Keith Strudler: Leaving Paradise
A lot of people have a list of cities. A list of places they’d really love to live, if cost or work wasn’t an issue. For example, a lot of people might pick San Francisco, or Savannah. I’ve got Austin and Vancouver on my list, in case you’re wondering. But if you’re looking for a city that almost everyone wants to live in, look no further than San Diego. It’s sunny and warm all the time, the beach is perfect, and everyone is fit. It’s like living on the set of a Corona commercial.
No one leave San Diego, not if they don’t have to. No one except the now Los Angeles Chargers. If that doesn’t sound familiar, that’s because until last week, they were still the San Diego Chargers, as they have been since 1961, their second year in existence in the then AFL. They did spend their first season in Los Angeles before moving south. So, in some way, you could frame this as a homecoming. Not that anyone would remember.
The Chargers are leaving behind perhaps the world’s best zoo and Mission Beach and pretty much everything that makes it the best convention town – and no, Vegas and Orlando are not close – because LA is offering them something San Diego cannot, or perhaps will not. The Chargers, like pretty much every team in the league, wanted a new stadium. And San Diego wasn’t going to do that, at least not to the liking of team owner Dean Spanos. So, Spanos will pack the moving trucks and head two hours north to share a hometown with the Los Angeles Rams, who also returned to LA after spending 20 years in St. Louis. In fact, they’ll not only share a city, but starting in 2019, they’ll also share a stadium, the new $2.6 billion complex that has been termed the NFL’s Disneyland. So, Los Angeles has just gone from zero NFL teams to two, just like that. And not for nothing, neither are very good. Perhaps this was best summed in a recent headline by the NY Times that read, “Congratulations Los Angeles: You Now Have Two Terrible Football Teams.”
Until 2019, the Chargers will play in LA’s Stub Hub Center, a 30,000 seat soccer stadium that’s home to the LA Galaxy. It used to be that fledgling soccer clubs would borrow NFL fields because they’re destitute and homeless. Now it’s the opposite. Score one for globalism. How the Chargers plan to manage their move from San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium to something less than half its size to an 80,000 seat megaplex is beyond me.
San Diego fans are, not surprisingly, salty about the move. There was a small number of gatherings, usually centered around ripping memorabilia or burning clothing. For what it’s worth, folks in LA don’t seem all that excited either. LA Clippers fans booed the Chargers’ new LA logo at a recent game. How’s that for a warm welcome?
Spanos has said the team has to earn the respect and support of Los Angeles football fans. Assuming they do exist, since they seem to have been just fine during the NFL’s long exodus from the city. I’d assume that whichever team does well first – Chargers or Rams – will be the favorite child. The lesser franchise, probably not so much.
Team movement isn’t new, even if it was relatively dormant for the past several years. It’s been awhile since the most recent glory days of team relocation in the 80s and 90s, when the Browns and Oilers and Cardinals and Raiders and others moved around like vagabonds. That happened because new and often emerging cities wooed teams with offers they couldn’t refuse.
It’s possible this exodus is slightly different. In the 80s and 90s, and certainly the 60s and 70s before, the NFL had only begun to scratch the surface of its earning potential. So going from Baltimore to Indy was almost an important corporate growth strategy. Not moving would have been irresponsible, even if Colts fans didn’t see it that way. But now, I’m not so sure there’s much money still left on the table – not in the US, at least.
The NFL is a remarkable beast, grotesque in size and stature, having grown larger by the minute for the past half century or so. But now, by the nature of the game, the changing media ecology, and the economic environment in the US, there may be nothing new left for the NFL to eat. So they can move not one team – but two to the nation’s second largest metropolis in search of more. But in the long run, this might simply be reshuffling the deck. If they’re really looking for more money, Shanghai or London might be a better long term move than LA. This might be tough given our upcoming political ethos on foreign exchange. But for all the American nationalists that love the NFL, just remember that the next time the league heads towards a lock out.
Then again, it might be tough to convince a bunch of young star athletes to leave the US and head far overseas to play. If it were up to me, I’d never leave San Diego in the first place.
Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler
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