EVT Opinion: San Diego needs to send a clear message to the Big XII

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Credit: EVT Sports

“San Diego is the eighth-largest city in the United States, the second-largest in California; in my opinion, too often (San Diegans) have not acted like it,” Mayor Todd Gloria said in July at SDSU’s Topping Out Ceremony for its new stadium. “San Diego, I believe, should think big, and it should think bold. This project, this stadium project, the eventual expansion of SDSU’s campus, that’s big. That’s bold. It’s exciting. It’s the kind of stuff the eighth-largest city in the country should be doing.”

While Gloria had building projects in mind when he made the remarks, he could just as easily be describing San Diego as a sports city. Too often, America’s Finest City has taken a back seat to smaller, sleepy towns in supporting its athletics.

When the city does unite behind a team, the results have been epic! Who can forget the party in Mission Valley when the Chargers returned home from their victory over Pittsburg during the 1994 NFL season, the deafening sounds of the 1998 World Series run by the Padres, the electricity in the city for the Kawhi Leonard led Aztecs in 2011, the euphoria when the fans stormed the field following SDSU’s last-minute defeat of Stanford in 2017 or the jubilation last year when the Padres defeated St Louis in the playoffs?

When the Spanos family moved the Chargers away, the city’s prestige as a player in major sports took a serious hit.

Today, as college football’s landscape is quickly changing, the city of San Diego’s reputation is once again on the line.  It is time for San Diego to act like the eighth-largest city in the United States. It is time to embrace the Aztecs.

With Oklahoma and Texas leaving the Big XII, the conference is looking to expand. The question the presidents of the eight remaining schools must answer is, “What institutions can they add that will keep the Big XII attractive enough to television partners to secure the conference as one of the five Power conferences beyond 2025?” To this end, they are not looking at present TV and revenue numbers as much as they are potential for growth. Early indications are they are looking west.

A move into the Mountain and West time zones makes sense for the conference for several reasons.

Even with Texas and Oklahoma, the Big XII was the fourth favorite conference behind the ACC, Big 10, and SEC in the Eastern Times Zones. Would adding schools from the East, like UCF or Cincinnati, mitigate the loss of the conference’s premier teams enough to keep their place in college football’s power structure?

Instead, the conference should look to strengthen its place in the central time zone while making inroads for viewership in a place where it only has to compete with one other Power Five conference. Pac 12 commissioner George Kliavkoff in a recent interview, said, “We believe the move by Texas and Oklahoma from the Big 12 to the SEC strengthens our unique position as the only Power Five conference with teams in the Mountain and Pacific time zones.” With the Pac-12 deciding not to expand, it opens itself to competition. Attacking the Pac-12’s monopoly on viewers and content in western times zones is the Big XII’s smartest move.

East or West, of all the expansion candidates, San Diego State easily has the most potential for growth of the Big XII brand. According to Nielson Rankings, San Diego is the 27th largest media market, which, coupled with the size of the city, suggests untapped potential. Could the reputation of the Big XII and its existing members inspire a wave of support from San Diegans?

Credit: EVT Sports

Helping to develop that swell is the new Aztec Stadium on schedule to open in 2022. It is difficult to find a proper comparison for what the impact of SDSU’s new home will mean for the athletic department. Since they are in the same conference, most compare it to Colorado State’s Canvas Stadium, which before Covid made more revenue than projected despite the Rams having little success on the field.  Fort Collins, a city with 103,000 fewer people than Chula Vista, however, is hardly a fair comparison.

Instead, the best place to look when trying to see how much the new stadium will invigorate the university is to look a few miles across town. Petco Park has changed the Padres from a small market club to a big city franchise. The spending on contracts for Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr are clear indications that San Diego sports teams can exist in the upper echelon of the business.

Attending a Padres’ game is an event that is about more than baseball. With its huge concourses and tremendous sightlines from anywhere in the venue, it is a gathering point for the community. Petco Park has set the standard for the industry, but more importantly, it has given valuable data into designing the game day experience that San Diegans demand.

The imprint of Petco Park is everywhere at SDSU Mission Valley. Early in the design process, the university hired the architect group, Populous, the same firm that designed Petco Park. They entrusted Clark Construction, which built Petco Park, to construct their new home. Having stood in the new Aztec stadium, it is clear the lessons learned about fan experience from the Padres was implemented into the design of the new facility.

With all due respect to the other franchises in the city, San Diego State – not the Sockers, the Gulls, the Loyal, 1904 FC, or anyone else – is the clear number two team in San Diego. The voters awarding the Mission Valley Site is proof enough of its standing.

Yet, one common refrain from San Diego sports fans, who are reluctant to give their full support to the Aztec, remains the teams SDSU plays. If Wyoming and Nevada do not move your sports needle, the time is right to do something about it.

Credit: EVT Sports

In addition to the clear sign of support the new stadium is to presidents of the Big XII, San Diegans, or alumni in Orange County can unite behind SDSU’s football team this season and attend games at Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. Continuing to be upset that they are playing 115 miles north of their campus is pointless and only divides the fan base at this critical time. The decision was made, the schedule set, and an opportunity has presented itself. What better message could be sent to the Big XII about the potential following their conference could inspire than strong attendance numbers at a stadium in another county?

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“The people vote with their feet” is a common axiom. The time to vote is now. Tune in to 97.3, 1090 and 1360’s coverage of the Aztecs, subscribe to the Union-Tribune, click on all the media produced by local television, watch their games on CBS or Fox, donate to the Aztec Club, but most importantly, drive up to see this exciting team play in person.

The reputation of San Diego as a sports town is at stake.

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