At some point in the next week and a half, San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos will make a decision that could reshape the NFL.
The Chargers have until Jan. 15 to exercise their option to join the Rams in Los Angeles and return to the city where they played their first season in 1960. Or the Chargers could remain in San Diego and continue to pursue the new stadium they've unsuccessfully sought for the past 15 years.
NFL owners opened the door almost a year ago for the Chargers to move to L.A.; the final decision belongs to Spanos.
On one side is the opportunity to pay $1 a year to be a tenant at the Rams' stadium in Inglewood that's scheduled to open in 2019. The move would come with a relocation fee of $550 million to $650 million, depending on how it is financed and the increased value of the franchise from playing in the country's second-largest market. One of the perils of the move north, though, is the chance that another NFL team could relocate to San Diego and claim the market the Chargers have owned for 56 years.
The decision comes at a critical time for the NFL. The league is dealing with the fallout of the Rams' leaving St. Louis while the Raiders could depart from Oakland, both against the backdrop of plunging television ratings this season.
After years of would-be stadium plans — most recently an unsuccessful proposal last year to join the Raiders in Carson — the Chargers could finally be moving to L.A. But as always in this complex saga, the situation can change quickly.
The Times asks and answers questions about where the decision stands and what might happen as the deadline approaches:
How did we get to this point?
When NFL owners in January 2016 green-lighted the Rams' return to Los Angeles, part of the agreement gave the Chargers a one-year option to join them. The Chargers have to make up their minds by Jan. 15. The team doesn't need the league's approval to move.
If the Chargers decide to remain in San Diego, the one-year option rolls over to the Raiders.
The team said it spent $10 million on a ballot initiative to raise hotel taxes to help pay for a combined stadium and convention center in downtown San Diego. The plan was rejected in November when only 43% of voters favored it, well short of the two-thirds majority needed.
Why is Spanos hesitant to pursue another stadium in San Diego?
Public funding would require a vote during the next election in November 2018, meaning the Chargers would be a lame duck in the city for two more seasons. The uncertainty already hurt attendance this season — the team averaged 57,024 fans a game, second-worst in the NFL — not to mention having a negative impact on advertising and sponsorships. If a second vote failed, the Chargers wouldn't have a new stadium — or the L.A. option.
What's the funding gap in San Diego?
The Chargers and NFL are willing to cover $650 million of a stadium that would cost at least $1.2 billion. That leaves a $550-million gap without public money.
A spokesman for San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts said the parties discussed "regional funding options" last month.
"At this point, we are waiting to hear back from the NFL and Chargers before talks can continue," the spokesman said.
Could the NFL help close that gap?
The league can — and will — do as it pleases. One possibility, if the Raiders were to move to Las Vegas, would be to allocate the extra $100 million the league pledged for a stadium in Oakland to a San Diego stadium. That would still leave a significant gap.
The NFL's stadium and finance committees will meet in New York on Jan. 11, but the main topic of discussion is expected to be the Raiders and Las Vegas.
What are the obstacles toward building on the site of Qualcomm Stadium, the Chargers' current home in Mission Valley?
Aside from persuading San Diego voters to use public money for a stadium, an unpopular option, the site is seen as a football-only facility that would be used only a couple of dozen times each year by the Chargers, San Diego State and bowl games. The Chargers believe it would be much more difficult to finance than a multi-use facility downtown.
Would Spanos — or the NFL — choose to extend the L.A. option to continue to work on a solution in San Diego?
That idea wasn't popular among owners when they met in Irving, Texas, last month. They believe the uncertainty around San Diego and the second team in L.A. has gone on long enough.
An extension could be problematic for the Chargers in two ways. First, they would be a lame duck for two seasons while they wait for a November 2018 vote, as mentioned above. Second, the Rams would have two more years to deepen their roots in L.A.
How would an option extension work?
The NFL would have to be creative because the L.A. agreement provided for an extension only if public financing was approved last November. So an extension would likely require a three-quarters majority vote of owners, though no meetings are scheduled until March. Then again, the NFL is a club that can make its own rules. One thing to consider: The final section of the L.A. agreement gave Commissioner Roger Goodell the wide-ranging authority to "interpret and implement" it as he sees fit.
Could San Diego hold a special election before November 2018 to vote on publicly financing a stadium?
That's a possibility, but the turnout would likely be so low that the Chargers would have even less chance of success than they did last November. The team believes that low-propensity voters are the ones who would most likely approve public financing for a stadium, and those people tend not to turn out for special elections.
How do the Raiders factor in?
In October, the Nevada Legislature approved $750 million to help fund a stadium for the Raiders in Las Vegas. However, the team hasn't struck a deal with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who would help pay for the venue, or received approval from league owners to relocate.
Raiders owner Mark Davis likes the idea of a stadium at Hollywood Park, something his late father, legendary owner Al Davis, explored in the 1990s before the deal fell apart and he moved the team back to Oakland.
If the Chargers passed on L.A., it's logical to think the Raiders would pounce, given their significant fan base in Southern California and the difficulty in closing a deal in Las Vegas.
Does the NFL want two teams in Los Angeles?
The league is trying to play it down the middle — and the Inglewood stadium is being built to house two teams with two home locker rooms, two owner's suites and so forth. But there are plenty of challenges for the NFL if a second team comes to L.A. It loses the leverage point to get stadium deals done elsewhere; it increases the risk of flooding the market with two teams, both of which are dealing with playoff drought; and it potentially leaves vacant three NFL markets —San Diego, St. Louis and Oakland — at a time when television numbers are sagging. Probably the safest position for the NFL, at least in the short term, is for teams to stay put.
Meanwhile, the Rams can't start selling personal seat licenses, suites or naming rights for the new stadium until a second team agrees to join them in L.A. or Feb. 15, whichever comes first.
Where would the Chargers play in L.A. before the Inglewood stadium's projected opening in 2019?
The franchise is exploring the Coliseum, temporary home to the Rams, or the 27,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson. The second option would be an unorthodox choice for an NFL team, which would typically play in a venue two or three times that size. But the Chargers would bank on L.A. fans' paying more for the intimate setting. The StubHub Center has ample parking —about 10,000 spaces on site — easy freeway access and suites. It would also allow the Chargers to differentiate themselves from the Rams.
Have the Chargers taken any concrete steps north?
Yes, they signed a non-binding lease last month for a temporary practice facility in Costa Mesa.
Would the Chargers be willing to leave their name in San Diego and rebrand in L.A.?
People close to Spanos said the owner isn't leaning in that direction, but he's willing to consider it.
One clue: the team applied to trademark "Los Angeles Chargers" early last year.