Only three days after league owners took another step toward returning NFL football to Los Angeles, a pair of San Diego County supervisors met on Friday with Chargers officials in the latest attempt to address the club's desire for a new stadium.
The 90-minute session, chaired by Chargers team president Dean Spanos, was planned before NFL owners met Tuesday in Denver to discuss plans to return to Los Angeles, a market without a team since the Rams and Raiders both abandoned the city following the 1994 season. While the timing of the Friday meeting between San Diego County and Chargers executives was coincidental, it was nonetheless notable.
League owners on Tuesday committed $10 million toward studies of two proposed sites, one at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the other in Anaheim. Despite the publicly stated intentions of Chargers ownership to remain in San Diego, the team, because of its proximity to Los Angeles and the continuing stadium problems, has been the subject of considerable speculation involving a potential move to the nation's second largest market.
The Tuesday meeting, expected to be the first of what likely will be monthly sessions with representatives of San Diego County, was aimed at renewing attempts to find the Chargers a suitable site in the county.
"My feeling is [the Chargers] want to stay and, hopefully, there can be a deal that works for everybody," said supervisor Ron Roberts following the meeting. "We made it clear what our position is: We were not there to write a big check."
The Chargers have played at Qualcomm Stadium (formerly Jack Murphy Stadium) since it opened in 1967 and, despite several renovations, the team has said it needs a new facility to create fresh revenue streams and remain competitive with other NFL franchises. But the cash-strapped city of San Diego, rocked in recent years by stunning financial setbacks, appears to lack the wherewithal to provide the Chargers with a new home anytime soon.
According to their recently amended lease, the Chargers can now seek sites anywhere in San Diego County and have garnered interest from the city of Chula Vista. The more important element of the May 16 lease amendment, however, is that the Chargers can be courted by any city in the country after Jan. 1, 2007.
Already, civic leaders from Las Vegas and San Antonio have strongly hinted they would be interested in meeting with Chargers officials early next year. And, of course, the nearby Los Angeles market could beckon as well. Their lease permits the Chargers to leave San Diego after the 2008 season, provided the club pays the balance on $60 million in bonds issued for the latest refurbishing of Qualcomm Stadium.
Still, attorney Mark Fabiani, the Chargers' spokesman on stadium-related issues, reiterated Friday that the preference of the Spanos family is to keep the franchise in the San Diego market.
"Our goal is in January 2007, when other cities call us, to be able to say, 'Thank you for your call, but we've made considerable progress in San Diego County,' " Fabiani said. "That is our goal. Now we have to see if we can meet it."
The NFL hopes to be back in Los Angeles by the 2010 or 2011 season and, as evidenced at the Tuesday owners meeting, there is little support for placing an expansion team there. Owners overwhelmingly favor maintaining the currently configured symmetry of the league, with its 32 franchises divided into eight divisions of four teams each. That likely means an existing team would move to Los Angeles.
Beyond the Chargers, franchises which have been most often mentioned as potential candidates include Buffalo, Jacksonville, Minnesota, New Orleans and Oakland.
Len Pasquarelli is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com. To check out Len's chat archive, click here.