SAN DIEGO — A year ago, with the San Diego Chargers not interested in a proposal for a new stadium in Mission Valley, the NFL sought a stadium project the team could enthusiastically support.
On Saturday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell traveled to San Diego at the invitation of Chargers chairman Dean Spanos to attend a rally of about 4,000 fans. Goodell was there to support the start of a signature-gathering effort for a citizens’ initiative effort to build a $1.8 billion stadium and convention center expansion downtown, next to the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park.
After his flirtation with Carson, California, last year, Spanos finally has a stadium plan in San Diego he is enthusiastic about.
“I’m confident that if they can get a stadium built here, the owners will want to support it with a Super Bowl,” Goodell said. “I think that’s what this community deserves, and we’re all going to work to try and find a solution.”
San Diego last hosted a Super Bowl in 2003. The NFL said then that the Super Bowl would not return unless the Chargers replaced dilapidated Qualcomm Stadium.
If the project makes it to the ballot box in November and is approved, Goodell said he believes NFL owners will bring back the Super Bowl to San Diego.
The Chargers have to qualify the measure for the ballot, which requires 66,447 valid signatures certified by the office of the registrar by mid-June, and present it to the San Diego city clerk’s office before ultimately having it approved by the city council.
The city council can either vote to adopt the initiative or place the measure on the ballot. If placed on the ballot, city voters will get an opportunity to vote on the measure during the Nov. 8 presidential election.
The team’s goal is to collect 100,000 signatures over a six-week period, creating a buffer in order to have enough signatures certified.
Goodell also echoed a comment he made at the NFL owners meetings in March: The Chargers belong in San Diego.
“I said that, and I mean it,” Goodell said. “I think the Chargers belong in San Diego. I think this is a great community, a great fan base. Everyone has acknowledged that we need a new stadium.
“The great thing I love about this proposal is it’s more than a stadium. You’re addressing not only the stadium, but you’re addressing needs with the convention facility. And the NFL needs to support this community and the effort. We don’t make the decisions. This is for the community to make, but we certainly want to be part of that solution.”
Along with Goodell, former Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson and the current team’s best player, Philip Rivers, addressed the rowdy audience.
Spanos made the rounds, shaking hands, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans — a stark contrast from last season, when he spent most game days in his owner’s box avoiding contact from fans angry with the team’s decision to pursue a new stadium in partnership with the Oakland Raiders in Carson.
“We’re committed to follow this thing through,” Spanos said. “I’m optimistic and obviously overwhelmed today. I’m encouraged, but we still have a long ways to go.”
San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer was conspicuously absent, along with city attorney Jan Goldsmith and members of the San Diego city council. Faulconer has said he’s still in the information-gathering stage, sending the team a detailed letter with specific questions he wanted answered about the proposal.
“I have every confidence that this will be on the ballot in November,” Faulconer told Xtra 1360 Fox Sports Radio this week. “I think the team is going to get the signatures that it needs. So we’ve got to make sure that here in the interim time we’re doing our job, and that’s something that I’m not only spending a significant amount of time on, but making sure we’re asking the right questions.”
If the measure gets on the ballot, Faulconer said the project is the largest proposed bond offering in the city’s history.
Goodell said he remains in contact with Faulconer and understands the mayor is taking his time to understand the proposal.
“The mayor wants to get all of the facts,” Goodell said. “He wants to try and understand it. I would encourage him to come and be part of helping us find the answers and to structure this in a way that’s really right for the community. Be part of the solution, and help us work together to get to the right place.”
Rivers said he wished he could play today and was impressed with the turnout of fans, saying it exceeded expectations.
“It just makes sense, right?” Rivers said about the new stadium. “Let’s get it done. I hope I’m still around to play in it.”