San Diego Leads Off NFL’s LA Team Sweepstakes

With the citizens of San Diego on high alert in observance of a sign, any sign, that their beloved Chargers will not leave them behind for Los Angeles, recent comments by the team’s owner and legal counsel have done nothing to assauge that concern.

LA Downtown Stadium map

(Batter up: Chargers step into November ballot box)

Beginning on February 1, the San Diego NFL team has an annually-granted, three-month window in which it may decide to exercise an early-termination clause in its Qualcomm Stadium lease. If the Chargers were to enact that right in 2012, which expires on April 1, the result would mean a $24 million payment to the city of San Diego - and an NFL team for Los Angeles.

Matthew T. Hall of reported this week that Chargers owner Dean Spanos announced at a press conference Tuesday that while Chargers GM A.J. Smith and head coach Norv Turner will stay with the team, he refused to confirm the same, immediate fate for the city of San Diego.

At a news conference, he did not even commit to the Chargers staying next season. “All I am telling you is we want to be in San Diego,” Spanos said. “I remain consistent with that.”

Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani has also been fronting the team’s public position on a possible move to Los Angeles. On Tuesday, Fabiani told Hall via email that there was, “nothing new on the (lease termination) trigger today.

While those comments may seem ominous as it pertains to the Chargers staying in San Diego, the club is currently in the throes of a negotiation with the city for a downtown stadium. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders reportedly hopes to release substantive details of such a deal in March, with the hope that such a proposal would be voted on by the local citizenry in November.

Last year the Chargers confirmed in early December they had no plans to get out of their Qualcomm lease but this year such an announcement - at least in relation to the annual lease termination window - has not been made. Though concern over such a delay is mitigated considering such an early assurance by the team would reduce the Chargers’ leverage in its current negotiation with the city for a new stadium.

Perhaps in deference to San Diego’s hope that a stadium deal for the Chargers could be voted on by the public in late 2012, last month NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said not to expect news of a move to Los Angeles anytime soon:

“We want (football) to return in a successful way, and that requires a stadium. I don’t think we’ll be in a position to make that decision by 2012, but we’ll continue to work with the different alternatives in Los Angeles and hope that we get a solution that will work.”

While Goodell continues to reference “different alternatives” in Los Angeles, all that remains for L.A. to be NFL-ready is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) required of downtown Los Angeles NFL stadium proponent AEG.

While AEG’s EIR will be released in 2012, the comments period after the report hits the public in February won’t conclude until after the lease termination window for the Chargers has expired for this year.

The EIR, which is significant but not likely to hinder AEG’s downtown stadium from going forward, is likely the final sign Goodell and the NFL need to confirm that Los Angeles has a stadium “solution that will work” for the league.

Considering that San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders does not want to be known as the man who allowed the Chargers to move on his watch, expect him and other local officials to do everything they can to put a new Chargers stadium plan to a public vote before 2012 is over.

While such a vote will likely be the final word on the Chargers in San Diego, Sports by Brooks has been told by multiple sources familiar with the situation that it will not ultimately dictate LA’s NFL fate.

The Chargers would indeed be a turnkey solution for AEG in securing an NFL team for Los Angeles, but if the people of San Diego keep their team via the ballot box, Jacksonville, St. Louis and Oakland will officially be on the clock.

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