As the Chargers and Rams continue the process of working out the details for sharing space in Kroenkeworld, a local theory is emerging that runs counter to the looming partnership. Maybe the Chargers should stay where they are.
Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times makes the case for the ongoing existence of the San Diego Chargers, based on both the team’s failed one-year residence in L.A. (when they shared a stadium with the Rams) and the anecdotal sense from Plaschke that there are few if any Chargers fans in Los Angeles.
“This isn’t a Chargers town,” Plaschke writes. “This has never been a Chargers town. The Chargers had 21 years to woo us as an uncontested suitor and still couldn’t make it a Chargers town. . . . There are more Raiders fans here than Chargers fans, and it isn’t even close.”
Plaschke then delves into the details of the former Coliseum cohabitation by the Rams and Chargers. The details are intriguing (Plaschke shares a tidbit from a 1985 column in which former Chargers coach Sid Gillman is quoted as suggesting that they introduce the smattering of fans in the stands instead of the players), but it’s important to remember that the Rams had been entrenched for more than a decade as part of the old-guard NFL. It was the first year of the fledging AFL, and dropping a team in a city that already had an established NFL franchise was risky, to say the least (although it eventually worked in New York).
Failure of the Chargers 56 years ago doesn’t ensure failure of the team in 2016 and beyond, but it’s critical that both teams sharing a market that was empty for more than 20 years at least wonder about the willingness of fans to fill the venue on a regular basis. Perhaps Kroenkeworld will be so compelling that people will flock to the structure at any chance they can get, whether to see the Rams, the Chargers, or whoever the visiting team is.
From the Chargers’ perspective, the prospect of competing with the Rams should be taken seriously. While it wouldn’t be quite the same as sharing Lambeau Field with the Packers, the Rams seem to already have a clear advantage.
There’s another reason for staying put that Plaschke didn’t mention. It’s one that’s been rattling around inside my limited brain for the last eight days. With the NFL making an extra $100 million available to build a stadium in San Diego and with the Chargers avoiding a $550 million relocation fee by staying put, that’s another $650 million that can be dumped into a one-team stadium in San Diego. If owner Dean Spanos chooses the partnership option in Inglewood, he’ll have to come up with a lot more cash to foot half the bill for building the place; some of that extra money would be devoted to a San Diego venue, too.
Maybe the Chargers should drop the effort to get public money and build their own stadium in San Diego. While that would entail surrendering to local politicians who, by all appearances, have been pushing hollow offers to protect their own interests, it could be a far more prudent business decision.
Of course, that would open the door for the Raiders to become the NFL’s version of the L.A. Clippers, with two teams again residing up the road from San Diego instead of none. But if Plaschke is right, it won’t matter; it’s not as if thousands of people were driving from Los Angeles to San Diego to see the Chargers, anyway. And any who felt strongly enough about the Chargers to make that trip likely won’t flip the switch to the Rams or the Raiders simply because it will be a shorter drive.
So maybe the Chargers shouldn’t make the permanent drive to L.A. at all. And maybe they’ll be better off over the long haul remaining in their current market, paying for (and owning and controlling) their own stadium.