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Rock Set to Roll Back Into Stadium : New Turf Cover Sets Stage for Revival of Big-Name Concerts at Jack Murphy

Times Staff Writer

San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium has not played host to a major rock concert since 1983, when the legendary British band, The Who, came to town.

The Dallas Cowboys visited a few days later, and the group playing host to them--the San Diego Chargers--said the playing field was in the worst condition possible for a professional football game.

So, leverage was applied, and rock left the stadium indefinitely. Its departure meant the loss of a lot of money for the city, while rock lost the one local venue capable of staging such acts as Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones.

Well, now it looks as though rock is back, or will be by summer. Stadium manager Bill Wilson confirmed Monday that he is negotiating with big-time promoters to return rock to the 60,000-seat stadium.

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Who’s on First?

And, according to Brian Murphy, a promoter with the Los Angeles-based Avalon Attractions, the group most likely to mark the return is, ironically, The Who.

A city official who asked not to be identified confirmed that Murphy is right--The Who may be booked for an August concert, while talks are being held with the Rolling Stones for a November show. The same official called the Stones’ 1981 appearance at the stadium the biggest one-day payoff in city history--more than $250,000 net profit.

“We think it’s a wonderful idea--big-time rock coming back to San Diego,” said Murphy of Avalon Attractions. “And, we hope The Who will play there.”

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Pressed for details, Murphy said he could “not comment further,” nor would he confirm that he was the agent seeking to book The Who.

“I’ve spoken very seriously and had heavy telephone conversations with a number of promoters,” Wilson said. “We’ve made available certain dates in June and July, and, of course, August. We just need a window of two days on either end (before and after the concert) to get the field back in shape for baseball and football.”

Wilson pointed out that the Beach Boys and the KOOL Jazz Festival took place at the stadium during the ban on rock but with a restrictive caveat--no one was allowed to sit on the field during those events.

Wilson said rock’s full-scale return is feasible only with fans being allowed to sit on the field and in reserved seats. He said no promoter would accept the restriction of no seating on the field. He said the only way fans can sit on the field without destroying it is through the use of a new high-tech “geotextile” material--not available in 1983--that covers and protects the turf even with thousands of bodies crunched upon it.

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“Geotextile is a 3/8-inch felt material interwoven with polyester,” said Steve Wightman, stadium turf manager. “It allows a pocket of air between the feet of the people and the grass. It’s not perfect, but it allows the turf to breathe. It’s the only way to minimize detrimental effects.”

No Camping on Field

Even with such protection, Wilson said, the City Council (which oversees the stadium) would never again permit “festival seating"--fans being allowed to camp on the field without reserved seating, “Woodstock-style,” as they did for the Rolling Stones concert eight years ago. From now on, he said, on-the-field seating will be allowed only in chairs and only on a reserved basis.

Stadium Authority Board member Mike Gotch favors the return of rock to keep the stadium fiscally fit, despite the hazards it poses to the turf and to stadium security.

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“The unofficial ban on rock guarantees that the stadium is a money loser every year,” Gotch said, adding that he expects the authority board and the council to lift the ban. “With proper security and proper conditions being imposed on the promoter for cleanup of the site, then I believe it’s time we took another look.”

Gotch said estimates point to one-day net paydays of as much as $200,000 for concerts booked into the stadium in 1989. He confirmed that the stadium is now negotiating with promoters for The Who and Rolling Stones.

“We can’t afford to pass up one-day paydays of that magnitude,” he said. “One of my objectives when seeking appointment to the Stadium Authority was to balance the books. The stadium has never operated at a profit.”

Wilson said the stadium passed up a huge rock event in 1985--a concert by Bruce Springsteen, who wanted to play San Diego but couldn’t because of the ban. He said that was like passing up a net profit of at least $250,000, possibly more.

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Hefty Mortgage

Wilson said the stadium pays an annual bond debt of $2.5 million--"the mortgage"--and will continue to do so until 2003. Last year’s operating expenses--"what we pay just to run the place"--were about $4.25 million, he said.

“Our light bill alone is $1 million a year,” he said. “We need revenue. It’s not even a break-even situation.”

Wilson said that, in 1988, the stadium netted $2.8 million from baseball’s Padres and $2 million from football’s Chargers, allowing it to meet operating expenses but causing it to fall below the amount needed for the bond payment.

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He said the recent “Mud Bog and Tractor Pull,” which covered two dates in February and one in January, netted a record amount for the stadium--$367,000. Gotch said the promoter for the mud bog and tractor pull was required to clean up the field, provide additional security and pay for a complete resodding.

Despite the profit of that event, he still sees rock as the quickest route to a lucrative one-day payoff.

“Six years is far too long for us to have prohibited concerts because a prior council and authority board made a determination that they no longer be allowed,” Gotch said. “It’s high time we brought them back.”


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