A San Diego Chargers fan holds up a sign in front of Chargers headquarters after the team announced that it will move to Los Angeles. (Denis Poroy / AP)

Natalie Kitroeff and Daniel Miller
January 13, 2017

The Chargers’ dramatic split from the city of San Diego may be a sign that California is officially done spending public money on sports franchises.

California voters have grown more skeptical of pouring billions of dollars into football stadiums, which have been shown to generate less of an economic boom than the National Football League has advertised. That’s upending the traditional relationship between billionaire franchise owners and their hometowns.

“Gone are the days where there is broad public support for taxpayer-funded stadiums. It’s very difficult to find a rate of return in that investment,” said Kristin Gaspar, who was elected as a county supervisor in San Diego in November.

After haggling with the city of San Diego for years to secure tax money to build a new stadium, and getting snubbed by voters, the Chargers announced Thursday that the team would move to Los Angeles. The team will share a privately funded new stadium in Inglewood with the Rams when it opens in 2019.

Football stadiums aren’t spurring local economies, a growing body of new research shows, because they’re used infrequently and don’t offer consistent, year-round employment. The facilities are also becoming more expensive, especially over the past two decades as owners have pushed for renovations, contending that their stadiums need luxury boxes and other niceties to stay competitive.

“Stadiums that used to cost $300 or $400 million, now it’s $1.2 or $1.3 billion,” said Marc Ganis, president and founder of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp. “They cost more and have a shorter life cycle.”

The Chargers budgeted $1.8 billion for a new stadium and convention center annex in San Diego, and sponsored a measure asking for $1.15 billion in taxpayer funding, via a hotel tax. Voters who went to the polls in November overwhelmingly rejected that measure, 57% to 43%.

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