One of the biggest dilemmas hovering over the people who cover the Chargers is writing about the offseason and future seasons of the Chargers in San Diego. Additionally, they must also cover the black cloud over the team and the new stadium talks. How do you separate the two? How do you give readers and listeners all the information they need to know about the team, but keep them updated as to what they may not want to know about the progress, or lack thereof, in dealing with the stadium issue?
A media forum was put together May 27 by the San Diego chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The moderator was Matt Hall, public engagement director of The San Diego Union-Tribune. The panel consisted of Bernie Wilson, who has covered the team for many years with the AP, Marty Caswell, producer of the Darren Smith Show on 1090am, Kevin Acee, former beat writer for the team for over eight years and now a columnist with The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Scott Lewis, editor in chief of the publication Voice of San Diego.
Many topics were covered that I’ll relay to you here. One was how the Chargers deal with the media. The NFL, in general, is like no other sport in how they really try to control what the media is allowed access to and when. The Chargers are by far one of the most controlling, which has been known for sometime now. Acee mentioned how the Chargers don’t like the press except when they need it. Bernie, who has a rule of not using any “off-the-record” stories, has basically been blackballed by Mark Fabiani in the front office. He concluded, his relationship with the team is “no relationship”. Which is sad, because Bernie is one helluva great reporter. Caswell mentioned that the one person they want to talk to is Dean Spanos. He has been off limits. She added that if the Chargers don’t like the coverage they are receiving from a certain reporter, they threaten them with press access and moving their seats in the press box to control the message that gets out there.
As for the stadium, it was interesting to learn that the reporters actually share with the fans one common theme when dealing with the stadium issue, fatigue. They are just as tired of hearing about it, reporting it and thinking about it as the common fans are at this point. But they have a job to do, and this could be the biggest sports story in the history of San Diego.
Caswell brought up that it’s actually difficult to cover this because you don’t know who to believe. “CSAG and the Chargers are both pushing their own agendas her,” Caswell said. “How do we advance the story? What is really news and what’s not?”
Scott Lewis actually likes the story for many reasons. He covers a little more of the political coverage of this situation and that is really all it is now a political game. Lewis mentioned an interesting aspect that fans are learning more about politics in their city than they may not have otherwise. “You have a public vote to discuss, public land use, and other civic-minded issues that largely probably would not be discussed among many football fans that are not into the city’s everyday political issues.” This is where Scott Lewis is a wonderful tool for fans to learn about such issues as they relate to the stadium. He is sometimes thought of as too negative, but he tells us the truth. In a way we are learning how the political games and issues are probably the biggest factors in play with this whole stadium situation.
“It’s hard to think how they can come together on a feasible plan just four months before the Chargers can file the relocation papers in January of 2016,” Caswell said. “The last thing the Chargers want is to be the third team in Los Angeles.” Bernie chimed in by saying, “The NFL puts on a show. It’s all about the money. We have to decide if we’re (San Diego) in the bidding for the show. Can San Diego even afford an NFL team anymore? We can’t even afford to fix the potholes in the street.”
How do you cover this so as not to be seen as negative by some fans, but still stay credible with others? Kevin Acee has spent a career telling fans the rah-rah stories, as well as the hard truths about the team. Some think he is way too negative in his reporting. “I’ve gotten a lot of gruff by the fans for not being a fan,”Acee stated.
Scott Lewis touched on this topic by stating, “There are a lot of people who want to hear it’s all going to be okay.” He mocked the mantra of some groups carrying the just-get-it-done attitude like the Save Our Bolts fan campaign. “There are only a few things you can tell the fans that they want to hear,” he said. He claims he is not being a jerk and people should look at his reporting as a “warning alarm”. Marty said that people are most accessible when it best suits their purpose. Bernie Wilson again touched on Mark Fabiani by claiming, “All of my emails are answered back as couldn’t get the info or it wasn’t available.” Scott Lewis seemed to sum it up by saying, “The Chargers are being honest about what they want. Fans should push back against the NFL and its demands. The Mayor and his team are doing the best to protect the Mayor. Fans should want straight talk. It’s our responsibility to explain how rare it is that companies can demand so much of a city and get it.”
Finding a source for this story is very easy. So much is being pushed by the city and the Chargers that if you want a story or information it’s normally being handed to you if it fits that person’s personal agenda. How is it that a National media outlet like the Associated Press can’t talk to Fabiani, but BoltBlitz.com, this very blog you’re reading right now, has interviewed him twice and been given documents in the last six months? Is the media being slowly being pushed out of the NFL for a different kind of coverage?
NFL team’s websites are not reporting at all. They are writing puff pieces designed to get fans excited to buy tickets and merchandise for their teams. That is not news. That is propaganda. What separates actual reporting from these other outlets are things teams don’t want out there. So how does one reporter trust a source as credible? Many times it’s a player in the locker room that wants a story to get out. “It’s a chore to find someone who says something that comes to fruition again and again over time,” Acee said.
So, what about the topic of the meeting? Do the Chargers and Dean Spanos really want to stay in San Diego? The answers are not what we want to hear, but these people are the ones that deal with this topic and the necessary role players daily. Their responses should give everyone concern as to what is really going on.
“Every shred of evidence says there are leaving, but I’m not at that point yet,” Acee said. “I’m not being negative, I’m telling the truth about what is really going on.” Scott Lewis added his opinion. “I think they want to go to LA. I think they are gone, but may fail in their bid to do so.” He came to this conclusion by their real estate demands, restrictions they have set forth and the back channels everyone is receiving. Bernie Wilson added, “I think they are gone. The NFL is just about making money now”. Marty Caswell may have put it best on the night and the frustrating situation as a whole. “Yes, and I don’t know. It depends on the day,” she said.
In the end, no one knows anything. The Chargers are unwilling to talk to anyone and the city, although doing a much better and more efficient job of communicating with the people of San Diego, has their agenda, too. One person knows for sure, though. Let it be clear right here and right now, one person knows. But besides of speaking to other owners in the NFL, he hasn’t been heard from. Dean Spanos, where are you? You sent mailings out to the fans to buy season tickets. You’re selling your merchandise in all the stores and via online. Your eyes are on Los Angeles, but when will your mouth turn to all the loyal fans that have supported your team for all these years? Where are ya, Deano? Scott Lewis said, “Maybe the Mayor of St. Louis, Oakland and San Diego should stop treating their communities like a cartel, and say you’re treating my constituents like garbage.” Not just them but the fans as well. But then again, let’s face the cold hard truth. Maybe, just maybe, San Diego and the fans don’t fit the Chargers’ agenda anymore.