Good Bye Chargers, Hello Jaguars?

All the reasons why the NFL thinks San Diego would be a good spot for Jacksonville's team

“Some men worship rank, some worship heroes, some worship power, some worship God, and over these ideals they dispute – but they all worship money.” (Mark Twain)

One of the truly great American writers perfectly summed up the National Football League without ever having known it would exist. The NFL’s quest for cash is seemingly never ending. Money is the reason the Chargers are looking at leaving San Diego for Los Angeles. In a strange twist of fate money may also be the reason America’s Finest City will not be without professional football for long.

Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to root for the San Diego Jaguars? Don’t laugh. It just might happen and if it does it will be because of the almighty dollar. A series of events over the last half-decade or so, including one very recent encounter, has laid the ground work for San Diego to lose one NFL team only to have it replaced by another one from north Florida.

Goodell: $25B by 2027

During a meeting of the NFL owners in 2010 National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell told his member 32 teams his goal was to increase league revenues to $25 billion a year by 2027. He’s stood by that in subsequent meetings. How, exactly, would they be able to meet the ambitious target of tripling revenue is just 17 years? The answer, my dear friends, is TV. Specifically: TV in Los Angeles. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

It comes as no coincidence that in 2010 AEG made its proposal to build Farmers Field in downtown L.A. The facility was supposed to open this August, by the way, until they realized they need someone to play in it. A Los Angeles Times report says AEG would have had to have two teams, one of them owned at least partially by AEG founder Philip Anschutz, to make building the stadium a financially viable endeavor.

Seeing as how the value of a franchise almost instantaneously doubles when it touches down in Los Angeles not many NFL owners are all that willing to sell a team before a move. So that dynamic effectively killed the Farmers Field project … but gave way to a new idea.

No owner wants to sell a team to someone who owns a brand new stadium in L.A., so what if there was an owner with enough financial clout and a sub-par stadium situation who could build his own place in the nation’s second-largest media market? Enter Stan Kroenke.

Battling for Belle of the Ball

According to Forbes the owner of the Rams is the third-wealthiest man in the NFL (behind Seahawks owner Paul Allen and Dolphins owner Stephen Ross) with a net worth of about $6.3 billion. He found a way to get a nearly $2 billion NFL facility built in Inglewood using private funds. Once that gauntlet was thrown down Chargers Chairman Dean Spanos, who feels the Los Angeles market defaulted to him when the Rams and Raiders left Southern California after the 1994 season, felt the need to defend his territory.

Without Kroenke’s financial clout the Spanos family reached out to the Raiders, another team in dire need of a new facility with a history in L.A., to accelerate their idea of putting a new and only slightly less expensive NFL stadium in Carson. Now we have three debutantes trying to be the Belle of the Ball in La La Land, a dynamic that has the National Football League giddy with excitement (even if they have to put on a straight face to hide it). All of that brings us back to television.

The league has TV contracts with NBC, CBS, Fox, ESPN and DirectTV that all run through 2022 and will pay the NFL a combined $6.5 billion to $7 billion annually. How much do you think everyone is going to ante up if Los Angeles and its reported 22 million people are in the mix, especially if they’re starting to become loyal fans of one team?

But the NFL being the NFL, it’s not happy with just adding L.A. Sure Southern California is the linchpin but why stop there when you can double down and fix Florida, too?

A Jaguar Move Helps Miami

Jacksonville has never worked as an NFL city. The Jaguars started off with a great run, reaching the playoffs four of their first five years and even advancing to a pair of AFC Championship games. But over the last 15 years they’ve only had three winning seasons and finished with at least 10 losses eight times. Attendance and, more importantly, interest are down. The Jags routinely have one of the five worst TV ratings of any NFL market. The problem with them is they’re dragging down another team’s ratings, too.

