Chargers miss mark with move north
Team reportedly reconsidering decision to relocate to Los Angeles
When the San Diego Chargers first announced that the franchise would relocate to Los Angeles for the 2017 season, the decision did not take long to generate intense backlash and criticism around the league.
For local fans, the move represented a betrayal, as 56 years of loyalty to America’s Finest City were thrown aside for what seemed to be little more than a higher dollar value attached to the franchise. Years of frustration with the organization’s lack of success on the field and inability to find a stadium solution for their aging home in Mission Valley bubbled to the surface without warning.
For the rest of the country, the decision was largely denounced, as marketing blunders plagued the franchise from the arrival of the first moving van at the StubHub Center, the team’s temporary home until a new stadium is constructed in Inglewood.
There was the Opening Day program that incorrectly described the role of Chargers vice chairman Michael A. Spanos. “Michael joins his brother — Chairman of the Board Dean Spanos – in steering the direction of the organization, including the ongoing effort to bring a new stadium to the San Diego region,” the program stated.
There was the local fan who grabbed national attention by paying for billboards in the Los Angeles area that criticized the move. The fan, who operates under the moniker SD Sign Guy, flew planes over each of the Chargers’ games in Los Angeles as well, carrying banners with messages such as “Free the Chargers. Bring them back to SD. #SpanosSucks.”
There was the play on the field as well, a continuation of single-score defeats and heartbreaking late-game collapses that became the laughable theme of the team’s final campaign in San Diego. The Chargers have lost all three of their regular-season games since the move, falling to the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins on missed field goals before struggling through a turnover-riddled defeat to the divisional rival Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
It’s not just that the team has been bad since moving. It’s that no one has watched them be bad.
The Chargers’ Los Angeles debut on Sept. 17 drew just 25,381 fans, many of whom were clad in jerseys of the opposing Dolphins. The attendance provided an embarrassing optic, especially since the StubHub Center, a converted soccer stadium that also houses Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy, has a capacity of just 27,000 fans.
Their game Sunday against the Chiefs produced similar ticket sales, drawing 25,386 fans in what the team announced as a puzzling sell-out that was once again dominated by supporters of the away team.
A source close to the Chargers, who wanted to remain anonymous because of their role within the organization, provided a glimpse of the team’s concerns over attendance problems.
“They block some of the seats with big banners and signs…to make it look full,” the source said. “The thing is that they’re afraid the space will look too empty without them.“
Senior Justin Braun further confirmed the pessimism felt by the organization and football fans in southern California.
“I think it’s been a complete disaster,” Braun said. “Now that I’m no longer rooting for them, I enjoy watching the franchise find new ways to embarrass themselves every week.”
Fellow senior Nick Roberti, a Los Angeles native, agreed with Braun’s assessment.
“I think L.A. is a saturated market with so many other outlets for entertainment,” Roberti said. “It makes it hard for a team that isn’t that great to have good attendance. I think the biggest thing is that I still call them the San Diego Chargers.”
Local disgust with the franchise has extended to viewing of the team’s games on television as well. Many locals, including Braun, have refused to tune in since the Chargers’ departure.
“Even though it’d be minuscule, I don’t want to contribute to the profit sharing Dean [Spanos] gets from television viewership,” Braun said. “And it’s hard to watch Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates play for a team that’s not the San Diego Chargers.”
Rivers and Gates have both spent their entire careers with the Chargers and had established themselves as fan favorites with local supporters prior to the move.
Early returns on the move to Hollywood have been so poor, in fact, that some in the league are reportedly considering methods of getting the Chargers back to America’s Finest City.
Longtime NFL reporter Don Banks appeared last week on The Mighty 1090, a San Diego sports radio station, to talk about the difficulties the franchise is facing.
“There are people in this league — including the commissioner — they did not want to see San Diego forsaken,” Banks said. “If there’s anything viable that they could find to put the league back in San Diego, I think they will be in that camp strongly.”
While such an announcement might tempt fans in San Diego to allow for some added optimism about the organization’s future, many are hesitant to re-tie themselves to the franchise so suddenly.
“Yeah, obviously a small piece of me would love for it to be true,” Braun said. “But I doubt it ever happens unless there’s a forced sale and new ownership brings them back.”
Senior Bryce Henry seconded Braun’s comments.
“If the Chargers want to come back to San Diego, they are more than welcome to,” Henry said. “But the Spanos family is not welcome.”
Football fans in L.A., meanwhile, seem largely disinterested in whether the team stayed for the long term or not.
“I think if they can out the Spanos family, the city would welcome them back,” Roberti said. “They are San Diego’s team. I really only would want the Rams, Raiders, or an expansion team in L.A.”
While a move back to San Diego, especially anytime in the near future, remains unlikely, there is little doubt that the Chargers franchise is finding it difficult to win fans in its new Hollywood home. If those difficulties continue, the league may have little choice but to move the team back down the I-5 freeway to their old home in San Diego.
Noah Hilton | Sports Editor | The USD Vista