The annual nerd-fest that is Comic-Con is an unrivaled summer explosion of costumed exuberance. And since the flight of the Rams and Raiders nearly two decades ago, the Chargers are the only NFL team in the region.
But to the dismay of civic boosters, the football franchise and the pop-culture extravaganza have both put San Diego on notice that they need better venues or they might have to move, maybe even to dreaded Los Angeles.
So to retain Comic-Con, and to attract even more high-spending conventions, officials have proposed expanding the waterfront San Diego Convention Center at an estimated cost of $520 million.
But the Chargers say the expansion plan would scuttle the team's idea for a new home field to replace aging Qualcomm Stadium — which officials say would help the team remain in San Diego.
The convention center expansion proposal, opposed by the Chargers, is set to be debated by the California Coastal Commission at its meeting Thursday in San Diego.
The plan has already been approved by the City Council and the Unified Port District. It envisions expanding the existing center on the bay-front side.
The Chargers say a better strategy would be to build an additional convention venue several blocks away, as part of a joint use with a new stadium, and possibly other tourist-drawing businesses.
The team's idea is still on the drawing board but has brought interest from a major designer of convention centers and sports venues, as well as from the financial community.
At the heart of the dispute is the word "contiguous."
City officials say it is mandatory that the new space be connected to the existing space. The Chargers, through spokesman Mark Fabiani, contend it is not mandatory and say City Hall and the Port District never truly considered an alternative.
Comic-Con officials support the expansion plan pending before the commission. "An expanded facility is a good proposition for San Diego," Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said.
Comic-Con was born in San Diego in 1970 when a small band of comic-book fans held a gathering in a downtown hotel. It now attracts more than 130,000 people to an event displaying the latest in comics, sci-fi, anime, horror, animation and other popular arts. Hollywood figures come to pay respect to their fans.
With exploding popularity has come grousing from devoted attendees that Comic-Con has outgrown the San Diego Convention Center, with events too crowded, lines too long and some potential exhibitors turned away.
Los Angeles and Anaheim, both with larger convention centers, have tried to lure the event away.
"Comic-Con's loyalty has been strong, as has their patience," said Bob Nelson, a governing board member with the port district, which owns the convention center. "But patience has its limits, and there are great pressures on them."
One of then-Mayor Jerry Sanders' final accomplishments a year ago was to persuade Comic-Con officials to extend their contract to use the San Diego center through 2016.
Sanders and other officials hope that by the end of that year the expansion will have been approved, litigation over its financing plan settled and construction well underway.
If San Diego has only a slender hold on Comic-Con, its hold on the Chargers is even more tenuous. Each year after the season ends, the franchise has the option to notify the city that it is leaving, after paying off the remaining bonds from an expansion of city-owned Qualcomm Stadium in the 1990s.
Like the Comic-Con organizers, the Spanos family, which owns the Chargers, has a mantra: We love San Diego and don't want to move, but there are certain business realities to consider.