San Diego Business Journal

Chargers fans who cannot afford or prefer not to attend pro football games in person can breathe easier with news that the team has sold out its remaining four home games, which allows the games to be televised locally.

The Denver Broncos game on Dec. 31, the regular season finale, recently sold out, lifting the TV blackout.

Chargers spokesman Bill Johnston said things are going so well this season, the team is even getting deposits for next year's season tickets.

Through the first half of the season, the Chargers are averaging 67,000 people in attendance at Qualcomm Stadium, where the capacity is 70,000.

Using that average, Johnston said the team will probably break the record for season attendance by the Denver game and finish the year with a total of about 536,000. That would break the previous regular season record of 494,973 set in 2002.

Through last week and including future game sales, Johnston said the team has sold 690,000 tickets, but that includes two exhibition games.

Season ticket sales this year are at about 53,000 per game, compared with last year's season ticket average that reached about 45,000.

In the Chargers' era of Air Coryell in the late 1970s and early 1980s, season ticket sales were nearly 50,000, but it was a number that would have easily been surpassed if the stadium were larger, Johnston said.

"The Chargers could have sold more season tickets back then, but that was before the stadium was expanded," he said. "We cut the season ticket sales at 49,000 back then to make sure there would always be at least some single game tickets for sale."

The Chargers are encouraged that the city has hired a sports consultant to discuss their new stadium proposal, but so far no talks have transpired between the parties. The team is continuing to seek a development partner on the proposed project that includes a new stadium, some 6,000 residential units, a hotel, and office and retail space.

The team is essentially offering to pay for the stadium and assume responsibility for all the building and infrastructure development in return for 60 acres of the Qualcomm Stadium land owned by the city.

It is attempting to get a referendum on the project on the November 2006 ballot, a process that requires the City Council to approve language on the ballot measure by February 8.

- - -

Going Bowling: Ticket sales for the Poinsettia Bowl, a new college bowl game scheduled for Dec. 22, a week before the annual Pacific Life Holiday Bowl game at Qualcomm Stadium, have passed 30,000 , quite an achievement for a first-time bowl game, said Bruce Binkowski, the executive director for both games.

Of course, that total includes the minimum 10,000 tickets each competing school commits to buying as part of the agreement, but hitting 10,000 in local sales is no small accomplishment, he noted.

"We've been told that's outstanding for a first-time, low-level bowl game," he said.

The two teams haven't been chosen yet, and likely won't be known until Nov. 19 or 20, but the top contenders for the Mountain West Conference slot are Brigham Young University, the University of Utah or Colorado State University. The opponent from an at large pool of contenders is rumored to be Navy or Fresno State, depending on how these schools' football teams finish, and what schools other bowl games seek.

Binkowski and his Holiday Bowl board helped establish the new bowl here this year. It was the only new bowl game approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association and brings the total number of bowl games to 28.

The title sponsor for the Poinsettia Bowl is San Diego County Credit Union. The pre-game show is sponsored by Viejas Enterprises, while the halftime show is sponsored by the San Diego County New Car Dealers Association.

While the new bowl probably isn't going to generate the same kind of tourism that the Holiday Bowl does, any boost will be a plus since the end of the year is one of the slowest times here, Binkowski said.

Ticket sales for this year's Holiday Bowl have already hit 61,000, and the game is looking like a sellout, Binkowski said. The game has an attendance cap of 66,000 and features the runner-up team in the Pacific-10 Conference (UCLA and the University of Oregon are possibles), and the No. 3 team from the Big 12 Conference (perhaps Colorado University or Oklahoma University). But there's still three weeks to go, so teams won't be selected until Dec. 4.

- - -

Riptide Suspends Next Season: After three seasons of play in the indoor football league known as arena football league2, the San Diego Riptide said it needs a timeout.

The team issued a press release in late October saying it was not going to field a team in the 2006 season. It plans to use the time to reorganize operations both on and off the field.

"Plans include rebuilding the front office, developing additional community outreach programs, and securing a greater percentage of local ownership for the Riptide," the team said.

Founded by travel agency executive Gil Saidy in 2002, the Riptide enjoyed some success in its first season, making the playoffs, but has since fallen on tough times. This season, it ended with a 5-11 record and missed the playoffs for the third consecutive year.

Along with less than spectacular results on the field, attendance at the ipayOne Center (formerly the San Diego Sports Arena) dropped from about 7,000 in the first year to less than half that number this year.

The team nearly folded in 2004, but was saved when Ernie Hahn and his Arena2000 Group, which manages the ipayOne Center, stepped in to take the majority equity stake in the franchise. Later, Jon Runyan, an offensive lineman with the Philadelphia Eagles, acquired most of the team's ownership.

But Runyan wouldn't commit to investing more money in the franchise, resulting in the suspension of next season. The team's notice appears to leave the door open for 2007, but finding the money for an indoor game that plays during the summer months isn't going to be easy.

- - -

The Second Season: The San Diego Padres knew the numbers wouldn't be the same as the first year, so when the final attendance for the second season at Petco Park was released last month, they weren't too disappointed.

The final tally was 2,869,787 , down 5 percent from 2004, Petco's inaugural season , when the attendance broke all franchise records at 3,016,752.

- - -

New On The Court: Men's professional basketball has never taken root in San Diego going back to the 1970s, when the Rockets left town for Houston. Yet that didn't stop a local group from forming a new team to compete in the 2-year-old USA Professional Women's Basketball League.

The San Diego Siege begins play in the 10-team league in February and plans to hold its games at San Diego City College.

Team owner Patrick Alexander is also the president of the new women's league and a native of San Diego. The team also has a charter sponsor, EquiTrust Realty Inc., a locally based real estate firm.

Heading up the new franchise as general manager is David McElwee. The first head coach is Fred Williams, who is a former coach of the Utah Starzz of the WNBA.

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