Somewhat surprisingly the Miami Dolphins have been struggling to get a decent TV rating in recent years. One of the reasons is a lack of success in the LeBron James Heat era. But another reason is they’re being blocked by the Jaguars on TV in a place where the Dolphins have a whole lot more fans.

Orlando, FL, has a vibrant and growing Cuban population. With their ties to Miami the vast majority of Cubanos are Dolphins supporters. The problem is they can’t watch Miami games in Orlando. Since that part of the state is closer to Jacksonville the Jaguars are the AFC team on the TV every week which makes the Cuban fans fairly upset. If the NFL could somehow get the Jags out of the Dolphins’ way it would open up even more revenue streams for local TV dollars, which brings us to what is shaping up to be the grand plan.

The NFL wants to have a team, possibly two, in L.A. ASAP. The Raiders have to go. They’ve had the worst TV ratings in the league for years and are just not interested in staying in Oakland any more. They could go join the Rams in Inglewood or build their place with the Chargers in Carson. So now it’s an issue of who has to stay home: the Rams or the Chargers?

The Logical Play

St. Louis and San Diego are both working feverishly to get stadium proposals to pass muster with the NFL. Remember, it’s the league office that is ultimately calling all the shots here. That’s why San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has been so diligent in meeting all the deadlines set forth by the league. That was made clear to me during the latest owners meetings near Chicago.

“What we have done through this process is be able to tell the NFL we can meet your time frame,” said Christopher Melvin, the hand-picked lead negotiator for Mayor Faulconer. “The whole acceleration of the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) was to meet the NFL’s time frame. That’s a very significant commitment by the elected officials to get that done.”

What if the Mayor’s office is doing all this to appease the NFL to get a stadium built, but not necessarily for the Chargers?

What if they get the feeling, or have even already been told, the Carson project is going to win the Los Angeles derby and the Bolts are bolting? Well then there’s only one logical reason to spend millions of dollars to keep pursuing a new stadium. They think someone else is going to fill it. To figure out whom that would be just do what the NFL always does: follow the money.

The logical play would be to let the Bolts and Raiders go to Carson and leave the Rams in St. Louis where Kroenke’s deep pockets and connections can help build a new facility, and then move the Jaguars to San Diego where Shahid Khan, the 4th-wealthiest owner in the NFL, can do the same to help get a new facility built.

Tony Manolatos from the Citizens Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) says the proposal on the table is not exclusive to the Chargers and could be presented to any pro football team that’s interested. Khan bought the team in 2012 and has the motivation to get out of Jacksonville because his relationship with the local government there is every bit as stressed as the one between the San Diego city leaders and the Chargers. Khan is trying to get a $500 million development done through his company Iguana Investments, a mixed-use area full of office spaces, restaurants and a new training facility for the team. His proposal is a combination of public and private funds but it’s being held up by political opposition and an EIR (where have I heard that before?).

Goodell’s End Game

If San Diego, Oakland and St. Louis are the three worst stadium situations in the NFL then Jacksonville is just off the podium. The league, by moving the Jags to a new facility in San Diego, would fix all four situations in one bold, sweeping move. Plus the San Diego market is obviously a great place to hold the Super Bowl, the league’s marquis event, and contrary to popular opinion the TV ratings for the Chargers are in the top half of the league, on par with the Eagles and better than classic franchises like the Bears and 49ers.

Here’s the real kicker: Although it is as of yet unconfirmed a source familiar with the CSAG says someone close to the San Diego stadium situation has already had an informal meeting with representation from the Jacksonville Jaguars to discuss interest in a potential move here.

Now, the NFL has been playing its cards extremely close. Aside from a desire to move to L.A. we really don’t know what Goodell’s end game is. However, when you lay all the pieces in a row this scenario makes an awful lot of sense.

Plus the first time Khan tried to buy an NFL team was in 2010 when he put in a bid for the Rams but Kroenke, then just a minority stakeholder, used his option to match the bid and take control of the team. It only seems fair that Shahid gets to go to Southern California instead of Stan.

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