And then there were two. More than a half-century after they left their first home, the NFL’s San Diego Chargers are coming back to Los Angeles. Owner Dean Spanos confirmed the move in a tweeted memo this morning — note that new handle, and the Dodger-esque logo above:
The team, which started in L.A. in 1960 before heading south, will play at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center in Carson starting next season. It will be, by far, the smallest venue to house an NFL team, but that should mean their games will sell out, meaning no blackout for Chargers home games on SoCal TV. The team then will move into the pending Inglewood stadium it will share with the L.A. Rams beginning in 2019. The news comes one year to the day after the Rams announced their relocation from St. Louis to the City of Angels after 22 years.
The move fired up L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who’s up for re-election in May. “Los Angeles is one of the world’s great sports towns,” he crowed in a statement this morning. “Championship teams and iconic athletes aren’t just memories here — they are legends woven into the fabric of our history. Today, we welcome an important part of that history back with the Chargers returning to Los Angeles.”
The move had NFL brass and fans on pins and needles for months — actually years — as Spanos and the city of San Diego wrestled over a new stadium to replace the trusty but crusty Qualcomm Stadium. The concrete beast opened 50 years ago and also housed baseball’s Padres until 2003.
The Chargers, which began life as an American Football League franchise before merging into the NFL with nine other teams in 1966, have until May 1 to terminate their Qualcomm lease and now owes the city a $12 million termination fee.
Before the Rams’ return this season, L.A. had been without an NFL franchise since the Rams and Raiders left after the 1994 season. Attempts to bring the league back to the country’s No. 2 TV market had been ongoing for the better part of the decade, and now the promise of Rams owner Stan Kroenke’s planned 80,000-seat stadium has lured a second franchise. The stadium, with a clear retractable roof on the former Hollywood Park site adjacent to the Forum in Inglewood, will be part of a nearly 300-acre entertainment, retail and housing development.
When the Rams’ return announcement was made on January 12, 2016, the league had given Spanos and the Chargers one year to decide whether to move up the 5 Freeway permanently. Now that the deal is done, the focus should be on improving a team that went a dismal 5-11 and finished last in the AFC West. (A rash of injuries throughout the year didn’t help.) The Rams fared even worse in their homecoming season, lurching along to a 4-12 campaign. If the teams’ owners and the league want to fill that stadium every week, both franchises will need to pick it up.
The Chargers have a proud history but have fallen on hard times in recent years, making the playoffs just once since 2009. They made the Super Bowl once, after the 1994 season when both L.A. teams were packing up and renting moving vans. The Chargers were swamped by the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX.
The team had an often-contentious relationship with the city of San Diego and its fans, as it sought public funding for a new stand-alone stadium. (The Padres moved into the wonderfully retro Petco Park downtown in 2004.) An eventual move north seemed inevitable, yet somehow unthinkable. Now the deal is done.
The 2017 NFL schedule isn’t out until April, but it’s known that the Chargers will host games against Miami, Buffalo, Philadelphia, Washington and Cleveland, along with AFC West rivals Denver, Kansas City and Oakland. The Rams opened the 2016 regular season on Monday Night Football, as the later start in the now-regular two-game MNF opener. Expect the same for the Chargers — and the smart money is on them opening against the hated Raiders.
Speaking of the Silver and Black, the NFL’s suddenly hot-again relocation game now shifts its focus farther up north in the Golden State. The Raiders are eyeing a move to Las Vegas, lured by a proposed $1.9 billion stadium that could be built with $750 million in public money. Sin City is about to join the big leagues for the first time, with the NHL’s expansion Golden Knights set to begin play in October. That team will be in the league’s Pacific Conference along with the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks.