Dean Spanos, Chairman of the San Diego Chargers, announced this morning that his team is relocating to Los Angeles and will begin the 2017 NFL season as the Los Angeles Chargers.
For those of us in Los Angeles, the move just feels like a bad fit.
Although the Chargers spent their first season in Los Angeles, the City of Angels has never adopted the team. Not even when the Rams and Raiders left town and the Chargers potentially had the market all to themselves.
That twenty-year NFL void in LA gave the Chargers a few extra fans from deep in the Orange Curtain, but other than that, the city remained overwhelmingly a Raiders and Rams town.
Spanos issued the following statement defending the move (his full statement can be found at www.FightforLA.com):
“San Diego has been our home for 56 years. It will always be part of our identity and, my family and I have nothing but gratitude and appreciation for the support and passion our fans have shared with us over the years. But, today we turn the page and begin an exciting new era as the Los Angeles Chargers. L.A. is a remarkable place, and while we played our first season there in 1960 and have had fans there ever since, our entire organization knows that we have a tremendous amount of work to do. We must earn the respect and support of LA football fans. We must get back to winning. And we must make a meaningful contribution, not just on the field, but off the field as a leader and champion for the community.”
“The Chargers are determined to fight for LA and we are excited to get started.”
With the move comes several flawed assumptions, which even if ultimately true, might take years to come to fruition.
First, the notion that San Diegans will travel three hours up to Los Angeles to see the Chargers might be far-fetched, considering the Art Modell-like exodus by Spanos. If anything, the move may leave such a bad taste in the mouths of San Diego fans that the ties might be permanently cut.
Second, the notion that local LA fans, including the massive Raider Nation following here, will suddenly gravitate to a division rival, also seems ludicrous.
Third, the notion that LA is just a city of transplants that will take any NFL team just to have the product in town, is also erroneous. Sure, people are flooding into Los Angeles from all over the country, but they nevertheless remain a numerical minority compared to the millions born and raised here.
So why make the move? Why rip the heart out of a city that supported this mediocre, small-market franchise for years? The answer: greed.
Despite having to pay hefty relocation fees, Spanos will pay only one dollar per year to lease the Rams sparkling new stadium in Inglewood. Moreover, the move to a bigger market instantly increases the net worth of the franchise, if ownership ever decided to sell the team. To the number crunchers, the cost-benefit analysis makes rational sense.
Maybe they might change their minds when the empty seats start to accumulate. Or when the visiting team's fans outnumber those rooting on the Bolts.
One gets the feeling that something could have been worked out in San Diego if the team truly wanted to make it happen.
The NFL would have given the Chargers $300 million towards a new San Diego stadium, and the Spanos family had enough money to fund the remainder on their own, but the franchise insisted on getting public dollars. How diligently the team pursued local corporate support is questionable as well.
Certainly local San Diego officials deserve some blame for failing to find a solution, as the government's leadership seemed ineffective, at best. Stadium location -- downtown versus the current site -- also was another unresolved issue.
But the reality is that San Diego fans have adored this team for nearly 60 years over multiple generations.
From the glory days of Jefferson, Joiner, Fouts, Muncie, Winslow, and Chandler, to the more recent excitement of LT, Rivers, and Gates, Charger fans have more or less stuck with this team through thick and thin.
And make no mistake, there has been plenty of thin.
With zero Super Bowl titles, bad coaching hires, and general mediocrity, the fans could have abandoned the Chargers years ago, but remained loyal instead. Players, such as Junior Seau, enjoyed a special connection with the fanbase not often found in larger markets. Turn on the local San Diego AM sports talk radio station during the middle of the NBA Finals, and the discussion would only be about the Bolts upcoming season (with a little Padres news thrown in for good measure).
Good luck trying to get such exclusive attention now in Los Angeles, as the Chargers will be second fiddle to the Lakers, Dodgers, UCLA, USC, and Rams, while also dealing with the Clippers, Kings, Ducks, Galaxy, and Angels.
