Now that the Clippers have left San Diego, can a minor-league basketball team from Canada take their place?
Keith Fowler, general manager and assistant coach of the Toronto Tornados, tried to sell that idea to city officials Wednesday and caught many of them by surprise.
"I've never heard of them before," said Chuck Sexton, general manager of the city's convention and performing arts center, who nevertheless spent part of the morning showing Fowler around Golden Hall, a possible site for Tornados home games.
Once he had heard Fowler out, Sexton thought they just might make a deal. "We're certainly looking at it with a 'Let's see if we can do it' attitude," he said. "If it can be worked out, we'd like to have these people--or any other business."
Fowler told the city's Public Facilities and Recreation Committee that his small professional team--10 players, 2 coaches and an 8-member front office staff--is considering relocating from Toronto, where basketball is mostly ignored in favor of ice hockey, to a warmer city where the fans would appreciate the sport.
In addition to San Diego, the Tornados' Continental Basketball Assn. franchise is looking at sites in Jacksonville and Boca Raton, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn., Fowler said.
Fowler said that he was contacting San Diego officials on his own and had not yet consulted Tornados owner and president T.J. Stepien.
"We're looking to relocate to a city where we can draw fans and provide excitement," Fowler said. As a former assistant basketball coach for San Diego State University, Fowler said he likes San Diego, adding that he was sure "we'd like to play downtown. There's parking here, and Golden Hall is a perfect site."
In a letter to Councilman Dick Murphy, Fowler wrote: "I feel that our team would add to the City of San Diego and bring Pro Basketball back to the city."
Professional basketball left San Diego in May, when Clippers owner Donald Sterling closed the books on several years of financial losses at the San Diego Sports Arena and moved his National Basketball Assn. team to Los Angeles.
Fowler acknowledged Wednesday that San Diego's "track record (for basketball) bothers me." But he refused to be discouraged. The Tornados don't need a 12,000-seat auditorium, he noted. Currently, the Tornados draw only 1,200 fans a game, and Fowler predicted that if they were based in San Diego they might attract about 3,000 fans, about the capacity of Golden Hall.
Sexton agreed that the hall was big enough. About 10 years ago, when the San Diego Conquistadors played there, it held 3,300 people once bleachers and a special basketball floor were in place.
But Sexton said he had to study the proposal further to see if it makes economic sense.
For one thing, after the Conquistadors folded, Golden Hall got rid of its basketball flooring. It had never owned basketball goals or an electric scoreboard. And even if the city or the team acquired those items, it isn't clear whether basketball games would mesh with Golden Hall's regular schedule of rock concerts, conventions and the like.
"Just bringing professional basketball to San Diego would not be sufficient if a reasonable financial venture were not possible. The city would certainly want to know it wasn't losing money on the venture," Sexton said. "If I've got the risers set up for a rock concert on Feb. 4th and on the 6th of February a Kiwanis convention is coming in, I can't just reconfigure the hall into a basketball court."