San Diego Business Journal

Task Force Set to Analyze Football Stadium Issue

Padres Have a (Ticket) Plan For Longtime Fans

Sports BIZ
by Mike Allen, Senior Staff Writer

David Watson said he expects a citizens task force on the Chargers will be taking a hard look at the team's finances and its claims that the team is no longer economically viable at Qualcomm Stadium.

"My impression is that (investigation) will be done, and I've heard indirectly from the Chargers that they are willing to do that," said Watson, the nominated chairman of the 15-member task force scheduled to be confirmed by the City Council on July 23.

Several months ago, the Chargers announced the team would move its summer training camp to Carson next year, and that the team was contacted by the developers of the sports complex for a possible relocation to a new stadium planned for Los Angeles.

In response, Mayor Dick Murphy directed a notice be sent to AEG, the developers of the complex, that the Chargers are in the middle of a 25-year lease at Qualcomm and contacting the team for a possible relocation "may have a material adverse impact on the city."

Murphy also decided to do what has become a tried and true response to local sports controversies: set up a task force. Watson, a 45-year-old attorney, even served on the second Padres task force that studied where the Padres should locate its ballpark, design issues and how the facility could be financed.

The 15 members, eight of whom were nominated by the eight council members, included one surprise: former councilman Bruce Henderson, an outspoken opponent to public funding for such projects as the Convention Center, Qualcomm Stadium expansion, and the Padres' ballpark.

Henderson said he's not going into the task force with pre-conceived notions and will keep an open mind in attempting to determine whether the Chargers need a new stadium.

But if the Chargers decide to move north, the task force should take a look at what should be done with Qualcomm, whether it should be torn down or what can done to attract another NFL team here.

Henderson said if the group and the council decide to pump public funds into a new football-only field, it should require a two-thirds majority vote.

Joining Henderson and Watson on the task force (assuming they're not rejected by the council) are Cassandra Clady, a tax professional; Nikki Clay, a political consultant; Pepper Coffey, a real estate agent; Timothy Considine, a CPA; Tom Fat, a restaurateur; Karen Heumann, an attorney; Bill Largent, a retired Navy officer; Joseph Martinez, an architect; Geoff Patnoe, executive director for the San Diego Taxpayers Association; Pattie Roscoe, a travel company owner; Ron Saatoff, a city firefighter and union official; Len Simon, an attorney; and Jeffrey Smith, a real estate developer.

Watson said although the schedule, times and locations of the meetings haven't been set, he expects all the meetings to be open to the public and held throughout the city.

"There will be meetings from San Ysidro up to Rancho Bernardo and Rancho Penasquitos and everywhere in between," he said.

The Chargers issued a statement saying they support a full and open discussion because, "in the end, only well-informed and enthusiastic public support will keep both the Super Bowl and the Chargers in San Diego over the long term."

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Ticket Talk: When the Padres announced ticket prices to their Downtown ballpark, it caused some consternation among fans complaining the increased prices weren't fair in light of the team's recent performance.

And yet, the Padres made sure they did a few things that seem fair as far as who gets first crack on seat preferences at the ballpark.

After a lot of discussion, the Padres' brass decided fans who've been season ticketholders the longest will get to be first in line.

That means those die-hards who have held season tickets since the team's first season in 1969 , about 60 folks , will get first dibs on wherever seat they want. After their preferences are met, the ballclub will go on to fill the requests of those holding down season tickets since 1970, and so on until this season's class is reached.

Mark Tilson, the Padres director of ticket sales, said the seat relocation process is somewhat complex since the seats at Qualcomm Stadium don't easily correspond to what's being built at the new ballpark.

To give fans a better understanding of what seats are available and their costs, the Padres sent out a detailed information packet last month to all the ticketholders.

Tilson said the team has learned from mistakes and the successes on other teams' seat relocation programs. One thing the Padres are doing that wasn't done in some other recently constructed stadiums is limiting the amount of tickets an existing ticket owner can buy to the same number they currently own.

Another is retaining the ability for fans to purchase smaller season packages, such as 40 and 20 games, rather than requiring the purchase of a full season, an 81-game package.

"The smaller game packages have always been popular here, and we're keeping that option available to our fans," Tilson said.

The team has set aside the bulk of the seats, or 85 percent, as "traditional seats," which means they won't require any additional fees. But the remaining 15 percent, or some 6,300 seats, are being sold as "premium membership" or what the Padres call their Founders Club.

Whatever it's called, the privileges that come with the seats include waiter service, entrance to members-only restaurants and can be sold to another party. The price on the membership ranges from $750 to $5,000, depending on the seat location.

The goal the Padres are setting for the new ballpark is 25,000 season tickets, which is better than half the total capacity of about 42,000, but a quantum leap from their current season ticketholder amount of 8,300.

As for the prices on the tickets, it'll be higher, but then so is everything else.

The new prices range from $10 for a right field, upper-level seat to $36 for a field-level seat along the infield. The current tickets range from $6 for the outfield bleachers to $28 at field level.

The Padres reiterated former President Larry Lucchino's promise to keep ticket prices family-affordable. About 8,000 seats will be $12 or less.

Tilson said while prices are higher, fans will be getting their money's worth as all the seats will be much closer to the field, providing a higher-quality baseball experience than is possible at Qualcomm, which was essentially a ballpark converted to a football stadium.

Tilson said the relocation process is scheduled to be finished by early February 2003, which is just about the time the ballpark is completed as well.

All of this planning is assuming, of course, Major League Baseball is still playing in 2003.

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Providing Some Spirit: In an effort to drum up support from San Diego's business community, women's pro soccer team the Spirit is hosting its first Corporate Night on July 31. For a $15 ticket, fans gain entry to the game plus access to a pre-game mixer including complimentary drinks and snacks.

The deal requires a minimum group of 15. Happy hour lasts from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., and the game against Atlanta begins at 7. Corporate ticketholders also get a free poster and entry into a drawing for door prizes raffled off during the event.

The Spirit has been doing fairly well in its second season at its home field of Torero Stadium on the campus of USD, averaging 5,712 in attendance over seven home games, which is only 14 people behind last season's average. It has two regular season home games left.

Send sports business news to mallen@sdbj.com.