It’s been three years since the Chargers ditched San Diego for the bright lights of Los Angeles. Poor home support in the smallest stadium in the NFL mixed with a failure to achieve their post-season potential has led to the Chargers still not being able to make friends with the locals. A few months short of moving into the brand new SoFi Stadium with the Rams, I look at the issues they have faced.
Moving to Los Angeles
The Chargers moved from San Diego, their home since 1961, to Los Angeles in 2017 after the City of San Diego refused to fund a new stadium with a planned increase in hotel tax. The owner, Dean Spanos, wanted a new stadium to host the Chargers but didn’t want to pay for it himself and had seemingly little problem in abandoning San Diego when it became clear that was the only way a new stadium was going to materialise. A lease agreement with the Rams (who had also decided to relocate to LA from St Louis) for a brand new stadium in Inglewood Los Angeles was agreed and the relocation was confirmed.
The move had issues from the outset. The Rams had played in LA from 1946 to 1994, meaning they would have a more established fan base whilst the Chargers last played in LA in the 1960 season. The Rams existing relationship meant that fans were more likely to follow them than the Chargers, and without immediate success they were always going to be playing catch up.
Stadium issues and popularity
The Chargers have been playing their home games at Dignity Health Sports Park some 16 miles south of downtown LA. The 27,000 seat stadium, home to LA Galaxy of the MLS, is primarily meant to host soccer games and is by far the smallest in the NFL – next on the list was the Raiders RingCentral Coliseum with more than double the capacity.
Not having an adequate stadium to move into straight away has been a huge handicap for the Chargers; less fans equals less support. Surprisingly though, this wasn’t the biggest issue they faced – whilst the home fans stayed away, opposition fans took this opportunity to take over the stadium. There are many occasions, frequently against the Chiefs, Raiders, Broncos and the Steelers, when it has been difficult to spot a Chargers jersey in the crowd! In week 15 of the 2017 season, the Chargers used a silent count for its game against the Vikings at home because of the noise made by the amount of Vikings fans who made the trip to LA. To top this, in a 2019 home game against the Steelers in week 6 the stadium even played the song ‘Renegade’ by Styx during the 4th quarter, an anthem which is frequently heard at Steelers home games. Melvin Gordon went on record to the Los Angeles Times stating “It was crazy, they started playing their theme music. I don’t know what we were doing – that little soundtrack, what they do on their home games. I don’t know why we played that”.
A question often asked is did Los Angeles actually want an NFL team? Interest has never been particularly strong, both the Rams and Raiders have previously been and gone, and it seemed like LA was doing just fine without one. So in a city that hosts sporting superstars such as LeBron James, Cody Bellinger, Mike Trout and now Aaron Donald, the Chargers were always going to find it hard to win a popularity contest. This was never more evident than in the results of the annual Los Angeles public opinion survey report, conducted by Loyola Marymount University in early 2020, which showed the Chargers are the NINTH most popular sports team in LA County.
As expected, the Lakers and Dodgers, with more than 30% of the vote each, make up the top 2, followed by Rams, Clippers and Angels. But they were also behind both LA soccer teams (LAFC and the Galaxy) and the Kings, with the Chargers staggering 1.6% only just edging out the woman’s basketball team, the Sparks.
It is also inevitable that they will also be less popular than UCLA and USC. In some ways this shouldn’t be a surprise. The year after their move to LA, another LMU survey asked LA residents to name their favourite NFL team. According to reports, the Chargers finished 4th behind the Rams, Raiders and “any team is fine”. Quite simply, LA does not need NFL, let alone want the Chargers.
What does the future hold?
So will the Chargers ever be accepted in Los Angeles? You kind of have to feel the only way this would happen is if they better the Rams and win a Superbowl – there would be no better time to do this than in 2022, when SoFi Stadium hosts.
LA loves success and this would be a sure fire way to increase their popularity. This is easier said than done though. The Chargers’ best opportunities to have a deep post season run have been in recent seasons under Rivers, and now they are in a state of flux. Only time will tell if Herbert will become the franchise quarterback they need which will most likely mean a few seasons of rebuilding and consolidating.
Man the new CHARGERS Stadium is coming along real nice 😍 pic.twitter.com/JSjwBvoEJm
— ً (@KeenanMVP) May 15, 2020
A short term fix could be a move back to San Diego, but that is very much a non-starter with Spanos still at the helm. That leaves either making their mark in LA or a move away from the west coast. There has been recent talk about relocating to the UK to become the London Chargers, and whilst they would get to play in Tottenham’s fantastic state of the art stadium, the same issues that haunt them in LA are likely to follow them to London. Fans will flock to games, but mainly to either visit the stadium or to watch their opponents.
So what can Chargers fans look forward to? Well for starters their new jerseys are by far the best in the league, and they will be playing in the new SoFi stadium which will in turn mean greater attendances as the stadium will be a big draw.
The NFL wanted a team in LA more than LA wanted a team, let alone two, and it seems like they are now stuck with each other.