- Eric D. Williams, ESPN Staff Writer
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In the last five years, the NFL played its biggest game of the season in cold-weather locales such as New Jersey and Indianapolis, leaving warm-weather cities like San Diego, Miami and Los Angeles out in the cold.
NFL owners recently awarded the 2018 Super Bowl to another cold-weather location -- Minneapolis. And Atlanta, which recently broke ground on a new, $1.2 billion facility set to open in 2017, is in prime position to earn the 2019 Super Bowl.
The league's reasoning is simple: Reward those NFL cities for investing in new stadiums, while local governments in places like San Diego and Miami work to build enough momentum to get new projects completed.
"I think a distinguishing factor, after hearing some discussion afterwards, was the stadium project and the effort they had to bring that stadium to completion," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, when asked why Minneapolis was awarded the 2018 Super Bowl. "The plans that they have for it and the commitment that community has demonstrated is a positive influence on several owners."
San Diego, home to arguably America's best weather, has not hosted a Super Bowl since 2003. And the league will not return to San Diego until antiquated Qualcomm Stadium is replaced with a new, state-of-the-art facility to serve as the home for the San Diego Chargers.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue made that point clear speaking at a luncheon prior to the Super Bowl in San Diego over a decade ago.
"I'm surprised that we are here this week," Tagliabue said. "If it weren't for [Chargers owner] Alex [Spanos] impressing upon the committee and upon the membership the importance of coming back here from his perspective, I don't think that San Diego would have been on the top of the list of most owners who were considering Super Bowl sites. So I don't think the outlook is promising. ... I think it's unlikely that there's going to be a Super Bowl in the immediate future in San Diego."
With the recent election of a new mayor in Kevin Faulconer, the team's effort to build a facility appears headed in the right direction. The Chargers and the mayor's office are having regular conversations, with the hopes of a tentative plan for a new stadium emerging by the end of the year.
The team would like to place a measure on the ballot for a county-wide vote by the November 2016 presidential election.
“Discussions with the Chargers are productive but very preliminary and Mayor Faulconer supports a public vote,” said Craig Gustafson, a spokesperson for Mayor Faulconer. “Details related to a stadium site, funding and timing are premature and have not been agreed upon.”
The Chargers propose to build a roughly $1 billion facility that could seat as many as 70,000 for Super Bowls.
According to the proposal put forth by the team, the new stadium would include contributions from the Spanos family and the NFL, along with selling and developing 166 acres of city-owned property that Qualcomm Stadium sits on, and another 100 acres of city-owned property that houses the San Diego Sports Arena site, for the city's contribution.
Selling off the parcels of land could generate the city's financial contribution to the project without raising taxes, along with creating new tax revenue from the development of the land.
The Chargers propose that the facility be city-owned but privately run -- so the city would not be responsible for annual maintenance costs. The team has a development partner, Colony LLC out of Santa Monica, and also has interest in naming rights from a couple of multinational corporations.
"There's still a long way to go," Chargers CEO A.G. Spanos said. "By no means are we any further along. I would just say some of the issues that basically caused it to be a non-starter as an issue have sort of evaporated. Both sides are talking, both sides are working hard and both sides are optimistic."
All options remain on the table, including building at a site downtown next to Petco Park -- home to Major League Baseball's San Diego Padres -- or at the Qualcomm site.
With plans for an approved, expanded convention center being challenged in court, building a multi-use facility that could attract major events remains a possibility for the team.
"What we're talking about is trying to create a multi-use facility -- something that can be used not just for 10 football games a year but can be part of the convention center and can host big, national conventions, Final Fours and Super Bowls, obviously," Spanos said.
"So it sets up as a great venue to host those big-time type of events, especially in San Diego. We've got a great city. The airport is very close. Add in our great weather and you've got a very enticing bid."
Mark Fabiani, special counsel to Chargers president Dean Spanos and the team's point person on the stadium issue, said building a facility that can attract Super Bowls is a priority.
"It's absolutely important," Fabiani said. "No. 1, even though for our needs, the stadium only should seat around 64,000, we understand that the stadium needs to be able to be expanded for Super Bowls. It's a huge selling point to the city, to be able to say you can have a Super Bowl if you build a new stadium. It's vitally important."
Jim Steeg, a former NFL director of special events, was heavily involved in San Diego securing all three Super Bowls over a 15-year period. He said San Diego lost its ability to attract major events like the Super Bowl when civic-minded leaders and power brokers such as former newspaperman Herb Klein, businessmen Bob Payne and Leon Parma, and former mayor Susan Golding faded into the background.
Steeg also pointed to the lack of stability at City Hall, with seven mayors in the last 10 years, as a reason San Diego could not generate enough momentum to build a stadium and therefore attract another Super Bowl.
San Diego had become part of a rotation of warm-weather cities regularly competing for Super Bowls that included Miami, New Orleans and Arizona. But with the success of MetLife Stadium hosting this year's Super Bowl, other cold-weather cities are interested in competing for the big game.
"The idea of a rotation or anything like that is probably long gone," Steeg said.
San Diego city council president Todd Gloria points to his city's efforts to win a bid to host the 2021 U.S. Open golf tournament at Torrey Pines as evidence it can still compete on a national stage.
"We took some extraordinary steps to secure the U.S. Open for San Diego," Gloria said. "It's good in itself for what it will do for our economy, and the national exposure. So the city council gets that it's bigger than some bleachers and a field.
"Also, it shows that professional sports want to be here. We do have a destination and a venue that people want to participate in, and that we can compete successfully against other cities, and win."
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