No, the Chargers aren’t moving back to San Diego, but the NFL probably wishes they could

So it looks like the internet first exploded about the Los Angeles Chargers moving back to San Diego midway through their first season in their new home (not that they’d move midway, but the internet exploded midway — you get what I mean) came on Thursday, when longtime NFL reporter Don Banks went on the radio in San Diego to discuss this article in which he wrote that “sources privy to the league’s thinking” have indicated that “the NFL is shocked at how far south things have gone already for the relocated Chargers.” And then on the air, Banks upped the ante:

“There are people in the league, including the commissioner, they did not want to see San Diego forsaken. They would rather there be a team in San Diego. If there’s anything viable they can find to put the league back into San Diego, I think they will be in that camp strongly…

“I think a lot of people are in retrospect looking back and saying this was not a smart move, and how do we get ourselves out of it. But I don’t know that there’s a good option short of pressure on trying to force a sale.”

Because this is 2017, the news media first went crazy reporting that Banks was saying the NFL was about to move the Chargers back to San Diego, then went crazy debunking that notion that Banks didn’t even actually say. By the time of the Chargers game on Sunday — they lost again, and once again they sold out their 27,000-seat soccer stadium but lots of seats were either empty or occupied by fans of the visiting team, so many that the Chargers dispensed with team introductions for fear their players would get booed — things seemed to have largely calmed down. But now that it’s out there in the zeitgeist, is there anything at all to the idea of the NFL forcing the Chargers to throw in the towel on L.A.?

“Forcing,” almost certainly not: While the league can block a proposed move, it can’t undo one that’s already taken place. The most the other NFL owners could do, as Banks noted, would be to lean on Chargers owner Dean Spanos to sell the team, perhaps to an owner interested in moving back to San Diego. But that would mean 1) giving a team back to a city that spurned demands for a new publicly funded stadium, 2) undoing the lease that Spanos signed with Rams owner Stan Kroenke on a new stadium opening in Inglewood in 2020, which Kroenke is counting on to help pay his stadium construction costs, and 3) potentially angering Oakland Raiders owner Mark Davis, who was denied a chance to move to L.A. because the Chargers had been granted dibs (though given that Davis is getting $750 million in tax money toward a new stadium in Las Vegas, maybe he doesn’t care about L.A. anymore, no matter how convenient it would make his haircuts).

The most reasonable conclusion, then, is what Banks actually said: The NFL is concerned by low levels of support for the Chargers, but doesn’t have any good options. The best bet is probably to wait until 2020 and hope that people want to go see the team once it’s in a new stadium; I guess Plan B would be to try to get San Diego to lure them back with a stadium offer of its own, and somehow use the proceeds to pay off Kroenke for his lost revenue? This is a huge mess, as one might have predicted from a process that was determined partly by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones challenging his fellow owners to move to L.A. to show they had “big balls.” The only question now is if NFL owners finally find an agreement to unravel their L.A. misstep, what kind of ink they’ll dip their balls in to sign it.


52 comments on “No, the Chargers aren’t moving back to San Diego, but the NFL probably wishes they could

  1. NFL doesn’t give a damn about San Diego or the fans. It’s about how those empty seats look on TV. Its about presentation and not setting a domino in motion.

  2. Two games into Chargers redux and the other owners are already having buyer’s remorse? That’s hilarious. You really do reap what you sow in life.

    The best case scenario for the NFL at this point would be that San Diego somehow does turn into the next stalking horse (it seems impossible today, but really who knows?), and that the Spanos family decides to sell the team. Otherwise, they’ll be a team that simply exists for lord knows how long.

    On a more basic level, I can’t imagine that the Chargers would find it easy to sell potential free agents on the idea that they’d potentially have to play 16 road games a year — though it would make for a nice weekend trip for fans of visiting teams, especially once the new stadium opens.

    • “I can’t imagine that the Chargers would find it easy to sell potential free agents on the idea that they’d potentially have to play 16 road games a year”

      The NFL is going to just love the Las Vegas Raiders, for whom this is the actual business model.

  3. It could never happen with Spanos owning the team but he’s going to eventually sell–he’ll make a ton of cash selling his “ready-to-move” team. The new owner would be hailed as a hero for bringing the Chargers back to San Diego. And the list of cities for NFL teams to go that don’t already have a team is fairly short. St. Louis would be in there. Maybe OKC? San Antonio is large enough but the word is they don’t want another Texas team. You’d struggle to come up with a list of 5-6 truly viable options so San Diego would be a major option basically by default.

    • NFL could keep selling London as a viable location, but I really doubt anyone’s buying that — even the Jags, who have actually signed up to play a home game there every year.

