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.

Friday roundup: Saskatoon soccer frenzy, Phoenix hotel sale to fund Suns, and more!

And more!

Rams, Chargers continue to play home games in relative privacy

NFL fever is still at an ice-cold pitch in Los Angeles, where both the Rams and Chargers saw tons of empty seats yesterday. Take it away, sports Twitter:

As with last week, the empty seats are scattered throughout the stadiums, so this looks like a case of people buying tickets and then not using them, either because they’re trying to get on a season-ticket waitlist for when the teams’ new stadium opens in 2020, or because tickets are cheap enough that they figure they’ll buy a season strip and only go when there’s a good opponent and there’s nothing good on TV that day. (Or maybe just when a team they actually care about comes to town: The hottest Chargers ticket on StubHub is vs. the Oakland Raiders.) Also, by one estimate half the maybe 20,000 fans if you’re being generous at yesterday’s Chargers-Miami Dolphins game were rooting for the Dolphins, which apparently was a problem at times in San Diego, too, but still.

None of this is a crisis just yet: It can take a while to build a fan base for a relocated team, and obviously the big push is for fans to go see the teams at their new stadium in three years. Still, when you’re trying to charge record seat-license prices, you really want to see pent-up excitement about your team, and that’s not exactly what’s going on here. There’s been talk for years that L.A. football fans have been happy just to watch the best games of the week on TV without having a home rooting attachment; if so, the no-shows could be a sign that it’s going to be tough to build actual fan bases for the Rams and Chargers, beyond just having games be a thing people just want to go to when their actual favorite team from somewhere else shows up. More data points are needed, so let’s keep an eye on this throughout the season.

Here’s a video of quick glimpses of new Rams, Chargers stadium renderings, excited yet?

Awright, new stadium rendering porn from the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers! And like all the cool media kids today, they’re pivoting to video:

That’s not all that different from the last renderings we saw, but has the advantage of zipping by really quickly and being set to music that sounds like a 1980s video game developer trying to emulate Grandmaster Flash. From this we can tell that the new Inglewood stadium will definitely contain people. and a latticework roof, and some kind of weirdly shaped scoreboard ring suspended over the field. You can get a better (sort of?) look at that last element in this tweeted still image:

And finally, here’s what the site looks like now, courtesy of the Associated Press:

Stay tuned for more exciting images! We have three years of this left to go, people, before anyone can see this with their own eyes, hopefully set to their own hip-hop-lite soundtrack.

New L.A. stadium won’t host Super Bowl until 2022, we know you’re broken up about this

Now that the new Los Angeles Rams and Chargers stadium has been delayed until 2020 thanks to rain, the NFL has moved the 2021 Super Bowl to Tampa and given the 2022 Super Bowl to L.A., because of a league rule that says stadiums can’t host Super Bowls in their first seasons, or because the league was afraid the stadium wouldn’t be ready by 2021, or because the rule is there because of fears stadiums won’t be ready on time or — wait, what the heck is this?

Somehow I’d missed this particular Inglewood stadium rendering, which makes it look kind of like a space-age tennis racket suspended on pillars over an open pit. It almost certainly won’t look much like this — for one thing, everything used to build it won’t be blazing white, and neither will all the surrounding buildings and parking lots — but that appears to be somebody’s best attempt to depict a translucent (?) roof with some kind of video boards suspended from it, and … you know what, we should probably just wait to see this thing. I get why it’s going to cost $2 billion now, though, even if I still don’t quite get why Stan Kroenke wants to spend that much.

New stadium for Rams, Chargers delayed till 2020 because it rained

And in today’s comedy news, the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will be delayed a year in moving into their new stadium because it rained:

Historically heavy rainfall in Los Angeles has delayed the highly anticipated, $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, California, by a year.

The new facility, to be shared by the Rams and Chargers, will now open in 2020 instead of 2019, the teams said Thursday. In the meantime, the Rams will play at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for an additional year and the Chargers will have one more season at StubHub Center in Carson, California.

