the fate of the stadium itself.

Local officials have noted that regardless of what ultimately gets approved for redevelopment of the stadium site, the current stadium could remain standing for two or more years as various approvals and site preparations are completed for new projects.

“We are committed to the San Diego market and community and will be playing in SDCCU Stadium as long as it is open,” said a spokesman for the San Francisco-headquartered Alliance of American Football, in an email. “If that changes, we’ll work with the city to identify and secure another high-class venue for Alliance San Diego to play in.”

Debated for several years, the process of actually determining the fate of the city-owned, 166-acre stadium site begins this November, when San Diegans go to the polls to decide on two competing and extensive redevelopment proposals appearing on the same ballot.

Put forward by a group of business leaders called Goal San Diego, the mixed-use SoccerCity would include a new stadium for a proposed Major League Soccer franchise – potentially to be shared with the university for its football games, though SDSU has so far balked – along with riverpark and civic elements, apartments, offices, retail and other commercial elements arranged in an entertainment district.

The other proposal, dubbed SDSU West, is backed by a group called Friends of SDSU, which includes prominent university backers and alumni, and would create a new western campus extension with student housing, administrative offices, classrooms and research facilities, retail and civic elements, along with a new stadium for the Aztecs.

The proposal by Friends of SDSU allows for a new college stadium to be shared in the future with other types of sports, including potentially a future pro football or soccer team. Concepts in that plan have been embraced by university leaders, though the university by law cannot officially endorse ballot measures.

"While no arrangements have been made with the Alliance of American Football, as supporters of a thriving and vibrant San Diego economy, the Friends of SDSU welcome the arrival of this exciting new team and the associated economic benefit to San Diego," the group said in an emailed statement.

If both of those proposals end up being approved by voters, the one with the higher number of yes votes will prevail.

Aside from the ballot issues, real estate matters still to be decided include what becomes of the city-owned office and practice facility in Kearny Mesa, which the Chargers vacated last July. The SDSU Aztecs recently used the facility for spring practice, but the city is mulling other potential long- and short-term uses, with alternatives including a facility to serve homeless people.

The Chargers are now practicing in Costa Mesa and playing regular-season games in a stadium known primarily as a soccer venue in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, as the team awaits completion of a $2 billion stadium and mixed-use development in Inglewood, being built by Rams owner Stan Kroenke.

Apparently attempting to capitalize on recent political and business troubles hitting the stalwart but still powerful NFL, the fledgling Alliance of American Football has so far announced seven of its planned eight franchise cities. San Diego will be joined by teams in Atlanta; Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; Orlando, FL; Phoenix, AZ; and Salt Lake City, UT.

All but Atlanta and Phoenix have no current NFL franchise, and all will be hosting games played in venues long associated primarily with college football. One game weekly will be televised by CBS Sports, with Alliance rules designed to keep games faster and shorter: No kickoffs or TV timeouts, with about 60 percent fewer commercials than a typical NFL telecast.

Also different from the NFL, all teams are owned and operated by the league, as opposed to individual private owners, under the official business name of Legendary Field Exhibitions LLC.

The new league is facing considerable headwinds, including the failure of past NFL alternatives like the World Football League in the 1970s and the U.S. Football League in the 1980s. With the goal of building its brand, the Alliance has stocked its executive and coaching benches with big-name former NFL talent.

The Alliance is co-founded by TV and film producer Charlie Ebersol and Bill Polian, whose executive career in the NFL included 24 years as general manager of teams such as the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts.

Teams in the new league have coaching staffs led by NFL veterans such as Brad Childress, Michael Vick, Mike Singletary and Steve Spurrier. The San Diego team will be led by head coach Mike Martz, who formerly led the NFL’s Rams.

Lou Hirsh, San Diego Market Reporter  CoStar Group   
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