Sunday saw the return of the Los Angeles Chargers, their first home game since 1960, and no one’s very excited about it.
New and relocated teams usually get a first-year attendance bump, just from the novelty. The Chargers are a good team with an offense that’s fun to watch. Their temporary home, a soccer-specific stadium, is intimate and unique. There are plenty of reasons the Chargers might draw a good crowd. None of those reasons, apparently, are enough to overcome the hard realties of deep, deep disinterest:
A stadium that seats 27,000 couldn’t sell out, drawing an officially (generously) announced crowd of 25,381 for a 19-17 loss to the Dolphins. Making that attendance figure even sadder is that half of paying fans weren’t there to see the Chargers. “There were a lot of Miami fans out there,” Melvin Gordon said. “I think it was around 50-50.”
Including, perhaps, the person in charge of setting off the cannon after Chargers scores. Listen for the boom as Younghoe Koo missed a 44-yarder that would’ve won the game:
You’ll also hear a lot of cheers in that video. Those are the Dolphins fans, and they confused Philip Rivers all afternoon:
“I heard the roar before I saw the official’s signal,” Rivers said. “I wasn’t sure which roar it was.”
Well, and why not? The Chargers have done everything in their power to alienate their old fan base (a plane towed a banner over the stadium calling Dean Spanos the worst owner in sports), and little to cultivate a new fan base. They fled San Diego three full seasons before their new stadium will be ready, and in the meantime they’re charging $100 for parking. They’re already second fiddle in their new city, a subordination that will be even more marked once they move in with the Rams. Philip Rivers said the team needs to win and it’ll see better attendance, but Los Angeles isn’t exactly tabula rasa for fandom. There are a lot of people from all over, with their own rooting interests, and a strong strain of Raiders fandom runs through the city, and any fans excited for a new team probably jumped aboard with the Rams last year. In short, it is difficult to picture a combination of circumstances and sensibilities that would lead a person to becoming a Los Angeles Chargers fan.
Let’s be clear: None of this is an indictment of those Chargers fans that exist or of Angelenos. You’re under no obligations to go to games, and considering how much better television is than the live NFL experience, the incentives are already slim. The NFL is a business, and if people aren’t consuming a product, that’s a sign of a failure of the company to offer a product people want to consume. And, potentially, a fatal misread of the market. Could it be possible, after the NFL spent decades using Los Angeles as a threat to strong-arm cities into building stadiums to keep their teams, that Los Angeles didn’t actually want its own team, let alone two? It’s still very early, but: