LONDON 'CONGESTION' CHARGERS?
So, Dean Spanos may have responded in an angry, expletive driven fashion to the news that the Chargers are a potential option to become the franchise that ends up putting permanent roots in London. However, for all the swearwords, vitriol and ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ tweets, the actual content of Spanos’ interview with the LA Times shows his complete lack of understanding in what the original article outlining a potential Chargers move to London of the Athletic was really getting at.
The reaction of the Chargers owner was one of someone who was personally accused of considering a cross-Atlantic move himself and he can deny that all he wants because the article never pointed the finger at him. What the article suggested was that there are several high-ranking NFL officials in Park Avenue who are concerned enough with the Chargers current situation that they would be willing to not only agree to the move but help facilitate it.
Why has this come about?
Anyone who has even glanced at RedZone whilst the Chargers have been at home this season can understand why. Sure, they may be selling out their temporary sub 30k capacity home in Carson but even to say that makes the London games look they offer a good home advantage is an understatement.
Last week was the nadir as it appeared like the stadium was about 95% full of people wearing cheeseheads. This was having had similar happen in their previous home game when the stands were a sea of terrible towels. Now admittedly those are two fanbases that seem to be able to infiltrate games all over the country (if not quite in those numbers). In fact the last time the Rams hosted the Packers, similar observations about Packers fans dominating were made.
However when you host the Texans and are struggling to work out if the powder blue jerseys in the stands are retro-Chargers or retro-Oilers, the problems are magnified.
It is a problem that will only be exacerbated when the Chargers join the Rams in their new Inglewood home that is almost three times the size. A stadium, remember, that is owned by Rams owner, Stan Kroenke who will receive a rumoured million dollars a year in rent from the Chargers.
What has led to this point?
It was never plan A for Spanos to end up here. Even when he made the decision to move 110-miles north up the Pacific coast, it was considered the least bad of two bad options. What is certain now though is that and while there is unquestionable the media market for two teams in LA, it seems that, in the real world, the fanbase is not.
The Chargers have fundamentally lost the ‘battle for LA ‘as it were, with the local fan base largely choosing the Rams. It is sadly predictable too, when you consider that the Rams only left LA 21 years before they retuned. As a result, there is an entire generation of fans in their fifties who grew up Rams fans before, as one fan is quoted as saying ‘the mean lady took my team away.’ This gave them the ready made fanbase to dominate the landscape through them and their families.
Given the situation is so starkly obvious, it is little wonder that the quotes in the Athletic include the phrase ‘The current path they are on will not yield results in the foreseeable future’.
Now, NFL top brass are wondering whether the effectively homeless and practically unsupported Chargers might therefore be the best options to take across the pond. If Dean Spanos was to come around though, would it work?
The issue of travel
Firstly, there is the travel problem, and being in the AFC West would literally be the worst-case scenario of any AFC division. As a result, there is no realistic way a London side could continue in the AFC West. However, the AFC East may just be the perfect division for a London team. Two teams in New York and another one right on the North-East Coast in the Patriots.
So how to fix this? Well the entire AFC South is a construct of relatively new teams; the Texans, Jaguars, Titans and even the Colts were moved in 1983. As a result, this is by far the most malleable division seeing as there are not the historic rivalries of the NFC East or AFC North. Houston, as the newest franchise in the league are best served moving West, especially when you consider that they are already further west than Kansas City. The biggest rivalry they would be losing would be against the Titans, seeing as they were the Oilers. However, from the outside, that rivalry has never had the vitriol of its equivalent in the North between the Browns and Ravens.
This would facilitate a move of the Dolphins to the South, which while making geographical sense is a fundamental shame. Like the AFC West, it is a great mix of four storied clubs from the AFL days. Even then though, the Bills, Jets and Patriots were all founder members whereas the Dolphins joined six years later. However, it would be dismantling a division with some real rivalries simply for logistics, which would be a shame.
The other travel based issue would be around how it would work for players and staff. Now, the logistics of that are hugely beyond my understanding but, in terms of timing, the fact that we have CBA negotiations coming up make this the perfect time.
Will a move to London give the NFL the fanbase they crave?
This is a huge problem for the NFL. We are discussing the possibility of the Chargers moving because they have practically no support in Year Two in LA. However, this is not a problem that will go away in London immediately.
Everyone reading this article from the UK. Heck everyone reading this article in Europe. Take a minute to seriously think about a world where all the above has happened and we have the London ‘Congestion’ Chargers. Can any of you seriously in good conscious say that you would drop the Buccaneers or the Jaguars or the Patriots to support the London team.
Imagine being a Raiders or a Chiefs fan. You have spent your entire life predisposed to hating the team you are now meant to support. European sporting fandom has never been built that way, it’d be like a Schalke diehard being told that they’re now a Dortmund fan. Or a Worcestershire fan and being told you must support Warwickshire now (hello ‘The Hundred’).
It is a 20-year plan to try and build a fan base in LA. But it’s a 20-year plan to build a fan base in London. YOU more than likely won’t be a fan, but your kids might just be. Park Avenue might think the fan base is here and ready. Well, you would argue that the last 10 years have proven that it is, but that asking that fan base to change teams is a different matter entirely. If the NFL believes that moving to London will solve the short-term problem of fandom for the Chargers franchise, they are sorely wrong.
If the motivation is increasing the number of fans in seats than LA currently have, then it is worth at least giving them a year in their fancy to new digs to see what the turnout is like. The NFL will get the fans in their seats in London in the short-term, but will they be supporting the Chargers? Probably not initially. The long-term plan might be five or even 10 years shorter in London than it is in LA, but is that enough to make the NFL happy? If this Chargers move to London does happen then do not get sucked into the narrative it is about the lack of fan base for the Chargers in LA. It is about the lack of profit being made by the Chargers in Los Angeles. As long as London and Europe can supply that profit, the NFL will not be too concerned how partisan the game day crowds are.
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