      • Rather famously, the Simpson’s had higher TV ratings in England than the Super Bowl–and that was just a couple years ago. Goodell saying London is viable is a LONG ways from that being a factual statement.

        To have a team in London one of two things would have to happen: 1) The league forces the owner into signing some long-term–probably a decade or longer–agreement not to relocate. (But why would a owner lock himself in like that to such a potentially risk agreement?) 2) Failing in #1, the league owns the team until it has become successful to the point where moving the team wouldn’t be a smart business move for the eventual private owner.

    • I’d disagree, because as Neil has said on a number of occasions, you can put a team in any random parking lot and still make money because of the TV contract.

      Long story short, relocation/expansion is pretty much entirely based on whether a $1bil publicly funded stadium will be built or not.

      • For the NFL as a whole, a London team would work out fine. For an individual owner, the constant travel and time changes would be a huge headache (er, no pun intended).

        • Not to mention all the sweet revenue streams a new billion dollar taxpayer gifted stadium would provide. Wow they would also have to pay rent.

        • Neil, wouldn’t a London based team (if it were the only European one) be more likely to have it’s practice facilities and players based in the northeast US for most of the year and just fly in the week of home games (more or less like the visitors will do)?

          Put another way, how many players on either Green Bay or Jacksonville make those cities their home base year round?

          If the NFL does put a team in Europe, I think we can count on them having home & road games scheduled in consecutive weekends, so they will spend a ten day stint in Europe four times a season. Making the trip once a month for ten days would be quite a bit easier.

          • Sure, but that’s still no fun. And what happens if they make the playoffs? And would games have to be played at 10 pm local time to be viewable on the West Coast?

            There are issues, is all I’m saying.

        • The Toronto Wolfpack just finished their first transatlantic season in the English Rugby Leauge
          and everything worked out fine. The only problem I heard of was that some players were not allowed to
          travel because of criminal records(how the NFL gets around that is beyond me). Also, I believe the NFL paid
          Tottenham money to have their new stadium NFL
          ready.

          • Wolfpack basically bought the title too…so don’t think they had much to do within the realistic competitive nature of the sport. Also, they have facilities in the UK.

  4. Well the NFL might be remembered as the league that killed the goose that laid the golden egg.Empty seats due to heat,bad teams,national anthem fiasco,greedy owners/players.It’s going to be tough for the Chargers to make inroads.LA is a Usc,Rams,Ucla town with support for the Raiders after that.I suppose winning will help a bit but if the Rams have a good year the Chargers might realise the grass is not always greener on the other side.

  5. We know the Rams we’re planning on selling PSLs for the new stadium. Were the Chargers?

    Long term, the league needs to be concerned about Santa Clara. Even if the 49ers improve, the existing fan base has made their dislike of the stadium and location known.

    • I think the gamble with Santa Clara is that there is so much money there who gives a fuck about the existing fanbase, or really any permanent fanbase. As long as you keep hitting your gate and Merch and TV targets it doesn’t matter much if they are hard core fans, or bored millionaires taking in one game a year on a lark.

      • Well, also worth noting the 49ers were just given the gift of getting the nation’s 5th largest metro area all to themselves. The 49ers did just fine the last time they had the market to themselves even with a lousy stadium that was hard to get to. Of course, they were pretty good back then. Now, not so much.

          • The fanbase’s center of gravity is not in San Francisco. The center of gravity for season ticket holders and general ticket buyers has, for decades, been in the South Bay. The training facility was down there way before the stadium was built and players’ and coaches’ residences have been concentrated down there for years.

            The “issues” with the stadium are mostly bullshit coming from whiny people with zero perspective. They contend that the stadium is somehow hotter and more inhospitable despite being in the same vein of climate as Oakland, UC Berkeley, Stanford, the LA Coliseum, the Rose Bowl, and San Diego… but for whatever reason climate was never really cited as a problem for any of those places. It’s non-sensical.

          • And let’s not ignore that Candlestick had atrocious road access (far worse than Levi’s) and zero transit outside a couple of random buses with basically useless routes.

          • Anonymous: “The “issues” with the stadium are mostly bullshit coming from whiny people with zero perspective.”

            That right there is the arrogance of the NFL. Someone plops down a few hundred bucks for a ticket and says “I didn’t have a good time because it was roasting hot” and the response is “no one complained they were hot in San Diego, suck it up.” Not surprisingly, the next week they save their money.

            That type of attitude is what sank the US auto industry among others. When you ignore or even attack your customers because you don’t think they have a choice except to buy your product sooner or later you find out they had more choices than you thought.

  6. Also, the LA Times has run articles that labeled the Chargers as “the team that nobody wanted to move here”.

    In LA, if you lose the PR battle, you’re not even in the war.

