Dean Spanos and his franchise had seven months to build some kind of buzz and fanbase in Los Angeles. On Sunday evening when they kicked off their “Fight For LA,” the Los Angeles Chargers drew just 21,054 to their soccer stadium home in Carson, California. Yes, an NFL team drew barely 21,000 fans for its first game in a new city.
Just 215 days since announcing their relocation, it’s clear the Chargers’ move is going to be one of the greatest disasters in NFL history.
NFL Network’s Steve Wyche called the lack of fans at StubHub Center “jarring.” The stadium holds 27,000 seats, and on Saturday night the Los Angeles Galaxy — an MLS team having its worst season in a decade — drew 25,667. The Chargers, with more than half a year to prepare, couldn’t even beat that.
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Sure, it was a preseason game, but the Los Angeles Rams drew 89,140 fans for their first L.A. exhibition. Plus, as Wyche also added, at least one-third of the fans in attendance Sunday were rooting for the visiting Seattle Seahawks. As I said, this is going to be a disaster.
No one in Los Angeles asked for the Chargers, but Spanos and his sons decided they had to be there. Rather than negotiate an actual, viable stadium proposal in San Diego, the family put together a pie-in-the-sky proposal for downtown knowing it would never pass a ballot initiative that needed two-thirds of the city to approve it. When it failed, they were out.
It’s telling that while the Chargers pump tons of cash into their new “Fight For LA” marketing push, not a single dime has been spent on attempting to retain fans in San Diego. You see, Spanos believed if he went to greener pastures in Los Angeles, San Diego’s fans would follow him. I mean, what choice would they have, right? Then if he could pick off pockets of fans in Orange County and Los Angeles, he’d have a huge fanbase. Brilliant!
That might have worked, except San Diego fans didn’t enjoy the last decade of Dean and his kids defecating on our city. When they pulled up stakes and left, long-time Chargers fans did exercise a choice: they changed the channel.
Oh sure, small pockets of fans will remain loyal because the Chargers were here for 56 years, but how many of them are going to fork over hundreds of dollars for tickets and drive six hours round trip on a Sunday to see the team play?
Los Angeles is packed with football fans, but they root for other teams. The Raiders, Rams, 49ers, Cowboys, Packers and Steelers all have healthy fanbases in LA. The Chargers probably don’t even rank in the top five among favorite football teams in La La Land. In fact, the only chance the Chargers have at selling out games consistently is if opposing fans pack the place.
Sunday was just one game, but it was an utter and complete embarrassment. The Chargers have future Hall of Famers in Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, an exciting running back in Melvin Gordon and one of the best young defensive players in the league in Joey Bosa. This is a legitimate playoff contender, and no one showed up to support them. Incidentally, in San Diego that game would have been packed.
Defenders of the relocation will tell you it will get better. That this move was about 20 to 30 years down the road, not first impressions. In fact, one LA Daily News writer — who has consistently defended the move and Spanos — made this bold pronouncement on Twitter:
Yeah, I mean it’s not like an NFL team has ever left Los Angeles due to a lack of fan support or anything…
No one wanted the Chargers in Los Angeles. The NFL knew it and fellow owners were quietly whispering about trying to stop Spanos from going through with it. If this is still a disaster next year, Roger Goodell and his fellow owners should step in and do something. Spanos abandoned a loyal fanbase in San Diego for the hope of doubling it in LA. That’s never going to happen and the move cost him virtually all of his built-in fans.
If things haven’t improved by next season, Goodell and the owners should find a buyer and force Spanos to sell, much like the NBA did with Donald Sterling and the Clippers. Then they should force that new owner to negotiate an actual stadium deal in San Diego and send the team back. Stan Kroenke would be more than willing to allow the Chargers out of their awful lease agreement in Inglewood and keep the LA market to himself.
Of course, that will never happen because Spanos and Goodell are far too arrogant to admit they were wrong. Goodell refused to step in and convince Spanos to negotiate with the city of San Diego on a reasonable stadium proposal, so he owns this move as much as Spanos.
As the Chargers crumble over the next few years and are consistently drowned out by the cheers of opposing fans, remember whose fault this is. Spanos moronically pushed for this, and Goodell and the other owners stood by and did nothing to stop it.
Now the league has two NFL teams in Los Angeles. One couldn’t fill its stadium last season despite being welcomed back with open arms. The other only found 21,000 willing to watch its product during its first week in a new city.
Can we just have some real talk right now? Yes, I’m a San Diego native but I don’t even want the team back. As long as it’s owned by the Spanos family I couldn’t care less where it’s located, it won’t get my support. But this is ridiculous. It’s absurd. The Chargers’ move to LA is the worst, most misguided idea in sports since “The Decision.” Someone needs to do something about it.
At this rate, Rivers and Gates are going to spend their final NFL seasons playing in front of crowds smaller than some Texas high schools draw on Friday nights. And most of those people who show up will be cheering for the guys occupying the other sideline.
Spanos orchestrated this whole thing. He never wanted to stay in San Diego. There was a workable stadium proposal on the table, but he saw cash in Los Angeles and ran for it. Now he’s dealing with the consequences. His franchise will go down in flames in LA. And he’ll have no one to blame but himself.