If I’m Roger Goodell, I’m on the phone to Joe Tsai right now getting to know the guy. Tsai, you may have heard, bought 49 percent of the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, setting the stage for him to become the team’s majority owner in a few years. The Alibaba co-founder also happens to be a part-time resident of San Diego who could buy and sell the Spanos family four times over. You see where I’m going with this?
The NFL has many problems facing it right now, but for the long-term health of the game, none may be more pressing that the situation in Los Angeles. The league clearly overestimated the desire for an NFL team in LA, and crammed two into a market that can likely only support one. Now, after ignoring years of warnings, Dean Spanos has a team without fans in Carson, California. The Los Angeles Chargers are an absolutely embarrassment to the NFL and the team’s problems won’t be solved any time soon.
National outlets are consistently taking shots at Spanos and his team and rightly so. Sports Illustrated branded him a “cheap, inept weasel,” The Ringer ripped the decision to move as simply motivated by greed. Don Banks went after the move at The Athletic. Meanwhile, longtime LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke has consistently opined that the Chargers aren’t wanted and don’t belong in the City of Angels. Those are just a few of the voices ripping Spanos and the Chargers.
Enter Tsai, a man whose family lives in La Jolla, is motivated to own sports franchises (he already has a pro lacrosse team in San Diego) and has tons of cash. I’m loath to spend other people’s money — except my parents’ when I was in my 20s — but Tsai has the kind of wealth that could both buy a franchise, relocate it, and afford to build his own stadium.
Tsai would almost certainly be able to put together a stellar ownership group, and has the kind of money where he could easily partner with the city of San Diego on a new facility. Heck, all the city needed from Spanos was the $650 million he spent on relocation to get a new stadium done in Mission Valley. Spanos opted out.
I’m not saying the NFL should force Spanos to sell the team to Tsai right now. But things aren’t going to get better in Los Angeles for the Chargers. Dean already gets booed relentlessly whenever he’s shown on the video board at his own stadium. Eventually, the Spanos family is going to face so much heat that its weaselly patriarch will want to bail. It’s just who he is. Rather than face criticism or do hard work, he’s the kind of guy who finds an out. People like that don’t change over time.
People have claimed the “flip tax” the NFL puts on relocated teams will prevent a sale. They’ve also said the $650 million relocation fee the Chargers are on the hook for and the team’s 30-year lease at Stan Kroenke’s new stadium will prevent a sale or move. Those would usually all be good points, but there’s one thing you have to remember: the NFL makes up its rules as it goes. If the owners determine that waiving those provisions would be good for the overall health league, they would do so in a heartbeat. And you’d have to think Kroenke would love to let the Chargers out of their lease and boot them back to San Diego so he wouldn’t be sharing the city with them.
Again, this isn’t happening any time soon. The Spanos family is not near the breaking point. But if the team continues to essentially play road games inside the confines of StubHub Center, continues to fail to generate any buzz in LA and keeps being a national laughingstock, the league should have a plan in place to change things.
Joe Tsai would seem to be a perfect out.