I’m known for being diplomatic – even overly subtle – and I don’t like calling people names, but I’ll come right out and say it: Dean Spanos is an idiot.
Only an idiot would use a bad deal as leverage to get a better one, and that’s what Spanos did with his Los Angeles gambit. When the better deal didn’t come through, because San Diego didn’t want to pony up millions of dollars to keep the Chargers, Spanos probably had no choice but to follow through on his threat and move to L.A.
San Diego called his bluff, and instead of folding, he decided to pull his bid off the table and leave in a huff.
Now he’s stuck in a city that doesn’t support losing teams – which the Chargers most definitely are at the moment, having lost five in a row to finish 5-11. Not only that, he’ll be playing second fiddle to the Rams, who have won even fewer games (4) than the Chargers did this past season.
The Rams sold a lot of tickets in their first year back, but thousands of those ticketholders stopped bothering to show up when the team’s fortunes took a nosedive. That’s how it works in L.A. People have better things to do than to sit around and watch bad teams play bad football. Fans there have attention spans shorter than the last movie trailer they saw … which they probably don’t remember, anyway.
I spent six years in L.A. back when the Dodgers were a baseball powerhouse, regularly contending for the National League championship. Even then, the joke was that fans would show up at Dodger Stadium in the third inning and hang around a few innings, then hightail it for the exits at the seventh-inning stretch. And it wasn’t far from the truth.
(The Chargers new logo, incidentally, is a blatant ripoff of the Dodgers'.)
Supply, but no demand
Even with all that, it might have made sense to move the Chargers if there was a yearning among Angelenos to make the team their own. But there’s not. There was significant support for the Rams to move back, but no one I know of – except Mr. Spanos – seems to care about having the Chargers in the City of Angels. To quote one old car dealer’s vintage commercials, “Nobody, but noooooobody.”
Spanos probably feels like he has to move because San Diego voters turned down a ballot measure that would have thrown millions of public dollars his way to finance a new stadium. Now Rams owner Stan Kroenke will be paying for the move instead: Under the deal, the Chargers will pay $1 in rent to use Kroenke’s brand-spanking-new Inglewood stadium when it opens.
You have to hand it to Spanos. At least he’s consistent: He always wants someone else to pay for his failures.
The problem is, with no support in L.A., he’ll ultimately be on the hook anyway, even with the sweet rent deal. There’s little doubt that the metroplex will turn up its collective noses at the Chargers, who have virtually no history there and even less history of winning.
The one season they did play in Los Angeles (1960) was actually one of their best: They actually made it to the AFL Championship Game. But that wasn’t good enough to interest L.A. fans back then: The Chargers’ crowds were so sparse they wound up moving to San Diego the next season.
Now they’re back. But what makes Spanos think a losing team will do any better this time around – even if the team is more established, and pro football is a far bigger deal than it was back then?
You might think a businessman like Spanos would know a bad deal when it hits him over the head, but you have to remember that Dean inherited the team from dear old daddy, the guy who really made the family fortune.
And the current fiasco only proves the younger Spanos’ ineptitude as a businessman. Forget “Art of the Deal,” this was one artless dud.
First he alienated Charger fans by threatening to move – to such an extent that attendance fell significantly this past season. Memo to Dean: When you’ve got one foot out the door, you’re not a very attractive suitor. After support in San Diego (predictably) withered, he had little choice but to take that other foot and step out of the proverbial frying pan into the fire.
But if fewer people wanted him in San Diego than before, fewer still want him in L.A.
Winning is the only way
The Chargers are a team without a country, and they're likely to remain so unless they become very big winners very fast. The former San Diego Clippers will always play second fiddle to the Lakers in Los Angeles, even though they're winning these days and the Lakers have spent the past couple of seasons at the bottom of the NBA barrel.
Spanos should have been paying attention.
None of this matters now, though. Spanos has made his decision to pack his bags for Los Angeles, and all the pieces are in place for the Los Angeles Chargers to become the biggest football flop since Vince McMahon’s XFL. It took just a little more than a decade for the Raiders to hightail it out of L.A. and back to Oakland; I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen here.
And considering how Dean Spanos has treated the fans of San Diego, I hope I’m right.
Postscript: I fully expect we’re at the end of that era when NFL owners are able to demand massive public funds for shiny new stadiums every 10 years. San Diego said, “No.” And with the NFL’s TV ratings down an average of 8 percent in 2016, cities may soon have a lot more leverage than they do now. Stay tuned …