Why the Chargers can't fund a stadium like the 49ers: the PSL issue

SAN DIEGO -- Mark Fabiani says it’s the most asked question he receives from fans of the San Diego Chargers looking for a new stadium built for the team in this city.

Why can’t the Chargers put together a financing plan similar to that of the $1.3 billion Levi’s Stadium recently completed by the San Francisco 49ers? Both teams are located in California, and the 49ers successfully found a way to skirt around the cumbersome legal hurdles to raising tax money to help subsidize an NFL stadium.

The 49ers used personal seat licenses, or PSLs, as a major funding source for the stadium project. A tool used to help fund NFL stadiums, PSLs are one-time fees for the right to buy season tickets in a specific seat for the length of a team’s stadium lease. PSLs can be transferred or sold to family members or other parties.

Fabiani, special council to Chargers president Dean Spanos and the team’s point person on the stadium issue, wishes the answer was as easy as duplicating San Francisco’s financing plan for Levi’s Stadium. However, he said the Chargers do not have enough local corporate support for that type of financing plan to pencil out in San Diego, according to studies performed by consultants for the Chargers.

Fabiani also noted the San Diego Padres tried to sell PSLs when they opened Petco Park and did not do very well.

“Everyone in San Diego for as long as the Chargers have been here have been used to simply paying for a ticket,” he said. “And to then ask that same person to pay a fee up front in order to have a right to buy a ticket, our consultants who have studied this say there’s very little chance with that approach in San Diego.”

Fabiani pointed to PSL sales for stadiums in Minnesota and Atlanta as being dramatically lower than what the 49ers achieved in Santa Clara. And Fabiani said San Diego’s projected PSL sales would be lower than Minnesota and Atlanta, because those two stadium projects are located in the biggest cities in their respective states.

“San Diego is obviously not either the biggest or the most important city in California,” Fabiani said. “The number of corporate headquarters that exist in San Diego is relatively small. Our support is based on individual fans as opposed to major corporations that are willing to pay a lot of money up front for PSLs or for suites.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, PSLs are estimated to bring in $312 million for Levi’s Stadium, much less than the projected $500 million.

According to Sports Business Daily, the New York Jets and New York Giants are projected to generate a combined $725 million in PSLs to help pay for the $1.6 billion MetLife Stadium, while the Dallas Cowboys are projected to generate $650 million to help cover total costs of the $1.2 billion AT&T Stadium.

By comparison, teams in smaller markets like Minnesota and Atlanta are targeting PSL sales closer to $100 million or less to cover costs for new stadiums in those cities.

“It’s just a different market,” Fabiani said about San Diego. “I’m not complaining about our market. It’s a great market and we’re happy to be here. We’re not raising this issue affirmatively. But when people ask the question, that is the answer.”