Tom Brady Could Help Chargers Gain Foothold in Crowded Los Angeles Market
Jason B. Hirschhorn
Until Tom Brady either returns to the New England Patriots or signs a contract with another team, the superstar quarterback will continue to hear his name connected to the Los Angeles Chargers. The possible pairing has become the topic du jour in NFL circles since the end of the 2019 season, with the Chargers' decision part ways with longtime starter Philip Rivers further exacerbating the chatter.
And while Los Angeles makes some sense as a landing spot for Brady, the notion that the Chargers need him from a football perspective has flaws. Though the 42-year-old quarterback can still run an offense at a high level, that doesn't necessarily make him an ideal fit for the team. Head coach Anthony Lynn and his staff prefer strong running ability at the position, one of several factors that led to Philip Rivers' departure this offseason. Brady navigates the pocket well but, even at his physical peak, lacked any conventional notion of mobility.
But more than football considerations could come into play when it comes to the pursuit of Brady. The Chargers, who spent the vast majority of their history in San Diego, need to win hearts and minds in the Los Angeles market. That process generally takes considerable time and prolonged winning. However, one way to fast-track that process could involve signing a bona fide superstar like Brady just as the team moves into the luxurious, 70,240-seat SoFi Stadium.
And creating a home-team friendly atmosphere in the new stadium has become a hot topic in Los Angeles. According to a report from ESPN's Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr., the Chargers had sold only $60 million worth of stadium seat licenses as of late 2019, a far cry from the NFL's sales goal of approximately $400 million. The shortfall resulted in ownership significantly slashing ticket and SSL prices -- up to 15 times less than the amount SoFi Stadium's other occupant, the Los Angeles Rams, charge for the same seats -- in hopes of filling more orders. Even at the discounted rates, the Chargers still have considerable work ahead of them as scrap for footing in their new home.
Brady can help flip that narrative to the degree that any single player can. Even as peers such as Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson have replaced him atop the quarterback hierarchy, Brady remains the face of the sport. In the most recent edition of ESPN's annual global athlete fame rankings, Brady finished 31st overall, tops among all NFL players and the only gridiron football player featured in the top 50.
And despite Brady's age, only a few years separate him from some of his finest accomplishments. He won the league MVP in 2017 and led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history one year later to help secure his sixth Lombardi Trophy. The pelts Brady has put on the wall over his two-decade career continue to resonate with fans across the league. As a result, any team that signs him would immediately become a hot commodity in regard to prime-time broadcast slots.
For the Chargers, who have played in just eight regular-season games in prime time since moving to Los Angeles and saw another flexed out of Sunday Night Football late last year, landing Brady could mean opening themselves to a previously untapped national audience. And with a home tilt with the Patriots on their 2020 slate, the Chargers could capture one of the television ratings of any NFL game next season.
Those factors matter to those running the Chargers. While Lynn and general manager Tom Telesco would have to sign off on signing Brady, they also understand how the lack of crowd support at Dignity Health Sports Park has adversely affected the team. Players regularly commented on how few Los Angeles fans turned out for games, with matchups against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Green Bay Packers, and Minnesota Vikings producing crowds compromised of more than 80% visiting fans. Brady alone cannot fix the problem, but his arrival coupled with more affordable ticket pricing and a strong marketing push could make a difference.
Ultimately, Brady might not come to Los Angeles. The Patriots arguably offer the best chance at another championship, and several other teams will have a shot to land the future Hall of Fame quarterback as well. Even if the Chargers wow Brady and his representatives this offseason, he will still carefully consider all his options before making a decision.
But if Brady does choose to spend the final chapter of his playing career with the Chargers, it could materially affect not just their chances of competing for a title, but also their efforts to gain a foothold in the crowded Los Angeles sports landscape.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH