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On Life

Ruminations and provocations.

Filtering by Tag: Dean Spanos

Chargers in L.A.: A marriage of inconvenience

Stephen H. Provost

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.

Nice.

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?

Artless dud

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 …

L.A. Rams' return: The good, the bad and the ugly

Stephen H. Provost

There's a lot to like about the Los Angeles Rams coming home. I say "Los Angeles Rams" not because of the NFL's decision to return them to Southern California, but because that's what they'll always be to me ... and what they always have been.

The Raiders have always been associated, first and foremost, with Oakland, the Chargers with San Diego, and the Rams with ... Los Angeles. Not St. Louis, and not Cleveland, where they played for the first few years of their existence, but Los Angeles.

I was an L.A. Rams fan before Merlin Olsen was Father Murphy, when their helmets were blue and white, when they went into the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl leading the Pittsburgh Steelers. I was an L.A. Rams fan back in '78, when Warren Beatty starred in a movie called "Heaven Can Wait" about a Rams quarterback who died and came back to life in the body of a heartless tycoon. 

So I love the fact that the Rams are going back to L.A. But I've got to admit, there's also a lot not to like about how they got there. Here's a rundown of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the NFL's decision (Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016) to put the Rams back where they've always belonged.

The Good

In a word, history. In a name - or names: Norm Van Brocklin, Elroy Hirsh, Bob Waterfield, Jack Snow, Merlin Olsen, Deacon Jones, Lawrence McCutcheon, Jim Everett, Henry Ellard, Eric Dickerson, Flipper Anderson, Jack Snow, Tom Mack, Tom Fars, Les Richter, Jackie Slater, Jack Youngblood. 

If history were the deciding factor, there never would have been a discussion about which team belonged in Los Angeles. The Rams were there for 48 years (if you count their time in Anaheim), four times as long as the Raiders and Chargers combined. They were the first major team in the city, arriving from Cleveland more than a decade before the Dodgers, Angels and Lakers showed up, and they were the first NFL team on the West Coast.

Speaking of the West Coast, if geography were the deciding factor, allowing the NFC West would never have been transformed into the NFC 3 West + 1 Midwest and the natural San Francisco-Los Angeles rivalry would have been preserved.

If fans were the deciding factor, it would have been just as much of a slam dunk worthy of Wilt or Shaq. Poll after poll showed the Rams were the fans' overwhelming favorites to make an encore appearance. A Facebook page called "Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams" had been operating for some time, and fans rallied in Los Angeles to show the NFL their support. There was no such clamor to bring back the Raiders, despite their Super Bowl win with former USC great Marcus Allen, or the Chargers, who spent all of one season in L.A. compared to their subsequent half-century in San Diego.

The bad

But, ultimately, the deciding factor was - as it always seems to be with the NFL - money. A billionaire developer with marital ties to the Walmart fortune beat out a group backed by the Walt Disney Company CEO for dibs on L.A. It wasn't about football, it was about playing hardball. It was almost as if Leo Farnsworth - that heartless tycoon from "Heaven Can Wait" -  was somehow involved.

What would the unprincipled Farnsworth have done if he'd owned an NFL team? Maybe he would have threatened to leave town unless taxpayers anted up millions toward a new stadium. Maybe he would have insulted his team's fans for failing to support a second-rate product or its city for refusing to go along with his demands. 

One good thing you can say about Rams owner Stan Kroenke is that at least he's paying his own way to Los Angeles. But don't expect that to become a trend. Most of the NFL's other owners aren't as rich as Kroenke and prefer to extort money from working class taxpayers to build new stadiums that aren't really needed. They do this by threatening to move somewhere else.

In fact, the NFL has supported this tactic for the past 20 years by dangling Los Angeles like a poison pill in front of fans from Seattle to Minneapolis to Jacksonville and allowing its owners to say, "If you don't pay, we'll move to L.A."

But when the L.A. Clippers basketball team sold for an outrageous $2 billion, it became apparent that even this time-honored sword of Damocles wasn't as valuable as the pot of gold underneath the Hollywood sign. Kroenke recognized this and decided to cash in. He could move quickly because he had the money in hand; the Chargers and Raiders had to team up in order to challenge him, but even together they couldn't match his monetary muscle.

The ugly

L.A. may be out of the picture, but owners still have plenty of other teamless cities to use as bait in the "we want a new stadium now" game. Now there's St. Louis and, probably, San Diego to go along with such oft-mentioned sites as San Antonio, Toronto and London.

Kroenke was probably the only owner out there willing and able to spend all his own money on a new stadium, so the bluff-and-threat stadium sweepstakes is likely to continue unabated. Kroenke doesn't care now that he's got his. If the NFL had denied his petition to move, he could have sued for the right to do so or just ignored the league altogether. He knew this. The NFL knew this.

The Chargers and Raiders should have known it, too.

But now, after losing this high-stakes game of chicken, Chargers owner Dean Spanos finds himself between a rock and a hard place, having thumbed his nose at both Kroenke and the city of San Diego. Now, he's got to choose one or the other. Either Spanos will be a small fish in the big Los Angeles basin, playing second fiddle to the Rams in Kroenke's world, or he'll be one big ugly blowfish in San Diego, where there's plenty of resentment over how he turned his back on that city and its fans.

Spanos has zero leverage now with Kroenke, whose relocation to L.A. has already been approved and can afford to offer Spanos little more than the scraps that fall from his dinner table now that he has nothing to lose.

Raiders owner Mark Davis is in even worse shape, because his lease is up in Oakland and his stadium is one of those that actually should be replaced. (It's the only NFL stadium to double as a baseball park.)

But I don't feel sorry for either of them. The people I feel sorry for is the fans, who have become innocent bystanders in this game of chicken between the NFL and its cities. And in a game of chicken, when one tries to cross the road, he gets hit coming and going.

I think I'll go watch "Heaven Can Wait" now. The hero dies, but at least it has a happy ending, and it's a lot cheaper than a ticket to a real NFL game. I'll watch that on TV. And I'll root for the Rams. The Los Angeles Rams. That's all they ever should have been, and whether it be thanks to God or the devil or Leo Farnsworth, they're finally back where they belong.