Chargers' L.A. problem shouldn't become NFL's London headache

Dan Wetzel

The Los Angeles Chargers vehemently denied they were moving to London or thinking about London or just about anything else involving London. The Athletic had cited some anonymous sources that both the Chargers and the NFL were interested in it happening.  

“It’s total f------ bull----, OK?” Chargers owner Dean Spanos said of the story. “We’re not going to London. We’re not going anywhere. We’re playing in Los Angeles. This is our home. This is where I’m planning to be for a long f------ time. Period.”

The Chargers’ official Twitter feed followed that up with a clip from the movie “The Wolf of Wall Street” that expressed similar sentiments. 

All in all the denial may have been the most endearing thing the Chargers have done in years. Maybe it will win them some fans.

Or not. 

The Chargers-to-London story didn’t make a ton of sense to begin with. 

Chargers owner Dean Spanos made it clear on what he thought about the team's future home plans. (USA TODAY Sports)

First off, anyone moving to London brings endless questions, tons of concerns and remains a massive gamble by the NFL. It is a move that would impact each and every franchise, including some (such as those in the London team’s division) in significant ways. 

Yes, Spanos’ Chargers are in a bad spot playing in L.A., where they have almost no fans. And yes, it is embarrassing for them (and the league office) to have their 29,000-seat temporary home in a soccer stadium overrun by supporters of the away team. 

Worse, there is almost no prospect that improves when they move in as a tenant to the Los Angeles Rams’ glorious new facility near LAX. SoFi Stadium will seat 70,000, allowing for just that many more tickets for visiting fans to gobble up. 

Chargers players have rightly bristled at their misfortune of having no fans. Hey, it isn’t their fault. This was a playoff team a season ago and it didn’t make a dent in the crowded/ambivalent L.A. sports market.

“Felt like an away game, every week, it is what it is at this point ...,” Charger receiver Keenan Allen told the Los Angeles Times on Sunday after defeating Green Bay and sending throngs of Packers fans home disappointed. “Sixteen road games, that’s what we do … we know what it is.”

What it is is a disaster.

But it is a disaster of Dean Spanos’ making. 

In San Diego he had a growing market of 3.3 million all to himself. He had great weather, passionate local supporters and years of connection with the region. He couldn’t figure out how to get a new stadium built and wouldn’t do it himself — the way Rams owner Stan Kroenke is doing it in L.A. 

He botched the entire thing, couldn’t find a suitable new city to move to and failed to build a stadium with the Oakland Raiders closer to San Diego. Oh, and he alienated all his old fans. He screwed the entire thing up and now sits in L.A. with little hope and few prospects. 

You think the rest of the NFL’s team owners are going to bail that guy out and just change the direction of the league by handing him London, a market larger than L.A.? 

The NFL’s long effort to gain a football foothold in England has worked. The league played four games there this year and attracted sellout crowds for all of them. The early Sunday morning television window is a boon. The new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is built NFL-ready, much better than the clunky fit (and small locker rooms) of Wembley Stadium. 

That doesn’t mean the NFL should put a team there.

Logistics remain. Can a London team handle the heavy travel — which require months of logistics? And sure, teams have gone over and back and haven’t been too negatively impacted, but if you are put in the Chargers’ division, do you want to have to do it every year? Wouldn’t that be a competitive disadvantage? 

And what about playoff appearances, when games are set at the last moment, sometimes with just six days’ notice. Getting everything across the Atlantic is a nightmare with time to plan.

Will free agents sign there? Will training camp be there? How do you shuffle in the early week tryouts and taxi squad guys who make up big parts of a roster as the grind of a season wears on? The London team would be playing uphill, likely to be bad and bad teams don’t draw fans. 

Having people show up for these events is just part of the equation. 

Does the NFL need the pop of revenue that London brings that much? 

If you are an NFL team owner, is this even a bad thing? Green Bay (or anyone else on the schedule) got an extra home game Sunday and energized tens of thousands of their displaced fans (more merchandise sold, a better connection with the team). 

What’s the bad part of that?

When it comes to the NFL’s International Series, the best route remains slowly extending it to eight games a year — the same number of home games a London-based team would have.

Rather than be exclusively in England, it can move some games around to other fertile football markets. Mexico City has already proven to be one of those homes — the Chargers are playing Kansas City there on Nov. 18. It would even make sense if the Chargers played annually in Mexico City, the way Jacksonville does in London.

Throw in games in mainland Europe (Berlin, Madrid), Brazil (Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro) and maybe another in Mexico, Toronto or wherever and you get to eight. Each team plays out of country every two years (or more if you’re the Jags or Chargers) and loses no more than one home game every four. 

That pushes the sport into new markets without forever altering the way the NFL works. 

The Chargers’ situation isn’t good. For the Chargers. 

But that’s their problem, not the rest of the NFL’s.

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