For years and years, the NFL has held the glittering, southern-Cal metropolis in its back pocket, like the owner of some precious bauble – of which exists primarily in rumor, and is broken out only for fancy, dinner parties.
It’s a sharp-edged trinket, and the Shield has not been shy in threatening to use it. Time and time again, teams attempted to extort the very cities they resided in, usually with the same refrain: “Finance a new stadium for us, or we’re taking the team to LA.”
And, more often than not, they’ve gotten their way. According to this Fox article, the general public’s bill for stadium expenditures exceeds seven billion dollars, and that’s just in the past twenty years.
The strategy has worked, for a variety of reasons. First and foremost, the NFL’s popularity grants it staggering leeway in the eye of the public. Second, Los Angeles is one of America’s biggest population centers.
There are an estimated 3.8 million residents living in LA proper, as of the 2016 census. When you include the surrounding counties, the figure jumps to a staggering, 18.2 million. That’s a lot of TV sets. Hollywood’s logo is set in white letters but, to the NFL, it might as well have been written in dollar signs.
The threat of something is sometimes more palpable than the actual execution. Still, it was only a matter of time before the NFL decided to dip its hand back in the jar.
This week, the San Diego Chargers are expected to announce they will be changing addresses, to an address that will be much closer to 90210. The move is effective immediately, starting with the 2017 season.
“It’s something that is unfathomable, but it is reality,” said hall-of-fame Chargers quarterback, Dan Fouts.
For fans in San Diego, it’s a bitter ending to a 46-year-marriage of torment (56 if you count the AFL years). It included just one Super Bowl appearance – a 1994 loss to the 49ers – and no titles.
It doesn’t help that the team has flip-flopped on move-matters, numerous times, over the past decade. First they were going and then they were staying, and then back again.
Now, it looks like they’re gone, and die-hards must now decide whether it’s worth the 120 mile trek up the PCH to watch their favorite team.
The Bolts will have to share the city with the Rams, who made their own announcement a year ago, almost to the day. Those are the same Rams who once resided in LA. Last year’s move completed a greedy circle that saw them bolt to St. Louis from 1994-2015.
You can forgive LA-residents if they are a little bit skeptical, as the NFL rolls out the red carpet and expects them to line up for tickets and foot the bill for new stadiums. Especially if they continue their early product returns.
The Rams gave the city its first taste of pro football in decades, last season. Unfortunately, it tasted of rotting meat. Watching Todd Gurley run into the line and fall down fifteen times a game isn’t exactly entertainment in the vein of the Showtime Lakers.
LA finished the season a dismal 4-12 and, really, deserved to be much worse. They played a bad blend of bland football, which had fans showering them with boos less than a season in.
The bad news is that the Chargers, at 5-11, weren’t much better. The good news is that they have veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and stud young talents Melvin Gordon and Joey Bosa. Their fans will at least have some semblance of hope on Sundays.
But do they want it?
After all, life without NFL football in Los Angeles has been, well, fine. LA fans are passionate, but in such proximity to Hollywood, a certain star-studded level of production is expected.
History has shown who they will turn out for, be it Magic’s Lakers, Gretzky’s Kings or Beckham’s Galaxy. USC, at their height of their relevance, functioned as LA’s pro-football team.
The one pro team that could have galvanized the city was the Raiders, one of the 80’s most-iconic teams, that blessed the city with its last Super Bowl title (’83). Instead, Oakland looks to be shut out for the time being. They are currently exploring options to relocate to Las Vegas – another city whose pro fortunes don’t exactly scream viable.
So, for those keeping score, that’s four cities of unhappy fan-bases: St. Louis, San Diego, Los Angeles and Oakland (basically in lame-duck status while their team shops around).
This is all because the NFL failed to learn from its own history in Los Angeles. As they said in Lord of the Rings – another tale about a bauble, no less – “…some things, which should not have been forgotten, were lost.”