Color me marginally skeptical — stadium manager Dale Koger acknowledged that the original timetable was “very aggressive,” so this could just be a matter of realizing they weren’t going to be done on time and blaming it on the rain. But whatever; anything else hilarious about this? Like, how will this mess with any important plans that the teams will now have to put on hold?

Fourteen months ago, [Rams COO Kevin] Demoff told The Times, “Our focus has always been on introducing new uniforms the year we open a new stadium. That’s the opportune time to shape your brand.”…

But it might not happen until 2020.

“That’s a decision we’ll make in the coming months as we look at the uniforms,” Demoff said during a teleconference with a reporters. “But we will have the option of beginning a rebrand in 2019 or with the stadium in 2020.”

Man, there is nothing as funny as people unironically saying things like “shape your brand.” Still not quite as good as when a masked superhero does it, but I’ll just picture Demoff wearing a purple unitard, and it’s almost as good.

No, USA Today, NFL teams aren’t moving because of revenue disparities, you got snookered

An exec for the Cincinnati Bengals said a thing! A USA Today reporter believed him! Let’s investigate whether any of it makes sense.

First, the thing:

The revenue disparity between teams is “the largest it’s ever been in NFL history,” [Bengals vice president Troy] Blackburn told USA TODAY Sports. Even though teams equally share the revenues of NFL television contracts and a portion of ticket sales, they don’t share other local stadium revenues with each other, leading to the rising gap…

“Right now, you’ve got many of the small markets paying over 60-plus percent of their revenues on players, and many of the large markets are paying 40 percent of revenue on players,” said Blackburn, who previously was the team’s director of stadium development and is the son-in-law of Bengals owner Mike Brown. “Something that could be done that narrowed that gap would be helpful, and it would make it easier for the small-market teams to stay where they are and not have to explore relocation.”

USA Today’s took that and spun it into an article claiming that the reason the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders have all moved in the last year is because of these rising disparities between small- and large-market NFL teams, and more (unspecified, but presumably including the Bengals) teams could relocate if nothing is done about it.

Now, this is an odd premise to begin with, seeing as that it’s well known why these three teams moved now: Rams owner Stan Kroenke finally pulled the trigger on calling dibs on the long-vacant Los Angeles market, then the Chargers and Raiders owners rushed to get in on it too lest their only leverage on their current cities disappear, then the Chargers agreed to move in with the Rams because they couldn’t get a big-ass new stadium subsidy in San Diego while the Raiders got a big-ass stadium subsidy from Las Vegas, the end. But let’s set aside everything that our eyes tell us and see if the notion that NFL revenues are unsustainably unequal is supported by the data.

Here’s the latest Forbes team value and revenue figureshttps://www.forbes.com/nfl-valuations/list/#tab:overall. If you take a look at the “Revenue” column (we want gross revenues, not profits, which is what the “Operating Income” column shows), you’ll see that the Dallas Cowboys are crazy outliers at $700 million a year, while the rest of the league sits between $523 million and $301 million a year, meaning the top non-Dallas team earned 74% more than the lowest-revenue team.

If we go back to, say, 2011, the Cowboys are still outliers at $406 million, and the spread for the rest of the NFL is $352 million to $217 million, for a 62% disparity. So the distance between the haves and have-nots is increasing, yes, but note hugely. (You’ll also notice that every team in the league currently turns at least a $26 million profit, so while small-market team owners may be sad that they don’t own the New England Patriots, they can still be happy that they own an NFL team and not pretty much anything else.)

Now, let’s take a look at other sports. For baseball, lopping off the New York Yankees as the Cowboys analogue, we get a $462 million to $205 million revenue spread — a whopping 125%. For the NBA, taking out the New York Knicks, it’s $333 million to $140 million, 137%. For the NHL, omitting the New York Rangers, it’s $202 million to $99 million, 104%.

