SAN DIEGO -- Although the San Diego Chargers have denied that they've agreed to sell a minority stake to billionaire Philip Anschutz, there are still more questions than answers about the team's possible relocation to Los Angeles.
Chargers attorney Mark Fabiani issued a carefully worded statement late Tuesday night denying a Toronto radio report that Anschutz "has or will purchase" 35 percent of Southern California's only NFL team.
"There is no truth to the rumor out of Toronto that the Chargers have agreed to sell a portion of the team to Mr. Anschutz," Fabiani said.
Sports and entertainment powerhouse Anschutz Entertainment Group has proposed building an NFL stadium in downtown Los Angeles, but it is only at the conceptual stage. The nation's second-largest market has been without the NFL since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season.
Asked Wednesday if he's had discussions with AEG, and if the company is still in the mix or has been eliminated as a potential minority owner, Fabiani responded by e-mail: "There's nothing in the mix right now. No sale of a minority interest -- to any party -- is imminent."
AEG spokesman Michael Roth declined to comment when asked if his group has spoken with Fabiani.
The operative words seem to be "right now." If the Chargers do end up moving back to L.A. -- they started there in 1960 as an original member of the AFL -- it probably would be later rather than sooner, although their next window for bolting San Diego reopens on Feb. 1.
It seems unlikely that Anschutz would buy a chunk of the Chargers without first getting approval for a stadium, which by no means is a slam dunk. It's possible AEG won't comment on the situation or do any more work on a stadium proposal until the NFL reaches a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. The current agreement expires in March, raising fears of a potential lockout.
The Chargers recently announced that owner Alex Spanos is looking to sell a minority stake to help with estate planning. The 87-year-old Spanos, a billionaire developer who lives in Stockton, revealed two years ago that he suffers from dementia.
Spanos and his wife, Faye, own 36 percent of the team. Their four children, including Dean, the team president, each own 15 percent. Two minority owners control the other 4 percent. Fabiani has said the Spanos family will continue to hold a controlling majority stake.
Embroiled in a contentious search for a new stadium since 2002, the Chargers have long been rumored as a possible tenant if a new stadium is built in Los Angeles. The team began play in 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers of the AFL. After attracting small crowds at the Coliseum, it moved to San Diego prior to the 1961 season.
Another group, Majestic Realty Co., wants to build a stadium in Industry, some 25 miles east of Los Angeles.
"We are shovel-ready and continue to work with the NFL and its owners on the best deal for Southern California and the only option in Los Angeles that can be done without public money," Majestic vice president John Semcken said in an e-mail.
The Chargers have tried for eight years to get a new stadium built in San Diego County to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley. After giving up on building a new stadium in Qualcomm's sprawling parking lot, the Chargers explored and rejected sites in suburban Chula Vista, National City, Oceanside and Escondido.
The team currently is exploring building a $750 million stadium on a downtown parcel east of Petco Park, the home of the San Diego Padres. That site has been described as the last, best chance to make something work in the county. The Chargers eventually could seek hundreds of millions of dollars in public assistance.
Between Feb. 1 and April 30 of each year through 2020, the Chargers can announce their intentions to leave if they pay off the bonds used to expand Qualcomm in 1997. That figure is currently around $26 million.
Derek Danziger, a spokesman for the Centre City Development Corp., said the downtown stadium concept is in the infancy stage.
"While the Chargers have expressed interest in the possibility of a downtown stadium site, there is no formal proposal that's been submitted and no public meetings planned at this time that I'm aware of," Danziger said. "When and if there was a submittal, it would certainly go through an extensive public review process."
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders issued a statement that read in part: "Over the years, San Diegans have shown great loyalty to their team, and the Chargers have repeatedly affirmed that this loyalty is reciprocated. We are currently working with the Chargers to evaluate a downtown site to determine its suitability for a football stadium. This effort will continue."
In May 1995, four months after the Chargers were routed by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl, the city announced it would expand Jack Murphy Stadium by 10,000 seats in order to keep the Chargers in San Diego through 2020 and attract future Super Bowls. The controversial $78 million expansion was completed in 1997 only after a naming rights deal with Qualcomm helped plug a financial gap.
Three years later, Alex Spanos was quoted as saying the team needed a new stadium. In 2002, the Chargers began a push for a new stadium.
In January 2003, just six years after the expansion, then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue expressed surprise that the Super Bowl was being played at Qualcomm. He made it clear that San Diego wouldn't host another title game unless it built a new stadium.