Congratulations, Dean Spanos. You have done what Donald Trump, Roger Goodell, Colin Kaepernick and a ballroom full of concussion researchers could not: You made people stop watching an NFL team.
I must admit, I didn’t think this was possible. The NFL could sell beef to vegans, lawnmowers to apartment-dwellers, rat poison to a rat. Sure, the league’s TV ratings have fallen a bit, but the NFL is still an entertainment giant: the NBA and The Avengers and Beyoncé rolled into one.
Enter 67-year-old Dean Spanos, stage left—which obviously means he was supposed to enter stage right. The Spanos family has owned the Chargers for 33 years, but he grew unhappy with his stadium in San Diego. His solution: complain to the city council and then hide in his house. Then he took his team out of San Diego, a small market where people thought he was a cheap, inept weasel, to Los Angeles, a large market where people think he is a cheap, inept weasel.
The Chargers are supposed to share a $2.6 billion stadium with the Rams, who moved back to Los Angeles from St. Louis in 2016. Spanos announced the move with a well-crafted press release: “Hey-yo, this is Dean Spanos, I love small children, please buy tickets for the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers football product—on sale now!!!” He then unveiled a logo that appeared to have been drawn by a seven-year-old with a crayon, in a bumper car.
Unfortunately, when Spanos arrived in L.A. after sitting in traffic for three days, he discovered that the stadium was not ready. Apparently officials are still assembling the sign outside that reads PROUD HOME OF THE RAMS, ETC.
And now look. Or don’t. Nobody is going to Chargers games. There were just 25,000 people at each of their first three games in the ironically named StubHub Center. I’ve attended weddings with more paid guests.
Worse: many—perhaps most—of the fans were cheering for the visiting Dolphins, Chiefs or Eagles. Chargers players have come to accept that they are playing 16 road games. Their mascot should be Jack Kerouac.
Spanos seemed to think that Los Angeles was dying for a second NFL team, which is funny because we weren’t sure L.A. wanted a first NFL team. The city did just fine for two decades after the Rams and the Raiders left town. Still, the Rams’ moving back made some business and karmic sense: L.A. should have an NFL team, and the city simply repossessed the Rams after St. Louis swiped them in the ’90s.
Giving L.A. a second NFL team is like giving Miami a second snowplow. Nobody asked for it, nobody wants it and nobody knows what to do with it. Spanos has said publicly that he hopes San Diegans still support their Chargers and will drive the 120 miles to L.A. You might as well ask your first wife to pay your second wife’s car payments. San Diego has too much self-respect to do that.
America’s football fans will do a lot to support their teams. Clevelanders have happily watched the Browns play horrible football in ugly uniforms. Detroiters have always loved the Lions even though most of the time the Lions couldn’t figure out how to love them back.
Those cities support their teams because the franchises are just that: their teams. The Chargers are nobody’s team. San Diego is mad at them. Los Angeles did not invite them.
This could all change eventually, I suppose, if the Rams are awful and the Chargers are good. L.A. could forget this is an arranged marriage and decide to live happily ever after with the Chargers.
But for now the Chargers are the party guests who keep pouring themselves more drinks while everybody else fake-yawns and checks their watches.
So congratulations, Dean. You found a way to make people boycott NFL games, and you didn’t even have to pay for picket signs.