  7. Ten comments for this obvious “story”?. I can barely comprehend what it’s going to be when the rumor about the Raiders staying in Oakland drops.

  8. The smart thing to do is what Spanos should have done from the outset — drop the team name, colors, and history and treat the move as if it was an expansion team (leaving the “Chargers” moniker to San Diego for some future ownership, a la the Browns). In LA, “Chargers” seem to be looked upon as interlopers and opportunists with no real connection to the city. Then again, Dean is an incredibly dim bulb, so that will never happen.

    • The most obvious marketing strategy for them was to go the “Avis, we try harder” approach given they’re always going to be second fiddle in that market since they won’t own the stadium. Tickets should be dirt cheap to this tiny interim stadium and parking should be like $20–not $100. Their entire campaign should be built around people bragging about what a great value they are and how fun it is to be sitting that close to the action. The fact they’re allowing seats to be empty for games just shows you how out-of-touch Spanos and his people are.

      Their entire marketing plan after they tried ripping off the Dodgers’ logo has basically consisted of “We’re here”

      • To be clear: They’re selling out the stadium, but people just aren’t showing up to sit in all the seats. Not sure what they can do about that, though obviously cheaper parking would be a start. (If they control parking prices, which they may not.)

        • Yesterday there were very few empty seats and the standing room areas were multiple rows deep.

          We parked free and took the shuttle, but from what I could tell the parking lots (even the $100 “tailgate”) lots were packed.

          The crowd was 60-75% Chargers fans. Most of the Chargers crowd seemed to be long time fans. Re-branding sounds like one of the worst ideas imaginable.

          • Have to say, the sights and sounds on TV told a vastly different story vis-a-vis the crowd ratio at yesterday’s game in Carson.

        • I don’t even think it’s so much about cheaper parking, as it is about season tickets being in the hands of brokers — they were probably hoping to sell the tickets at a profit (especially to visiting fans), but not all of them appear to have been successful at it.

          Don’t know whether that would be easier or more difficult for the Chargers org to control

  9. Many people in LA don’t even know that the Chargers moved to the city. Granted, I’m sure that all serious NFL fans know about the move. However, I have some older relatives in LA who are casual fans that typically go to 1 or 2 games up in the Bay Area each season. They’re not die-hard fans but rather make the trip for the experience. One of them had no idea that the Chargers were in LA now and didn’t know they were playing in Carson. There is very little hype in LA. The Chargers need to make a concerted PR/marketing effort so people know they’re around.

    • Chris,

      I think you hit the nail on the head. I think Chargers mgmt thought that since they sold out the stadium so easily, they didn’t need to make the publicity effort.

  10. The Rams ain’t tearing it up attendance wise either – averaging about 58,000 for its first two home games of 2017 season.

    Two NFL teams vacated LA in 1994 – apparently neither the Raiders or the Rams thought being the only team in LA for the 1995 season was a good deal.

    So 22 years later LA is going to support two NFL teams again? I don’t get it. What has changed? The good news is that taxpayers are pretty much off the hook for this recent display of greed by the NFL and owners.

  11. Spanos and the NFL owners brought this on themselves, and there really is no quick fix. Normally, if you want to engage a fan base, you lower prices or give away tickets. Bring them in, show them the best time possible (or at least as best the team will allow), and hope they come back. The Chargers have “LA” prices, and for the most part are selling what the stadium allows. The problem stems from the buyers being not all that interested. The resale market turned the stadium red. Next week, the Eagles will turn it green. This trend will probably also hold for Denver, Buffalo, Oakland, and Washington. I’m not certain the Browns will have fans head out given the state of their team, but it is a weekend in LA as opposed to Cleveland in December.

  12. As noted on another thread, I doubt that either the two owners involved or the league is really worried about short term attendance issues at temporary locations.

    I wouldn’t want to credit Spanos with anything approaching tactical strength, but it is possible the Chargers aren’t marketing the team hard in the temporary location because they want it to appear “new” and exciting when they get to the permanent location. If it’s true that the tickets are all sold in Carson (perhaps some to fans who used to drive from the south end of the LA metropolis to SD for games in the past), then there is little motivation to drum up more local support (Carson is not the team’s ultimate destination of course).

    • Except they’re only going to be tenants at the new stadium so they won’t really be able to fully capitalize on that move, either. Honestly, if your entire goal was to have your team labeled as a transient unlikely to be around for the long haul you wouldn’t change a thing from what the Chargers have done during this LA move. It’s like they’re biding time for their next move.

