The Corner

Culture

Voters Made the Right Call. Then the Team Owner Punished Them For It.

Last November, voters in San Diego County rejected two ballot measures that would have hiked hotel taxes to pay for a new stadium for the city’s NFL team, the Chargers. The voters made this decision even in the face of threats from Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who said that without a plan for a new stadium, he would seriously consider moving the team to Los Angeles.

San Diego’s voters made the right call; taxpayer dollars shouldn’t be used to build stadiums. Unfortunately for Chargers fans, the owner made good on his threat today, officially confirming the move. The San Diego Chargers have played their last game, and will become the Los Angeles Chargers.

There’s an excellent chance this move will turn out terribly for Spanos and the team. For 22 years, Los Angeles had no NFL teams; then last year the St. Louis Rams returned to the city. Official attendance figures for Rams home games were good, above 80,000, although it certainly looked like there were a lot of empty seats at the late-season games.

In the meantime, the Chargers are reportedly going to play in the StubHub Center, home for Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy, which will be by far the smallest venue in the NFL, with just a 30,000-seat capacity. A new $2.6 billion stadium in Inglewood, which will use a relatively small $60 million in public assistance, is slated to be the shared home for the Rams and Chargers, but it won’t open until 2019.

So the Chargers, who just finished 5–11, will be playing in a micro-stadium as the second-most-popular team (at best) in a city that has had an intermittent-at-best interest in professional football. (Which teams own L.A.? Depending upon success, usually the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, and/or USC and UCLA.)

Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke does not expect a surge of interest in the new arrivals:

The good news about the Chargers’ move is that nobody will have to spend much money on a welcome parade. It will be a short one. There will be one limo carrying Spanos and one Brink’s truck carrying his loot, both moving hurriedly up that freeway ahead of the muffled San Diego cries, all of Los Angeles peering briefly out the windows before closing their blinds.

It’s a bad rerun of previous NFL teams abandoning loyal fan bases to chase profits elsewhere, a move that football fans in St. Louis, Houston, Baltimore, and Cleveland understand all too well. Unfortunately, no public policy can protect fans against a greedy, short-sighted owner.