The saddest part of this whole thing is that everyone said their goodbyes a year ago. The fans of San Diego gave a raucous, emotional farewell to their NFL team for the last half-century, fully expecting the Chargers to pull up stakes. And then ... they didn’t leave. Like a significant other who dumps you and then doesn’t move out, Chargers owner Dean Spanos deferred his option to relocate to Los Angeles, an option he’s apparently about to exercise this week. The last year has been torture.
So when the last home game finally arrived, no one showed up. A fitting end to an awkward mess. And maybe a glimpse at the Chargers’ future, if there’s any justice in this world.
The move is not official yet, but Spanos has called a staff meeting for 8 a.m. PST to inform his employees that after 56 years, the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles. Technically a return to L.A., where the franchise was born and spent just one season so long ago. But there is no loyalty to the Chargers among Angelenos, not the way there was some residual Rams fandom. They will not even be the second choice of the city, which is still Raider country. The Chargers are leaving their heart behind, and nothing is waiting for them.
At the very least this allows us to finally dispense with the fiction that the NFL and its owners care about their fans, or about anything but profit. Sports Illustrated’s Jack Dickey nails it: These are land barons, and the only true currency in the NFL is property. The real money is not in attendance, or merchandise, or even in TV contracts—though there is plenty there. The real money is in obtaining a shiny new stadium, because of what that stadium does for the sale price of the team. The relocation may double the value of the Rams; Dean Spanos looked at that and said “me too.” From the second they buy an NFL franchise, owners are focused on one thing: selling it.
Spanos could have stayed in San Diego. His family’s worth is placed north of $2 billion. The NFL offered him $300 million toward a new stadium in San Diego. He’s now going to pay a $650 million relocation fee. He is not staying because the Los Angeles Chargers will be worth more to a potential buyer than the San Diego Chargers ever will. Actual San Diego fans do not matter, have never mattered to him.
If there is a bright spot, it’s that this could be a total disaster. The Chargers were not a hot enough property to warrant their own stadium; they will be Stan Kroenke’s tenants. That’s one potential revenue stream gone.
There is no reason to believe they will find popularity. The Chargers are middling, mediocre, boring. Their star quarterback is not far from retirement. They could not inspire excitement in a fanbase that already loved them. How on earth will they win the love of a fanbase that has zero reason to care? The Rams, the only game in town for a year, have already played to swaths of empty seats. And as we’ve seen up in Santa Clara, a new stadium is no panacea for uninspired fans.
Los Angeles doesn’t need the Chargers, and it doesn’t want them. The rest of the NFL owners do not want the Chargers to go. But this comes down to the desires of one man, Dean Spanos, who weighed the prospect of adding to his already-ludicrous bottom line against things like loyalty and fandom, and decided the money was the thing.
That’s his right. No one ever pretended the NFL was anything other than a business. But let Spanos enjoy his money with the knowledge that he is Bob Irsay, Art Modell, Stan Kroenke, and every other owner who tore a team from its home, and that this instantly becomes his legacy; it’ll go on his grave. And if the universe would like to try being fair for once, maybe he’ll live to regret it.