So while you can quibble with the Forbes numbers (or my methodology), it’s pretty clear that NFL revenue disparities aren’t any worse than those of other leagues that aren’t seeing massive team defections. Which is as to be expected, since the NFL has the strongest revenue-sharing program of any major sports league in North America, in the form of the national TV contract system put together by Pete Rozelle way back in the 1960s. In the NFL, owners get whopping checks just by virtue of owning a team — the only way to get ahead of your competitors isn’t to be in a bigger city with the chance for big cable contracts (the reason why all those New York teams sit atop the revenue charts for other leagues), but to get a more lucrative stadium deal. Which predicts that you’ll see more city-hopping in search of those, which is precisely what’s been happening.

So now that we’ve established that USA Today doesn’t have any fact-checkers on staff, what’s Blackburn’s angle? Is he just feeling whiny that the Bengals play in Cincinnati in a stadium that was a gift from taxpayers 17 whole years ago? Or does he have a specific play in mind:

“If the league is serious about franchise stability, maybe it should consider a new G-3 styled program that would help keep teams in small markets,” Blackburn said. “If it did it once, it can certainly do it again, if it truly cares about the issue.”

Ah, now we’re talking — the Bengals owners are upset that big-market teams are getting league grant money (or were, since both the G-3 fund and its successor G-4 are now depleted), and they’re not. So this whole exercise turns out to have been one NFL owner using the pages of USA Today to convince his fellow NFL owners to give him some of their money, because c’mon guys, you have so much of it!

Of course, the original G-3 program was actually limited to teams in the six biggest markets, in order to provide a check against teams moving to smaller cities in search of those sweet stadium deals mentioned above — with #6 included specifically because Patriots owner Robert Kraft played in the 6th-biggest market, and was threatening to move to Hartford at the time, and was the chair of the committee that designed G-3. So, pretty much the exact opposite of what Blackburn says it was. Oh, fact-checking.

S.D., L.A moving companies lining up to refuse to haul Chargers’ stuff north

Chargers owner Dean Spanos’s grudging “I’d love to stay, I must be going” announcement that he was moving the team from San Diego to Los Angeles was sad enough, especially with the logo uproar and public message to stay home from one of L.A.’s top sports columnists that immediately followed. So what could he possibly do for an encore? Oh, how about not being able to find anyone to rent him a moving van:

[Ryan Charles of HireAHelper.com] said that more than 25 San Diego-based [moving] companies and 10 from the L.A. area have united via the wewontmoveyouchargers.com website to pledge not to participate in what Charles admitted would be a very lucrative series of jobs.

“We’re continuing to add more companies every hour,” Charles said. “We’re still actively calling companies, and companies are signing themselves up through the link on that site. So yeah, I think it’s definitely had an impact.”

It’s always possible that one day the Chargers will be ensconced in their new stadium, and they will win games again, and they will compete with the Rams for the hearts of L.A. football fans, who will actually be proven to exist (except in the sense of football fans who live in L.A., vs. fans of L.A. football). But this definitely isn’t getting off to a good start.

Chargers announce move to Los Angeles, all that’s left is deciding who to be the most mad at

So the San Diego Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, owner Dean Spanos having dropped the other shoe yesterday by releasing this statement and changing their logo before announcing it wasn’t really their new logo after everyone, even the Tampa Bay Lightning social media director, made fun of them. Normally a relocation like this would require a vote of NFL owners to make official, but the league already gave Spanos a “good for one move to Inglewood” coupon last January, so this is a done deal.

There are many, many, many feels that one can have about this, depending on one’s perspective, so why doesn’t one sit down with us and run through them to see how reasonable one is being?

