First, I should mention my prejudices in writing this: I am a huge, huge, Chargers fan. I read Bolts from the Blue religiously, follow around 5-10 people on Twitter who write about the Chargers, and live-tweet their games constantly. It should also be noted that I worked for Prop. C, which was the local referendum that built Petco Park (where the Padres play).
I should also give some background for you non-San Diegans/non-football fans: the San Diego Chargers moved from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961. Shortly after they did so, San Diego built Jack Murphy Stadium, which was a dual-use (football/baseball) stadium. They played at Jack Murphy for 30-ish years until, in 1995 (shortly after the Chargers were slaughtered in the Super Bowl), the City and the Chargers agreed to expand Jack Murphy Stadium, and the City agreed to guarantee a certain amount of ticket sales. While that was going on, the City completely screwed up the San Diego employee pension fund (perhaps fraudulently), and for around ten years, the City's finances were completely fucked. So fucked that the New York Times referred to San Diego as "the Enron by the Sea."
Luckily, San Diego's city governance has improved significantly since then. Jerry Sanders, Bob Filner, and Todd Gloria all did well in managing the finances. Unfortunately, Jerry Sanders and Todd Gloria were both caretakers - Sanders, by choice, and Gloria by his interim status. Bob Filner, meanwhile, sexually harassed basically every woman he came into contact with. So, in other words, since Jack Murphy Stadium was expanded (and renamed Qualcomm Stadium), the City has either been a total mess or run by someone who decided to take a caretaker role.
In the meantime, for a variety of reasons, the teams that were originally in Los Angeles - the Rams and Raiders - moved. And so the second largest media market is just sitting there, empty. Qualcomm Stadium has been slowly becoming more and more outdated, and the Chargers have been pushing for a new stadium for fourteen years.
But, with the election of Kevin Falconer, a politician who shares the same political party as the Spanos family (who own the Chargers), and who probably received money from them, as Mayor, it appeared that there would be a deal to build a new stadium. But yesterday and today, the Chargers and the Mayor's office went back and forth attacking each other in passive aggressive ways. So, what's going on?
Its really pretty simple - the Chargers want to move to Los Angeles, but don't want to take the PR hit. In the meantime, the City doesn't want to pay the $800 million it would take to build a new stadium, but Falconer also doesn't want to take the PR hit. After all, Falconer got elected, in part, because people assumed he would be able to build a stadium.
But, how can I say that the Chargers want to leave? Because I remember when the Padres put Prop. C on the ballot in 1998. Like I said, I worked on that campaign. The Padres came up with a plan to build Petco, worked with City officials to come up with the very best plan possible, and then spent a year answering every question from every person in the City. When that was done, they put up their own money to place the Proposition on the ballot, hired the best political consultants they could, and then worked their ass off getting the Proposition passed. Again, I worked on that campaign. We walked to every registered voter in the City. Twice.
The Chargers haven't done any of that. Nor has Falconer. And no one is holding public meetings trying to iron out a deal. Why would the Chargers? If the City fails to build a stadium, they get to move to LA, the second largest media market in the country. That's not a consolation prize, people.
For San Diego, the numbers are awful. Why spend $800 million plus for a building that's used 20 days a year for its dedicated purpose? We now know enough about sports economics to know that the benefits of a new stadium don't apply to football, and barely apply to baseball (but absolutely apply to the NBA).
That said, I'm surprised that Falconer and the Chargers can't cut a deal. Falconer needs a new stadium deal because it will validate his mayorship, and cement his status as a pro-business/getting things done mayor. A new stadium gives him a good shot at reelection. But with the recent fireworks, it seems pretty clear the Chargers are gonzo.