Editor's note: The video below is from March 2016.
Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates are the faces of the San Diego Chargers, which must be a great relief to owner Dean Spanos, who isn’t nearly as popular these days.
So it comes as only a mild surprise that both Rivers and Gates decided to stump informally this past weekend for the four percent hotel tax rise that Spanos says he needs to help get a new stadium for his team.
And weirdly, nobody has stood up and yelled at either one of them, “Stick To Sports.”
“I stand as the longest-tenured player here, and I just urge everybody that’s voting, let’s try our best to keep our team here,” Gates told Jenny Vrentas of The MMQB. “Not because I don’t want to go to L.A., or I have something against L.A. But I remember the times when we were rolling and doing well, and that feeling of the fans rallying behind us and that electrifying energy we had. It was a beautiful sight. I just think it’s a beautiful place to have a football team. That’s my message from a guy who has been here the longest.”
And Rivers gave a slightly more strident version to the site’s chieftain, Peter King:
“[It would be really hard for me to say you need to vote for the stadium if it was going to come out of the people of this community’s pocket,” he said. “I can’t tell them they should vote for that. I can’t in good conscience do that. But when I think about so many people coming to visit San Diego, and when I think about a four percent increase, they are still going to come. They are still going to come. I don’t think they are not going to SeaWorld and the zoo and not going on their summer vacation because that hotel is going to be a little more expensive. That’s how I look at it, in my most honest opinion. There are way more ins and outs to it I’m sure, but that’s why I think and I hope that we can educate everyone on that, because that’s why it does make sense to me, when it would be a lot more difficult when you are trying to tax the local residents.”
But as ever, the key is not in the pitch but in the sentence down the road, in this case Rivers’ “There are way more ins and outs to it I’m sure.”
There always are, of course, which is the beauty of the scam. Spanos has already gotten the NFL to kick in an extra $100 million to the $200 million it has already pledged for the new stadium, and by staying would also save a $500 million relocation fee by going to Los Angeles to be Stan Kroenke’s downstairs tenant, as he has threatened. He is responsible for $350 million, which would be covered by, among other things, a personal seat license scheme which 49er fans will tell us is the path to eternal damnation.
The key here is the $1.1 billion that the city is being asked to chunk up, which would be done with bonds that allegedly would be repaid by the hotel tax, which has been assailed on many sides as inadequate and on an equal number of sides as better used for projects that might help the entire citizenry.
And all in pursuit of an electoral victory with a two-thirds threshold in a notoriously conservative town fiscally. In short, this looks to many folks like a stone cold loser, with the caveat being that in local politics, nothing is ever over even after it is over.
What is intriguing is how Gates and Rivers have popped up, seemingly unbidden, to wave the flag for their boss. Unlike, that is, former Charger great Dan Fouts, who did an ad on the stadium scoreboard this past weekend that said in part:
“What could be sweeter than Raiders, Broncos and Patriots fans all helping pay for the project when they pay their hotel bill?”
Let’s say only this about that: If a stadium that can only be afforded if it can be filled with out-of-town fans, what exactly is the value here? So that Raiders and Broncos and Patriots fans can enjoy the stadium? Is that the civic brainstorm we’re going for here?
There is a tenuous local impact here, of course, in that if the Chargers lose at the ballot box as many people think they will, they could then trigger their option to join Kroenke, thereby forcing Raiders owner Mark Davis to adopt a Vegas-Or-Nothing strategy (that he seems already to have decided upon, to be fair).
But mostly, it is the notion that current players are attaching themselves, either willingly or under subtle pressure, to a contentious local financing issue that vibrates here. Rivers and Gates will never play in any new stadium, for one, and are already trying to convince people not to boo them based on the team’s current stretch of play, for two. They are standing up here, it seems, for the owner’s future good will on a topic that seems unpopular to the voting citizens at best and a losing cause at worst.
I’m guessing this tactic won’t work, for the simple reason that anyone who wants to vote for the stadium is already captivated by Gates and Rivers, and anyone who doesn’t agree couldn’t give a toss about either of them anyway. If there is a massive undecided voting bloc that has just been waiting to see which side current players would come down on the project, nobody seems aware of it.
But that’s the beauty of the “stick to sports” argument. Every once in a rare while, that’s a good idea.