Charging into Los Angeles

By Scot Chartrand, @ScotChartrand 

The Chargers will play at StubHub Center this season. Image via www.lagalaxy.com

The Chargers will play at StubHub Center this season. Image via www.lagalaxy.com

They say you only get one chance to make a first impression, but in a business like the NFL, you can’t help but find yourself being worthy of multiple chances. The Los Angeles Chargers experienced some well-documented, early stumbles as they exercised their league option to move from San Diego this past January. At least, that’s part of the story. However, much has taken place since, and several key offseason decisions remain. There’s still plenty of time for the Chargers to write their own LA story.

FIRST IMPRESSION

On January 12, 2017, Chargers owner Dean Spanos wrote to inform fans of his intention to move the Chargers from their home of more than 50 years back to the site of their original founding in Los Angeles. He noted, “The entire organization knows that we have a tremendous amount of work to do.” In the same letter, he signaled an understanding that the work wasn’t just on the field, but “off the field as a leader and champion for the community.”  

This work was branded as a “Fight for LA,” which carries with it echoes that local college graduates from USC (Fight On) and Cal Berkeley (Fight for California) alumni must find familiar.

While the search for a new stadium for the team had gone on for 15 years, the reaction to the move was quick. In San Diego, fans burned team gear at the team’s headquarters.  LA Times’ columnist Bill Plaschke simply penned, “We don’t want you.”  

Shortly thereafter, the team logo was booed when shown on the screen during a Clippers/Lakers game at the Staples Center.  The reaction on social media wasn’t any kinder.  A retooled logo, released with Spanos’ statement, was ribbed by the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning and MLB’s Los Angeles Dodgers for an uncanny resemblance to their own.  The day after, a color change of the new mark didn’t make things any better.  Ultimately, the logo was dropped by the Chargers.

Adding insult to injury was the reaction of peers and former players.  Adam Schefter reported within the week that fellow NFL owners and executives were “angered” by the move to the point they wanted the team to move back to San Diego.  Perhaps one of the most loved Chargers of all-time, Dan Fouts, equated the move to a “death in the family.”

Aspects of early outreach that did go well included a visit by Chargers QB Philip Rivers and DE Joey Bosa to The Jimmy Kimmel Show in Hollywood in January as well as owner Dean Spanos accepting the key to the city in Costa Mesa—their new home in Orange County.

SINCE THEN

In the past week, the Chargers made a key decision and announced they would hold their training camp in Costa Mesa at the Jack Hammett Sports Complex.  The venue hosted practices for the 2014 college football national championship game.  Interestingly enough, their new, temporary home stadium of the StubHub Center in Carson was actually used as a practice facility for teams playing in the 2014 Rose Bowl. 

The choice places the team in direct proximity to the Los Angeles Rams’ training camp location in Irvine. Both are in Orange County separated by a mere six miles and a small stretch of freeway. Their “Fight for LA” marketing slogan will be put to the test early on.

The team has also utilized the “Fight for LA” to sell tickets in their temporary home of the StubHub Center.  The facility, which has a below league minimum seating capacity, is best known for featuring professional soccer as its most well-known tenants (LA Galaxy and formerly Chivas USA). 

While football has been also played there in the form of a college all-star game for scouts in recent years, the 30,000 seat capacity is well below the smallest in the league (56,063 for the Oakland Raiders at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum).  Hence, the Chargers have taken to marketing the experience as if “every seat will feel close to the action.”

According to ESPN, fans have responded slowly but surely, and last week, the team was within 600 season tickets of selling out their allotment.

Besides hiring a new coach for the move to Los Angeles in former Bills coordinator Anthony Lynn, payroll has been a significant part of the story in terms of the team’s regular employees. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that team employees were required to decide by March 15, if they will move to Los Angeles with their role or receive a severance package. 

If they chose to remain with the Chargers, they could receive 12-18 percent salary increases and one-time $5,000-$20,000 bonuses.

The final piece to the puzzle currently underway has been the integration of the Chargers with local business and community outreach efforts. 

LaDainian Tomlinson was famously hired to the front office in late February in a yet to be determined role as reported by KNBC’s Fred Roggin. Recently, the Los Angeles Marathon took place in the City of Angels, and Charger LB Denzel Perryman participated in helping with both the marathon's work and advancing the team image in the city. 

No iconic presence in LA truly exists unless they’ve had a hot dog named after them at Pink’s in Hollywood, and the Chargers are now part of the esteemed fraternity. Wouldn’t you love to try the Chargers Chili Cheese hot dog on your next visit to Tinseltown? 

Despite all these efforts, there is still notable progress to be made. A visit to the Chargers website displays fewer corporate sponsors than other NFL teams and even ESPNLA.com has yet to list them as a local sports team on their site.

WHAT REMAINS THIS OFFSEASON

So, what’s left for the remainder of the offseason for the Chargers?  Well, for starters, they’re relocation story just found an immediate company in the Raiders—although, they will stay put in Oakland short-term. How will this all impact television markets and viewing habits? 

For now, they have contracts to work out with stations for preseason television coverage with a flagship in the LA market (KCBS has the Rams’ contract, KTLA is a Raiders’ affiliate).  Will there be any changes to affiliates and the flagship arrangement for the Chargers radio network?  Radio color commentator and former Charger Nick Hardwick has said he is not interested in continuing his role given the move, so that aspect will be changing. Part and parcel to these broadcasts will be continuing to engage and sign on new sponsors—where the continued introduction into the market will be key. 

Another milestone for fans will be whether the team decides to hold an NFL Draft viewing party in April given the high pick the team owns.  The Rams held theirs at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles last year.  Is it possible the team follows in the footsteps of the Rams and plays host to the television franchise Hard Knocks on HBO to garner interest?  They are eligible given NFL rules. 

Perhaps most importantly, the big question on everyone’s minds…what happens to the San Diego Super Chargers legendary disco fight song?  It’s going to be a long offseason, but one to watch.

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