  13. It’s waaaay too soon for anyone to be panicking about attendance at either LA team’s games.

    But if the NFL does at some point determine that the move from San Diego to LA was a “mistake” (which will be the fans’ fault, of course, or maybe the city’s… because the NFL does not make mistakes), there are several options available to them.

    One would be expansion (again). They still have the ability to print money that way, as there never seems to be a shortage of billionaires willing to borrow vast sums to join their club…. and naturally they would be issuing two new $1.5Bn franchises, not one.

    Another would be to offer incentives to teams to relocate there (IE: more favourable terms on G4 loans, one time cash payment to move there – in exchange for surrendering whatever market the team vacates, etc), be it the Chargers or someone else.

    Thanks to the foolishness of television networks, there are no NFL teams in actual trouble (at least, not related to their own income and expense statements… how much debt owners may have put onto the businesses is another matter), so the persuasion will have to be significant. But it is possible. And if they wait until the Murph has been knocked down or “resized” for something else, the new stadium push in SD could begin all over again. An owner not named Spanos might have a different outcome in San Diego, just as an owner not named Davis could have in Oakland.

    Perhaps Banks is right and the LA market’s disinterest in the Chargers remains more or less as total as it was in 1960 over the longer term. In that event, do we really think Spanos wouldn’t be looking for a way out of his Kroenke deal? Would Kroenke really require any sort of indemnity for allowing the Chargers to leave in 6-10 years, given that he already will have the PSL money (IIRC) in the bank by then and would be getting the LA market all to himself just by virtue of them leaving?

    The new Chargers could try put PSLs on offer all over again in San Diego in 2027, surely?

  14. This is going to be like in New Jersey with Giants stadium and the stepchild Jets paying rent. Even though they both have a new stadium they both call their home (both fan bases agree there was no need for a new stadium), people still refer to the new meadowlands stadium as Giants stadium. The Jets will always be second class to the Giants as will the Chargers to the Rams making PR very difficult. Especially in a warm winter city unlike the north east with no of much to do on a Sunday but watch football.

    If you ask me the NFL screwed themselves and they will never admit it. Stop being so money hungry and let the fans enjoy their football.

    The way I saw it was the Rams should have stayed in St. Louis, the Chargers stay put in San Diego and have the Raiders who have a fan base down there move to LA. They are going to spend BILLIONS for a stadium and it will be a big waste of money (both in LA and Vegas).

    And talking about Charger games with a lot of fans cheering for the visiting team you will have the same in Veags. Mark my words.

    • If you read the story above, your incredibly logical solution was a non-starter due to what is arguably latent racism with the NFL ownership.

    • The Jets are very much considered second class given their ‘status’. As I recall, though, they are more like co-owners and share in the revenue streams of the new stadium (at least to a greater degree than they did in the original Giants Stadium, in which they were purely tenants).

      If either the Jets or Chargers felt like they would truly be better off building their own facility, I have to assume they would have made that happen even if they couldn’t get “the deal” they wanted.

      In the end, neither did.

    • The Jets may be the second team (though on-field performance has something to do with that) but they still sell out the stadium and have a strong fan base. New York isn’t a bad place to be the second team. The Chargers thus far at least is not having similar success.

      • Hard to compare the Jets fan support with the Chargers given that the Jets have been in NY since 1960 (and in NJ since 1984, as I recall) and the Chargers have essentially no history in LA.

        There’s no reason for fans to support the Chargers in Carson (beyond getting a priority place on the PSL/season ticket list). They are brand new in this part of the market and they aren’t staying.

        • Typically the first season after relocation is the best for a team and then enthusiasm drops. For it to be near zero in the first season is unusual. As for “not staying” isn’t like the Oilers in Memphis. Carson is what 15 miles from Carson? For all intents and purposes they are staying…which seems to be the problem.

  15. Almost 40 comments on Mr. Banks idle musings for a Monday.

    Assuming this holds true for the SI (?) article, I’d say “Mission Accomplished”?

    • Remember when I managed to set off a “Will the Cleveland Indians move to Charlotte?” brouhaha recently with an idle comment? I should probably do a weekly move rumor (“Could the Sabres be moving to Tallahassee?”) just for the traffic.

  16. The Nfl is in trouble not all teams but around 20%. The bubble will burst the
    New millenials dont go to games or will
    Have the means in the future to afford
    Tickets. Here in NJ thanks to the 1billion
    Dollar dump in the Meadowlands there is
    No longer a 20 yr waiting list for NY Giants and i have friends on both sides looking to dump there PSL’s and cannot even get 50 cents on a dollar for them.

  17. Just wait…there’s still time to squeeze some juice out of us yet.

    Dollars-to-donuts Kroenke/Rams get Olympic money for the stadium, even though it is “privately financed.”

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