The Spanos family has owned a controlling interest in the San Diego Charges since 1984, but that may all be coming to an end if a family member is successful in persuading a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to force a sale of the team.
Dea Spanos Berberian filed suit Thursday, petitioning the court to put the Bolts on the block.
For his part, her brother Dean, who manages the operations of the team, argues that their parents "wanted the Chargers to be part of the Spanos family for generations to come" and that he and their other two siblings are willing to buy her out if necessary.
The Chargers announced the team's move from San Diego to Los Angeles in 2017, with the team playing since that year in a relatively small 27,000-seat arena in Carson, California. This past season, the Chargers moved into their new home at SoFi Stadium, which the team shares with the Los Angeles Rams. A condition of that move was a $650 million relocation fee the team then owed to the NFL.
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Berberian's petition argues that the family trust -- which owns a 36% interest in the team -- has such a "bleak financial picture" that the situation compels it to sell the Chargers.
"The trust’s debts and expenses exceed $353 million, assuming that the IRS ultimately agrees with the valuation of assets and liabilities when it conducts its likely audit of the settlors’ estate tax returns," the petition states. "The trust has virtually no income and no liquidity: its annual debt service and expenses currently exceed income by more than $11 million."
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Berberian's petition further argues that the co-trustees have been paying for that shortfall by taking out loans, "including borrowing from new banks to pay off older bank loans." The petition also states that the team has pledged more than $22 million to charities that it cannot fulfill.
The court filing points out that the NFL recently signed a lucrative contract for media rights, making the franchise an attractive prospect and goes so far as to single out Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as a prospective owner (he reportedly showed interest in purchasing the Washington Football Team but lost out to another suitor).
In a revealing peek behind the Spanos family curtain, the petition states that Dean had already agreed to a sale of the team. The court documents quote him in a letter dated Nov. 8, 2019:
"… no later than thirty (30) days following the conclusion of our fifth (5th) season in the new SOFI stadium, I agree, in my capacity as Manager and on behalf of the Company, to retain an investment banking firm reasonably acceptable to Dea, Michael and Alexis to market the sale of the Company, and I will cooperate in such marketing effort in order to maximize value for the benefit of all Members."
After the petition was filed in Los Angeles, Dean Spanos released the following statement:
"Our parents, Alex and Faye, wanted the Chargers to be part of the Spanos family for generatiions to come. For the three of us, the Chargers is one of our family's most important legacies, just as it was for our parents. Unfortunately, our sister Dea seems to have a different and misguided personal agenda. If Dea no longer wishes to be part of this family legacy, the three of us stand ready to purchase her share of the franchise, as our agreements give us the right to do. In the meanwhile, the operations of the Chargers will be entirely unaffected by this matter, which relates only to the 36 percent share of the team that was owned by our parents. The three of us are entitled to three-fourths of that 36 percent share in any event, and under no circumstances will this situation impact control of the franchise. The three of us will remain firmly united as we seek to fulfill our parents' wishes to make every decision in the best interests of the Los Angeles Chargers."