Technically speaking, the San Diego Chargers are moving back to their roots. The problem though is that those roots were 57 years ago and only occurred for one poultry NFL campaign in 1960.
President and CEO Dean Spanos discarded 56 years of history, passion and dedicated support for a region that held the Chargers dear, even if the crowd numbers and pizzazz that surrounded other clubs was smaller in comparison. His father and owner Alex Spanos long fought for the Chargers to remain San Diego’s team, but ultimately gave way.
The newly named Los Angeles Chargers join suit with the Los Angeles Rams, picking up their ball and running it to the bright lights of Hollywood where the market is more dense and open to corporate dollars and tourist eyeballs.
This is a sad indictment on a sport with so many assets, yet it allows the owners to exchange the entire location and identity of a franchise on a whim. At some stage, the NFL will turn off enough people that see through the shallow rush to squeeze the product and go elsewhere.
But that is another discussion for another day.
Dan McSwain from the San Diego Tribune gave a dispassionate analysis of the situation to argue that the shift was always on the cards and if anything, the plug should have been pulled from the long suffering San Diego region for some time.
“As I wrote in January 2015,” outlined McSwain, “the better question was why the Chargers weren’t in L.A. already?” Going on to explain that there is a pullback at the top level to use taxpayer dollars for stadium upgrades, there was only going to be one outcome and it lied in with the billionaires.
“The most likely answer was that the NFL, a legal monopoly, conspired to keep Los Angeles teamless. Now the focus has shifted to the public’s willingness to directly subsidise private industry, particularly in San Diego… (then) small-market owners, as they negotiated with local politicians, counted on the caution and thrift of the Spanos family to keep their Chargers locked in place.”
As soon as Stan Kroenke developed his Inglewood stadium worth a reported $1.9b, the writing was on the wall for the Rams to share the ground with another franchise to help alleviate costs. If it wasn’t going to be the Raiders, Titans or Jaguars, then the Chargers were the next obvious choice.
The events that led to the decision though was political rambling at it’s absolute worst. With Mayor Kevin Faulconer deliberating back on forth on a motion titled Measure C, the Chargers would have included VIP functions to keep the ground’s revenue flowing in outside of match days.
But the hoteliers thought it best to upgrade their private facilities and leave the Chargers to their own devices, believing that the tourists will flock in their thousands just to see the best hotels in San Diego.
McSwain concluded his piece by lambasting this fiasco, illustrating how self interest infected the entire process. “With the Chargers really, actually gone, hoteliers may live to regret their opposition to Measure C,” said the journalist. “It may be that having sunny San Diego splashed on national television’s most-watched sport every autumn weekend is more valuable than the $30m or so in tourism marketing dollars the industry spends now.”
The issue at the heart of the matter, like it is with the Oakland Raiders, is the venue. The Qualcomm Stadium has been long seen as something of an eyesore and often ridiculed for having terrific away support and a maligned home crowd. This was notable when the Denver Broncos visited this campaign in 2016, seeing the grandstands packed with waves of orange rather than the white and yellow.
Although Natalie Kitroeff and Daniel Miller from the Los Angeles Times point out the issue came down to dollars and cents, a problem that goes far beyond the Chargers. “Football stadiums aren’t spurring local economies,” start the reporters, “a growing body of new research shows, because they’re used infrequently and don’t offer consistent, year-round employment.”
Throw in some added vanity to the mix and the trend is heading one direction. “The facilities are also becoming more expensive, especially over the past two decades as owners have pushed for renovations, contending that their stadiums need luxury boxes and other niceties to stay competitive.”
After the members and diehards of Charger Nation doused their jerseys in a sacrificial burning for the cameras, quarterback Philip Rivers admitted he felt let down by the move. Speaking with local radio KLSD-AM, it was hard for Rivers to walk away from a region that had supported him and his team for so long.
“I’m a little bit numb about it all. It hasn’t really settled in,” said an emotional QB. “I want it to be clear that my love for San Diego, the time here, the memories we had, the games, the practices, everything about it is special and awesome.”
Yet at the end of the day, the sport is a business and he opened up to the new fans listening in from across California. “But at the same time,” quipped Rivers, “I hope people understand this, I have to get excited, fired up about going up to a new area and representing our team and organisation and going and trying to win as many games as we can win. And be the same guy that I’ve always been. That’s the only way I know.”
Now San Diego joins St. Louis as being NFL wastelands while Los Angeles, a city deemed not suitable for football, has gone from zero teams to two in the space of 12 months.