Will L.A. Fans Welcome the Chargers?

Retired Charger LaDainian Tomlinson
Retired Charger LaDainian Tomlinson

On a rainy Southern California day, San Diegans realized that a half-century of their sports identity was leaving town for a place widely loathed by citizens of the border city. "I hate this day," San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts told reporters.

The biggest question for Los Angeles football fans is: Can we accept a rival team with few L.A. roots and fewer L.A. fans? "Today, we welcome an important part of that history back with the Chargers returning to Los Angeles," Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. "The Chargers will make our NFL tradition even richer, and give sports fans everywhere one more reason to be in Los Angeles."

That remains to be seen. The Chargers, which owner Dean Spanos formally announced yesterday would hit the road for L.A., spent only a year here, in 1960. The team has otherwise been such a part of the fabric of San Diego that it spawned a disco song. Charger bolt stickers on pickup trucks are legion in San Diego. Meanwhile, Los Angeles already has an NFL team with deeper roots here, the Rams, as well as an intractable "Raider Nation" that arguably includes far more local fans than the Chargers will draw for seasons to come.

"San Diego has been our home for 56 years," Spanos stated in an open letter today. "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."

Experts say the move isn't about a potentially bigger fan base, no matter how much ticket sales matter to a team's bottom line. Los Angeles is a mega media market, and a move here will inflate the value of the Chargers and turn the team into a possible goldmine should Spanos ever sell. Even the lowly Clippers found a buyer — former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer — at a whopping $2 billion in 2014.

Team value does the rest of us little good, but that's the game. The Chargers were stuck with a city whose voters turned down public funding for a new stadium in November. The team, playing in the '60s-era Qualcomm Stadium, has been angling for a new home for more than a decade. And Spanos faced a use-it-or-lose it deadline this month to claim L.A. or let the mighty Raiders take a shot.

Spanos acknowledged the move, which will include play at StubHub Center in Carson before a jaunt to Stan Kroenke’s $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood when it's ready, will present an uphill battle for the hearts of Angelenos.

"We must earn the respect and support of L.A. football fans," Spanos writes. "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 L.A. and we are excited to get started."

You can feel sorry for San Diego. But remember that as the Chargers entertained fans there, the NFL used L.A.'s empty nest — we lacked an NFL team from 1995 to 2016 — as a perpetual threat to cities that wouldn't build stadiums for football billionaires. L.A. is gaining a second NFL team, yes, but somehow it feels like a loss for Southern California team spirit.


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