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Las Vegas’ NFL hopes could hinge on San Diego Chargers’ stadium drive

On a sunny Saturday in San Diego, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was surrounded by local celebrities at a rally designed to kick off a public campaign for a proposed $1.8 billion downtown stadium for the Chargers. A powder blue sky blanketed the crowd, and the forecast called for a lightning bolt of optimism.

Four months ago, the Chargers appeared headed for Los Angeles. The Raiders, desperate to escape Oakland, were eyeing the same dream and had not yet surfaced as a blip on the Las Vegas radar screen.

Now, with the Rams’ relocation from St. Louis to Los Angeles a done deal, the owners of neither the Chargers nor the Raiders seem enthused about being the second option in a new city. But the rival franchises’ futures are loosely tied.

Stadium developments in San Diego could prove to be a significant factor in how the scene develops for the Raiders.

“It’s a hard thing to get done,” said Mark Fabiani, who has served as the Chargers’ special counsel for the past 14 years, time mostly spent working to find a permanent home for the team.

Fabiani, a Harvard Law School graduate, has tackled all kinds of tough issues. He was special counsel to former U.S. President Bill Clinton, and the deputy mayor of Los Angeles. He has expertise in political strategies and media relations. But he has not been able to pull enough strings to get a state-of-the-art football stadium built in San Diego.

“The first stadium proposal was in 2005,” Fabiani said, “and we’ve made nine different proposals since.”

Maybe the 10th time will be the charm. An estimated 4,000 supporters showed up for Saturday’s rally, which featured Goodell, Chargers chairman Dean Spanos, quarterback Philip Rivers and retired running back LaDainian Tomlinson as speakers. The commissioner said he wants to “play a constructive role” and “find a solution” for San Diego.

Goodell will not be attending any potential stadium rallies on the Strip, even if he recognizes Las Vegas as a valuable piece in a high-level chess match.

Kevin Faulconer eventually will make a statement that in an indirect way could say a lot about Las Vegas’ fate.

A tale of four cities

On Jan. 12, Rams owner Stan Kroenke won a long battle to relocate to Los Angeles. The Chargers would be relegated to tenant status in Kroenke’s castle — a privately financed $2.7 billion stadium in Inglewood, California — if Spanos wanted to follow. Raiders owner Mark Davis was the odd man out. The Chargers were given a one-year option to join the Rams. If the Chargers decline, the Raiders would be next in line.

And so Las Vegas has moved into the picture. Spurned by other NFL owners, Davis is seeking his own solution.

He will appear at a Southern Nevada Tourism Infrastructure Committee meeting today at the Stan Fulton Building, on the southeast corner of Flamingo Road and Swenson Street, where a plan to build a 65,000-seat stadium on Tropicana Avenue near the Strip will be discussed. The proposed cost of $1.3 billion, according to Las Vegas Sands Corp., would be funded through a public-private partnership.

Reports are that Davis will pledge an allegiance to relocating to Las Vegas if a stadium plan passes. But the Raiders’ move would require 24 of 32 owners voting in favor of it, and it’s a mystery if that would materialize.

In a perfect-world scenario for the NFL, the Chargers get a new stadium, the second spot in Los Angeles remains vacant as a symbol of stadium leverage for other franchises, and the Raiders eventually figure out a solution in Oakland by using Las Vegas as bargaining leverage.

“If the Chargers get a stadium, that would open up Los Angeles for the Raiders,” said Vincent Bonsignore, a Los Angeles Daily News columnist who has covered the city’s 20-year hunt to bag an NFL franchise again. “But if all the dominoes fall for Las Vegas, I think the Raiders would jump on that and there would be no waiting game. I think Las Vegas would be their first choice.”

Bonsignore said well-placed league sources have indicated Kroenke, Spanos, Dallas owner Jerry Jones and Houston owner Bob McNair would be likely to vote in favor of the Raiders’ relocation to Las Vegas and sway other owners as well. Kroenke prefers to own the Los Angeles market, and Spanos wants it to remain an option for the Chargers. Jones and McNair prefer to keep the Raiders away from San Antonio.

“I do think it could get approved in Las Vegas,” Bonsignore said. “I believe they will have some powerful people get behind it. Keeping that second spot open in L.A. is pretty important. When you start playing connect-the-dots, it makes sense for some people other than Mark Davis.”

Regarding the Raiders’ exploration of Las Vegas as a relocation destination, the NFL issued a memo Jan. 30 to all 32 teams that read in part, “There is no prohibition under league rules on a team moving to any particular city.”

Reading between the lines, the memo was not a vote of approval for Las Vegas, but it was a mandate to keep all options open in the best interests of stadium negotiations.

Eric Grubman, the NFL’s executive vice president of business operations, declined to comment on the relationship between Las Vegas and the Raiders.

Stay classy, San Diego

The Chargers’ next big drive is not being quarterbacked by Rivers. At Saturday’s rally, the team launched a signature-gathering drive needed to get a citizens initiative on the November ballot. The plan is for the Chargers and NFL to contribute $650 million toward the $1 billion stadium project, and the initiative asks voters in the city to approve a 4 percent increase in hotel taxes to cover the remaining $350 million for the stadium and $800 million for downtown land acquisition and a related convention center project.

Fabiani said the Chargers are receiving “strong support” for the signature drive and stadium proposal. However, Faulconer, San Diego’s mayor, is not yet one of the supporters.

Once the initiative is on the November ballot — which appears to be a given — the real drama begins. San Diego Union-Tribune columnist Nick Canepa said it’s undetermined whether the initiative needs 66.7 percent of the vote or a simple majority (50 percent plus one) to pass. An appellate court, Canepa said, has ruled that a simple majority works in similar matters, but there is no ruling on this specific initiative.

“It totally depends on whether it requires a 50 percent-plus-one vote or 66 percent of the vote,” Canepa said. “That’s the key to the whole thing. There is absolutely no chance it gets 66 percent of the vote. We could put it on the ballot and say, ‘If this clears, the second coming of Christ will be in San Diego,’ and 66 percent wouldn’t vote for it.

“The Chargers need the mayor behind this thing. The mayor still has not given his blessing, and I don’t know if it’s going to get done without the mayor’s blessing. Sooner or later, he’s going to have to come out and say yes or no.”

Canepa said he considers it a “no-brainer” that the mayor and San Diego voters should get behind the hotel-tax plan.

“But trying to educate people on this kind of stuff is just about impossible,” Canepa said. “If you live in San Diego and you don’t stay in a hotel, you don’t pay a dime. Some people don’t want to listen. There’s no way of knowing how things will go in the coming months.”

If the stadium plan dies, Canepa said, “It still remains to be seen if the Chargers will move to L.A. anyway. I still have great doubts about that. The Chargers will be also-rans up there.”

Still, there might be another twist to a developing story.

After saying, “I think Dean Spanos would go to Los Angeles,” if the stadium referendum is soundly defeated, Bonsignore added, “Someone in the league told me Spanos really likes Las Vegas, too. But the Chargers shot that down.”

The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Las Vegas Sands Chairman and CEO Sheldon Adelson. Mark Fabiani has worked on behalf of the Adelson family.

Contact reporter Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. Follow on Twitter: @mattyoumans247

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