An ancient proverb warns us never to bite the hand that feeds us. Professional ball players are rarely considered the kind of men taken to reflection on ancient proverbs. Stereotyping that may be, but recent comments by the management of the Chargers and the Padres indicate it’s time the money men in the sports industry become more reflective.
The first verbal knuckle ball came in March when Chargers owner Alex Spanos suggested to a dot-com sports reporter that his team still needed a new stadium , this after San Diego spent millions of dollars redesigning the old Jack Murphy baseball/football stadium into the new football-friendly Qualcomm Stadium.
That redesign, by the way, left the Padres upset, forcing the city to finance a $299 million dollar baseball-only stadium for the Pads. Now, with the first shovelfuls of dirt barely turned for the new sports complex, Padres President Larry Lucchino has suggested the team might move if the city doesn’t front more dollars for the new stadium.
Lucchino’s comment came as the City Council pondered providing a second round of interim funding for the project to keep it going while battling lawsuits over the city’s financing plan. The Padres president wanted the council to ante up more than the $3.8 million it was contemplating. The council elected to advance $10 million; the Padres will put in another $20 million.
It’s debated whether Spanos and Lucchino meant their statements as implied threats or simple statements of economic reality. Either way, they should understand their statements would be interpreted as threats by the media and the voters.
Lord knows, Lucchino and Padres owner John Moores have reason to be frustrated, as do we all. The group of nay-saying fellow-travelers often referred to in these editorial pages as “the whine and cheese society” have used the legal system to obstruct and stall the East Village Redevelopment Project , which the new ballpark is part of , for months.
But not all the legal woes can be blamed on stadium opponents. Padres owner Moores must shoulder some of the blame for the pending investigation by local and federal prosecutors into the circumstances surrounding 6th District Councilwoman Valerie Stallings’ investment in Moores’ Texas-based firm, Neon Systems.
Records show Stallings bought more than $5,000 of Neon stock during its initial public offering in March 1999, then sold it a few weeks later for a neat after-tax profit of $7,600. The same day she made her profit, Stallings voted to continue support of the Padres ballpark.
Both Moores and Stallings have denied any wrongdoing. However, IPOs are rarely open to average investors, the share offers going instead to institutional investors and, occasionally, family members and friends of company leaders. Stallings and Moores may be long-time friends, but both must have recognized the perceived taint this business deal would leave on the ballpark project if it came to light.
Moores and Lucchino must also recognize Stallings’ questionable investment places the rest of the City Council in a predicament: political creatures as they are, they cannot afford to look too eager to do the Padres’ bidding.
The best thing the Padres can do right now is lay low and work with the city. The same advice should be heeded by the Chargers.
As fun as they may have been for the pro-sports industry, the days of playing musical chairs for stadiums have just about run their course. Across the country, voters have become more jaded to city-sponsored stadium deals for sports teams that seem to them more and more like corporate welfare.
Right or wrong, the pendulum is beginning to swing. Whether they mean to or not, suggesting that relocating a team is an economic necessity at every turn sounds like a threat and that will only turn people , and eventually their political representatives , against sports franchises , particularly during losing years. The teams could end up losing more than they gain.
In the words of the American philosopher Eric Hoffer: “People who bite the hand that feeds them usually lick the boot that kicks them.”