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Please Don’t Let London Turn into the Next Los Angeles for NFL Teams

For years, franchises dangled moving to Los Angeles as a way to get what it wanted from the current location. After the (profanely debunked) report earlier this week that the Chargers might actually move overseas, will London become the next L.A.?
Chargers in London

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There are a few ways to think about Tuesday’s firm denials from Chargers owner Dean Spanos—emphasis profanity included!—and from the NFL of the report that the league is considering steering the fledgling franchise to London for good.

One is that Spanos was angry because he had to be. The optics of the team’s half-full soccer-style stadium are probably sending shivers down the spines of Los Angeles’s marketing department as they try and figure out how to sponsor and fill a stadium three times that size. Having potential partners believe there is a chance they would pull the ripcord and escape across the pond is a difficult foundation on which to start a business.

Another is that Spanos was angry because he genuinely was. Pro Football Talk theorized that perhaps the Chargers were a pawn in a game to force the Jaguars to commit to London given their right of first refusal. This would represent an unwelcome speed bump in Spanos’s workweek; the millionaire’s equivalent of a flat tire (and who among us hasn’t called a flat tire f------ b-------?)

Regardless, Twitter (Chargers included) had their fun and the football world seemed to move on. What lingers, though, is the uncomfortable feeling that the next geographical grift has been spoken into existence and will soon be forced on a poor, unsuspecting city near you. Just when you got tired of hearing about the NFL’s unending flirtation with moving a team to Los Angeles, a new theoretical suitor of a city has arrived.

If you own a non-legacy franchise in the NFL, you need leverage. You need the idea of another sunny locale brimming with an untapped, thirsty fan base full of deep pockets and tax breaks. You need to create the idea that, if things don’t improve in the team’s current location, the franchise would be more than willing to pack its bags and move somewhere else.

For years, that locale was Los Angeles. It just sat there acting like a standing job offer at another company you’d never take but brought up casually every now and then when you weren’t happy at your current place of employment anymore. Then something interesting happened: Two cities gave up and said ‘fine, leave.’ They (correctly) assumed that the heat an owner would take for dumping a fan base would be far greater than the heat a city would take for refusing to hand over the keys to a group of people who assumed that simply existing somewhere constituted doing the city and state a favor.

London is set up perfectly to be the next great sidepiece because everyone will conveniently ignore all of the fine details and focus solely on the fact that the league is well-received there by a budding fan base. In reality, forcing a team to move to a place high-profile free agents would struggle to embrace and top coaches would avoid, a place where each game would either be a home contest against a sleepy, jet-lagged opponent or a road game that took a small feat of international jet-setting to pull off (also featuring a sleepy, travel-slogged opponent), would be a competitive death punch to an entire franchise.

The problem with the London story is that it ignores the truth: That the situation is perfect the way it is. London gets to have its fun and send the roadshow home when they’ve reached their fill. On my weekly podcast with Jenny Vrentas, The Weak Side, we compared it to the joys of being a grandparent. It’s the distillation of the best parts of parenting without any of the headache-inducing minutiae—the kind that, in the NFL world, produces all the cynicism and disillusionment that permeates throughout the landscape. It also works the other way around for the league, which gets to ride through the streets a few times a year like a beauty pageant winner, free of any real world problems awaiting them back home.

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Dragging London into this full time would be getting rid of one of the few things the league has not managed to squeeze beyond recognition.

The situation in Los Angeles should serve as a lesson to anyone who believes that it’s ultimately easier to leave their home city behind and not an invitation to simply conjure the next great leverage play.

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