  • Rot in hell, Dean Spanos, for taking a team away from the fans who’ve supported it for a half-century! Spanos is definitely screwing over Chargers fans (who have responded by dumping their team gear outside the Chargers office and throwing eggs at the windows, and even trying to set fire to a team flag) in an attempt to make more money. Whether this makes him a greedy asshole or a savvy self-interested businessman is, wait, what’s the difference again?
  • Dean Spanos is an idiot for choosing to pay a relocation fee and be Stan Kroenke’s second fiddle in L.A. rather than working something out in San Diego! VERDICT: unproven. Yes, the relocation fee (reportedly $550 million payable over 10 years, which in present value is worth more like $425 million) is a lot, and Spanos is going to need to choose between either paying Rams owner Stan Kroenke a whole lot of rent (or shared revenues, which amount to the same thing) or putting up half the construction cost of the new Inglewood stadium up front, either of which is going to be really expensive. Maybe he thinks he can earn it back from increased revenue in a bigger market (though the NFL is limited in that regard since there are no local TV deals), maybe he was just pissy that San Diego voters didn’t want to give him $1.15 billion. Or maybe he’s an idiot.
  • Dean Spanos is an evil genius, now he can sell the Chargers for twice what he was going to get for them in San Diego! This is wisdom so conventional that people feel authorized to tweet about it like it’s true, but like all franchise value claims, it’s really just guesswork: Nobody knows how much more some theoretical billionaire would be willing to pay for the Los Angeles Chargers than for the San Diego Chargers, especially not until we see how popular they’ll be sharing that market with the Rams, and with that unfriendly lease that will saddle them with uncounted future costs. Only Spanos’s bean counters know for sure, and while it’s a fair bet that he’ll come out ahead since otherwise he wouldn’t be doing this (though see above re: pissy and/or idiot), it’s probably not going to be a double-your-money deal.
  • The NFL is going to regret this, nobody in L.A. wants to watch the dumb old Rams and Chargers! Certainly the Rams’ first season in L.A. wasn’t a raging success, with fans coming disguised as empty seats and TV ratings down relative to when L.A. football viewers were watching other cities’ teams. But the Rams and Chargers aren’t going to be pathetic excuses for football teams forever (probably), so maybe things will improve, and this won’t end up being a giant embarrassment for the league. Though that wouldn’t be any fun at all.
  • This is all San Diego’s fault for refusing to give Spanos a new stadium! To football fans’ credit, this viewpoint mostly seems to be limited to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who released a “Hey, we tried” statement following the announcement of the Chargers’ move. There were plenty of city officials willing to talk to Spanos about a new or renovated stadium (though they were limited in how much public money they were willing to/able to provide for one), but between the owner’s demand that the city fork over the lion’s share of the costs and the time limit on the relocation clause that meant Spanos had to move to L.A. now if he ever wanted to, there wasn’t time to work on that.
  • Wait, the Chargers are going to play in a soccer stadium for two years?! Yup. On the bright side, see above about nobody wanting to see the team play right now anyway.
  • At least San Diego taxpayers can still watch the team on TV if they want, without having to pay $1.15 billion in tax money as well! Also yup.
  • Sports is a festering cesspool of greed and extortion, less about putting out a good product than about an arms race among owners to build opulent stadiums with other people’s money! Well, duh.

If there’s a silver lining for wannabe haters, it’s that unlike in the typical stadium controversy, this looks set to be a tragedy in the Shakespearean sense, where all the major players end up dead on the battlefield thanks to hubris or stupidity or what have you. The San Diego Chargers may be dead, but San Diego Chargers schadenfreude is just beginning.

NFL meets to discuss Raiders, Chargers moves, doesn’t decide squat because why rush into things?

The NFL’s stadium and finance committees met yesterday as promised, and while nothing really was decided about either the Oakland Raiders‘ possible move to Las Vegas or the San Diego Chargers‘ possible move to Los Angeles, we have some hints of where things are headed. And as befits a league run by a bunch of rich guy who decide things by arguing about who has the biggest balls, the outcome looks to combine one helping of naked avarice with two of farcical train wreck.