The Chargers will contend that their proposed stadium was rejected by San Diego voters in November, and thus, fan support was lacking. But how well put together was that hastily constructed proposal? Moreover, in 15 years, why was that the only proposal presented to the voters. Undoubtedly, one rejection cannot reveal the true intent of the local fans. The attempt to make such a claim feels like propaganda.
The NFL made the right call last year in picking the Rams relocation proposal over the joint Raiders-Chargers stadium in Carson. The Rams had longer ties with the city, wealthier ownership, and a jewel of a stadium in the works right next to the Forum. The Chargers-Raiders stadium was to be built atop a former dump.
But the decision to prioritize the Chargers over the Raiders, and giving Spanos the first option of moving to LA, was a mistake.
The Spanos family may have been more financially stable than the Raiders' Mark Davis, who inherited his team, but the Raiders had almost no chance of a getting a stadium in Oakland. In addition, the Raiders' tremendous LA following was arguably even larger than the Rams. As such, the "Los Angeles Raiders" was a natural fit with a proven history of success in this town.
Now the NFL must deal with the likely backlash of another city losing its team, as the Raiders' plans to move to Las Vegas are already well under way.
To cover themselves, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell today issued a self-serving statement supporting the Chargers decision, and validating the NFL's choice to give the Bolts the first crack at the Los Angeles market over the Raiders:
"For more than a decade, the San Diego Chargers have worked diligently toward finding a local stadium solution, which all sides agreed was required. These efforts took on added intensity in the last two years. A year ago, NFL owners granted the Chargers an option to move to Los Angeles. Rather than immediately exercising that option, the team spent the past year continuing to work on finding a stadium solution in San Diego."
"The Chargers worked tirelessly this past year with local officials and community leaders on a ballot initiative that fell short on election day. That work – and the years of effort that preceded it – reflects our strongly held belief we always should do everything we can to keep a franchise in its community. That’s why we have a deliberate and thoughtful process for making these decisions."
"Relocation is painful for teams and communities. It is especially painful for fans, and the fans in San Diego have given the Chargers strong and loyal support for more than 50 years, which makes it even more disappointing that we could not solve the stadium issue. As difficult as the news is for Charger fans, I know Dean Spanos and his family did everything they could to try to find a viable solution in San Diego."
Meanwhile, the Chargers have wasted no time in trying to gain traction in their new town, as the team launched www.FightforLA.com, a website that allows fans to place a fully refundable $100 deposit on season tickets for the 2017 season. Current Chargers Season Ticket Members will maintain their priority status and are not required to make a deposit.
The Chargers’ temporary home will be StubHub Center, located on the campus of California State University Dominguez Hills in Carson. A smart move because capacity for Chargers games at StubHub Center will be just 30,000 seats, making the stadium feel less empty if fans do not immediately flock to see the team. The StubHub Center will have approximately 3,000 premium and field seats, 46 suites, 16 cabanas, and 10,000 on-site parking spaces.
“The experience for our fans at StubHub Center will be fun and entertaining, and every seat will feel close to the action,” said A.G. Spanos, President - Business Operations for the Chargers. “This is a unique opportunity to see NFL action in such an intimate setting. The new stadium at Hollywood Park will be a tremendous stage, and we can’t wait to play there, but right now it’s about introducing ourselves and getting to know new fans and partners in a special, one-of-a-kind setting.”
The fully-refundable $100 deposit allows fans to reserve up to four seats at StubHub Center, ensures priority status for 2017 Chargers season tickets, and grants priority status for seats at the new Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park, the future home of the Chargers.
The Chargers also revealed a new advertising mark borne out of the team’s lightning bolt logo introduced in the 1960’s. It looks similar to the Dodgers iconic logo.
Of course, hearts and minds can be won quickly if the team produces on the field. Philip Rivers still remains a quality quarterback, but doesn't have a lot of great pieces around him. The Chargers failed to make the playoffs this year after just a 5-11 season.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring L.A. a Super Bowl championship,” said John Spanos, President - Football Operations. “When we say we will fight for L.A., this is the essence of our pledge. “
They better fight. Because in Los Angeles, more so than any other city in America, there are plenty of other options for the average sports fan.