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Why Chargers’ departure for L.A. won’t make Padres a power, even as the only game in town

Petco Park
In Petco Park, the Padres boast the best ballpark in Southern California.
(Irene Lechowitzky)

The Clippers bolted for Los Angeles, and now the Chargers have followed more than 30 years later. The Padres are the lone major sports team left in San Diego, and the only Major League Baseball team that does not have to share its market with an NFL, NBA or NHL team.

Good for the Padres? Sure. 

Can the Padres leverage their status as San Diego sports monopolists into a powerhouse franchise? Probably not.

In Petco Park, the Padres boast the best ballpark in Southern California, with the adjacent Gaslamp Quarter and a convenient train and trolley system enabling fans to come early, stay late and have fun. 

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San Diego is the eighth largest city in the United States, but it is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west, a desert to the east, Mexico to the south and Camp Pendleton to the north. That makes the metropolitan area relatively small, and the San Diego television market ranks 28th in the United States

Among major league teams, only the Cincinnati Reds, Kansas City Royals and Milwaukee Brewers play in smaller media markets. That limits the number of homes that can pay for cable or satellite packages — the Padres’ 2012 television deal could be worth $1.2 billion to the team, while the Dodgers’ 2013 television deal is valued at $8.35 billion.

And San Diego is home to just two Fortune 500 companies. The Padres will get some business from local companies that otherwise would have bought sponsorships or season tickets from the Chargers, but the increased revenue does not figure to alter the course of the franchise.

In San Diego — as in Los Angeles — fans come when the team wins. If the Padres do not win, fans will not come just to support the only game in town. They will support the beach, or the zoo, or Tijuana’s dynamic Xolos soccer club.

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The Padres are a small-market team, Chargers or no Chargers. The Padres are building with scouting and player development, with a focus in international signings. They are on the right path.

But the timing of the Chargers’ departure could hardly be worse. In this first year that the Padres will be the only major league team in San Diego, they will not truly be fielding a major league roster. Their player payroll might be the lowest in the majors, maybe one-fifth that of the Dodgers.

The Padres are tanking this season, in a proper way. They are not shy about telling their fans so. “We look ’em in the eye,” managing partner Peter Seidler told The Times last July, “and say, ‘2019 is probably the earliest you can see this strategy working.’ ”

So, yeah, it might not be tantalizing for San Diego to look forward to Clayton Richard or Luis Perdomo starting on Opening Day. But the “BEAT L.A.” chants at Petco Park this season ought to be more passionate than ever.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin

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