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S.D. Chargers Executive Adapts to New Pace

After working for 25 years on a single annual event, Jim Steeg now is in a job where the results of his efforts can be seen on a weekly basis.

Steeg, who became executive vice president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Chargers late last year, is a former head of special events for the National Football League. His primary focus was the Super Bowl.

“You see things happening every day here, as opposed to once a year,” Steeg said.

The best thing about Steeg’s new job is he won’t be spending as much time traveling, he said.

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“Before, I’d be on the road maybe 160 days out of the year,” Steeg said.

It didn’t take Steeg, 54, long to get the lay of the land.

“The nice thing is that I already knew a lot of people, and I’ve worked here before since the city hosted three Super Bowls,” he said.

And Steeg isn’t entirely unfamiliar with working for a team. During four years in the late 1970s, Steeg was in charge of finance for the Miami Dolphins.

“But that was 25 years ago, and a front office staff was made up of 15 people,” he said.

Today, Steeg is part of a staff of about 115, not counting some 80 players and coaches.

As the Chargers ready for their 2005 season, Steeg said things are looking “really good.”

The team already has about 14,500 new season tickets sold, with the best-selling months of August and September ahead.

About 1,800 fans have bought season club seats, bringing the total sold in the premium seat category to about 6,300. The seats in the loge level of the stadium range from $2,500 to $3,000 for the season.

The sale of luxury suites increased by 23 from last year at this time, bringing the total sold to 77 (out of 113), Steeg said.

Suites average about $75,000 for the season.

In all, season ticket sales are running at about 51,000, up by about 40 percent from last year, making this the first time since the 1996 season, when the team sold more than 50,000 season tickets, Steeg said.

The Chargers have high hopes this season after going 12-4 in the 2004-05 regular season before losing their first-round playoff game at home to the New York Jets.

“Winning changes everything,” Steeg said.

This is the first year the Chargers are selling tickets without a lease guarantee that required the city to make up any shortfall on a minimum of 60,000 general admission seats sold for all home games.

During the course of eight seasons, the guarantee cost the city about $36 million.

The Chargers also woke up to the fact that holding its preseason training camp in Carson didn’t go over well with fans.

“Every time I speak and talk about the training camp moving back to San Diego, I get a standing ovation,” Steeg said.

For a three-day mini-camp last month at the team’s headquarters on Murphy Canyon Road, where training now is held, some 3,000 fans showed up. The Chargers are set to hold three night workouts next month at their facility. The team built bleachers and arranged for lighting. Training camp runs from July 25 to Aug. 25.

The Chargers signed a five-year radio deal with Clear Channel Communications Inc., which operates 11 radio stations in the San Diego area. The actual games are set to be broadcast over KIOZ-FM, 105.3, a hard rock station.

Steeg said the thinking behind the team’s move from news/talk-oriented KFMB-AM was reaching out to new audiences.

That strategy was evident in the Chargers’ announcement last week of the team’s radio broadcast team of Josh Lewin, Hank Bauer and Katy Temple. Lewin, 36, is the current play-by-play voice of the Texas Rangers, while Temple has been a sportscaster at XETV, Fox 6 since 1999. Bauer is starting his eighth season as a color analyst on Chargers games.

Steeg said longtime Chargers broadcaster Ted Leitner was a strong candidate. But Clear Channel wanted someone else. Plus, Leitner works for competitor XPRS, the Mighty 1090, Steeg said.

On the TV front, the Chargers signed deals with five stations: with KFMB for preseason games and some special programs; with Cox Cable for several special programs; with Fox 6 and KGTV for weekly shows and several specials; and with Mi San Diego, Channel 43, for preseason games in Spanish.

In addition, the Chargers have deals to broadcast programs and its games with stations in Orange and Los Angeles counties, Palm Springs, Nevada and Hawaii, Steeg said.

Advertising sponsorships, including in media programs and advertising at the stadium, have increased with eight new sponsors, including SBC Communications Inc., Albertsons Inc. and Ford Motor Co.

Steeg declined to give dollar amounts. Such deals generally run from the low six figures to seven figures, he said.

The whole idea is capitalizing on the Chargers’ success, and winning new fans.

“Our approach is looking at developing new markets, instead of maintaining them,” he said. “We’re trying to own this market.”

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Padres See Drop In Attendance:

Even with the San Diego Padres’ firm grasp of first place in the National League’s Western Division, attendance in the team’s second year at Petco Park has lagged last year, the first at the Downtown ballpark.

The decline was expected, according to Jeff Overton, the Padres’ executive vice president of communications.

At the season’s halfway mark and 43 home games, total paid attendance at Petco was 1,521,772, or an average of 35,390.

That compares with last season at the same time when paid attendance was 1,542,709, or an average of 35,877.

Overton said this season’s numbers still are “phenomenal.”

“There’s a ‘halo effect’ for the first year of any new ballpark,” he said. “We’re still optimistic we’ll achieve the 3 million mark (last season’s total) this year. If we can remain competitive, and stay in the race, we’re going to have a great year.”

The Padres did a few things to iron out some of the opening year’s kinks at Petco, including improving the view in the upper deck with all-glass railings at certain spots. A new video board was installed in right field to give fans who cannot see the main video board a chance to catch replays and other information.

Another key area where the Padres made improvements is in the number and quality of the ballpark’s concession stands. There are more grilling stations, more satellite sales stations and expanded menu choices, Overton said.

But prices on a number of items, including beer, went up this year.

One can only hope the Padres take a cue from Arte Moreno, owner of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, who reduced beer prices after he bought the team.

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Surf’s Up At Tony Gwynn Stadium:

San Diego’s other professional baseball team, the Surf Dawgs of the Golden Baseball League, might have been too optimistic in the minor league club’s projected season ticket sales.

“We were hoping to get to about 900 season tickets, counting both full and partial ticket plans,” said General Manager Juliana Paoli. “As of now we have about 250 accounts.”

Paoli said the projected season ticket number was probably unrealistic. Despite the small number, the team’s individual game attendance has been strong, with a surprising number of walk-up, day of game buyers, she said.

As of 25 home games (half the season), the Dawgs have been averaging about 1,350 fans for their games. The team has had only one sellout of 3,000 fans, on its opening day, but has had several games when the entire lower part of the stadium is filled, Paoli said.

The Dawgs are doing everything they can to capitalize on their sole star player, Rickey Henderson, the 46-year-old outfielder who refuses to retire from the game.

In June, the team put on a Rickey Henderson night, the first of two such events, giving away a bobblehead doll in his likeness. The Dawgs are scheduled to hold a second night in his honor on Aug. 6.

Eager to lure new fans to their park, the Dawgs have a penchant for trying out novel special events. For its Aug. 3 game, the team has scheduled a Grilled Cheese Eating Contest that features the reigning champion of the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Grand prize for the biggest grilled cheese head: $1,750.

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And They’re Off:

Opening Day at the Del Mar racetrack is July 20. In its 66th season, which runs through Sept. 7, the racetrack is offering 29 major races with total stakes purses of more than $6.7 million, up from last year’s total purses by $450,000.

As it has done for the last several seasons, the track is providing a series of Friday afternoon concerts it calls Four O’Clock Fridays, featuring mostly rock and pop bands. Among the better-known performers this season are Violent Femmes, Aug. 5; Blues Traveler, Aug. 26; and Ziggy Marley, Aug. 27 (the sole Saturday show).


Send any items about local sports business news to Mike Allen via mallen@sdbj.com. He can be reached at (858) 277-6359.

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