Yesterday’s joint meeting was apparently mostly focused on the Raiders, with league VP Eric Grubman later telling the L.A. Daily News’s Vincent Bonsignore that team owner Mark Davis has made “impressive” progress on a stadium deal there. Which, yeah, we noticed, but has the NFL made any progress on deciding whether to approve the move?

Okay. Has Davis at least made up his mind about whether to take Vegas’s $750 million subsidy offer and go in with billionaire Sheldon Adelson on a stadium there?

Okay! So no news at all, really, other than “check back later.”

There are still two big unknowns in the Raiders-to-Vegas potential move: First off, the NFL needs to decide on what relocation fee Davis would be charged, which the league still hasn’t discussed, though they have hired the same consulting firm that picked $550 million out of a hat for the Rams‘ move to L.A. to figure it out. And second, Davis has to hash out a deal with Adelson on how to split revenues and costs, which they apparently still haven’t been able to put their heads together on. Adelson no doubt thinks he has Davis over a barrel since he has few other options for getting ahold of $750 million in public stadium cash, which is probably why the NFL deployed Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney II to say this yesterday:

“I think the Raiders are looking at this potentially going without Mr. Adelson,’’ Rooney, chairman of the league’s stadium committee and one of the NFL’s most influential owners, told reporters in New York after league meetings on relocation and stadium issues.

Davis told the Review-Journal, “I have nothing to say right now.”

That sort of could make sense, maybe: If a Vegas stadium is viable for Adelson, then it’d be viable for some other developer as well, and Davis is the one with the rare commodity in an NFL team. Or he (or Rooney) could just be trying to drive a hard bargain with Adelson to get more money flowing into team/league coffers. Davis has until February 15 to decide on whether to file for relocation, and the NFL could always decide to extend that deadline if they want, so that leaves plenty of time for haggling.

On the Chargers front, meanwhile, the reason for the stasis is way more hilarious: It looks like team owner Dean Spanos doesn’t really want to move to L.A., and the other NFL owners don’t really want him to move to L.A., but the two sides are engaged in a massive game of chicken to decide whether the league will pay him to stay put. Per CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora and his patented unnamed sources (though other outlets are reporting similar things):

There are some grave concerns among owners and the league office about the potential of having two teams in Los Angeles — the Chargers can exercise an option to move to L.A. next week, and sources said at this point they have no reason not to — and any subsidy offered to Chargers owner Dean Spanos would be born of those economic fears more than anything else…

The Rams have had a rough first season in Los Angeles and are already engaged in a coaching search, and the ratings in that market were not what some might have hoped for, as well. … Spanos has resisted leaving in the past and has his own concerns about the deal brokered with the Rams, one that would essentially make the Chargers a tenant to Rams owner Stan Kroenke at the stadium in construction scheduled to open in 2019, and there is sense among other owners that even a weak deal to stay in San Diego could carry the day.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but basically, if we believe La Canfora or whoever’s feeding him this stuff, Spanos doesn’t really like the deal being offered by Kroenke to move to L.A., but is trying to use the threat of taking it to extract some cash from the league to help him pay for a new stadium in San Diego. And the NFL can’t do much about it, as it already gave Spanos an option to move to L.A. last year when it approved the Rams move, and set the relocation fee to boot, meaning it can’t throw any roadblocks in the way of a Chargers move, just offer Spanos bribes not to go through with it.

Spanos’ option expires on Tuesday, which means something has to give really really soon. (He’s reportedly called a team staff meeting for this morning to discuss an undisclosed matter, which is presumably that he’s set to announce a move.) So, of course, yesterday’s meeting steadfastly avoided talking about the Chargers at all:

Just like the Rams decision did, it looks like this one is going to go down to the wire, and be decided by something stupid like egos or which NFL owners are Facebook friends. Both teams moving is still a likely scenario, but at this point I really wouldn’t rule anything out.