It took 21 years for the National Football League to return one team to Los Angeles.
On Thursday — a year to the day after NFL owners approved the Rams’ move to L.A. — San Diego Chargers President Dean Spanos completed the saga, taking a 21-minute flight in his private jet to give the city its second team.
The Chargers’ 56-year relationship with San Diego ended in the span of a few minutes.
The team’s Twitter account posted a five-paragraph letter from Spanos on Thursday morning, announcing his decision to join the Rams in L.A. for the coming season. Then Spanos departed on his Gulfstream V, landed at rain-drenched L.A. International Airport and started the first day in his new home.
“We have a plan in place,” Spanos said. “There’s a tremendous amount of competition. My plan right now is to get ingratiated in the community. We want to be part of L.A.”
The Chargers exercised their one-year option — the terms of the relocation were already agreed to and didn’t require another vote by owners.
The Chargers immediately changed their logo, an overlapping L and A that resembles the one used by the Dodgers.
“It’s hurtful, and right now I’m in a state of shock,” retired Chargers center Nick Hardwick said. “I think a lot of people around San Diego are in the exact same position. I don’t know if I’m supposed to be upset, mad, lash out, or go in a corner. I see the logo and think, ‘This isn’t real.’ But it’s real. It happened.”
In a meeting at The Times on Thursday afternoon, Spanos said he is stung by the criticism depicting him as a villain.
“I’m human like anybody else,” said Spanos, who plans to live in Los Angeles. “I have emotions. I’ve lived half my life there [in San Diego], and we were a significant part of that community not only on the field but off the field. It’s the emotion of the fans. To be expected.”
Spanos planned to attend a Kings game Thursday night, and meet Friday with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, followed by a welcome dinner hosted by Lakers co-owner and President Jeanie Buss.
The Chargers unsuccessfully sought a replacement for the 50-year-old Qualcomm Stadium — widely considered one of the league’s worst venues — for the last decade and a half. A series of concepts failed for various reasons, among them an inability to gain political backing, little appetite for public financing and site issues.
Experts believe the 120-mile move north to the nation’s second-largest market will dramatically increase the value of the Chargers. That was the case with the Rams, whose value increased from $1.4 billion to $2.9 billion, according to Forbes, when they moved from St. Louis.
The Chargers will pay $1 a year to be a tenant at the $2.6-billion stadium in Inglewood that Rams owner Stan Kroenke expects to open in 2019. For their part, the Chargers will contribute a $200-million stadium loan from the NFL and proceeds from the sale of personal seat licenses, which could be as much as $300 million, without being responsible for financing the project.
The Chargers will also add an additional 10 games a year to the 298-acre sports and entertainment complex, where hundreds of thousands of square feet in office space, retail and housing are planned around the stadium.
Spanos said Thursday afternoon that he had left a message with Kroenke but had not spoken to him since the decision.
“We’re not best buddies but we have a good relationship,” Spanos said. “It’s friendly.”
Hours after Spanos announced his decision, the Rams hired Sean McVay as their new head coach. The Chargers also are looking for a head coach. Spanos’ son, John, who runs the football side of the franchise, said the Chargers hope to make a hire in less than a week.
“We are effusively happy that the Chargers made the difficult decision to come and join the Rams in Inglewood,” said James T. Butts Jr., the city’s mayor who met with Spanos on Thursday morning.
John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt who studies the NFL, estimates the Chargers would bring in $75 million more in annual local revenue by playing in L.A. rather than in a new stadium in San Diego.
Each team gets an equal share of league-wide revenue like national television contracts. The teams get to keep the local revenue they earn from sources that include the home team's share of ticket sales, suites, radio deals and local sponsorships.
The increased franchise value and local revenue comes at a cost. The Chargers owe a $650-million relocation fee that can be paid over 10 years — same as the Rams will pay — starting when the Inglewood stadium opens. The other owners will split the money.
Spanos long said he wanted to keep the team in San Diego but could not find a stadium solution. He argued he needed to make the move for the long-term success of the franchise, and for his family.
“When you do the math, the Chargers are meaningfully better off in L.A.,” said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm Sports Corp. “It’s a tough deal to turn down.”
Until the Inglewood stadium is complete, the Chargers will play at the StubHub Center in Carson.
It’s a nontraditional option. The venue will seat 30,000 people for the football games — about half the size of an average NFL stadium — and the Chargers believe fans will pay a significant premium for the up-close experience. It’s also an opportunity for the Chargers to differentiate themselves from the Rams, who are sharing the Coliseum with USC.
A.G. Spanos, Dean Spanos’ son who runs the business side of the Chargers, said the club has already received thousands of refundable $100 season-ticket deposits for the venue.
Last month, the Chargers agreed to lease space for a temporary headquarters in Costa Mesa, but they are searching for a permanent location.
Though NFL owners have remained adamant in public that L.A. can support two teams, some have expressed reservations in private about how enthusiastically the city will embrace two franchises that have struggled on the field in recent years.
One owner not involved in the move, who spoke only if granted anonymity, said the decision “feels desperate.”
The drawn-out decision has tested the patience of NFL owners and agonized a San Diego fan base that has cheered the team since its arrival from L.A. in 1961.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the Chargers “worked tirelessly” to find a stadium solution in San Diego.
“Relocation is painful for teams and communities,” he said. “It is especially painful for fans, and the fans in San Diego have given the Chargers strong and loyal support for more than 50 years, which makes it even more disappointing that we could not solve the stadium issue.”
In 2015, the Chargers joined forces with the Oakland Raiders in hopes of building a stadium in Carson. They brought on Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Robert Iger to oversee the project. However, NFL owners chose the Inglewood plan by a 30-2 vote last January.
As part of the vote, owners gave the Chargers the opportunity to move to L.A. If they didn’t use it, the option would have transferred to the Raiders, who are now pursuing a stadium in Las Vegas. The Raiders’ plan is bolstered by $750 million in public financing approved by Nevada’s Legislature and a large and passionate fan base in Southern California.
The Chargers turned their attention last year to a combined stadium and convention center in downtown San Diego. The NFL and the team pledged $650 million toward the project. A November ballot initiative on the project received a 43% favorable vote, when two-thirds was needed to proceed. The team said it spent more than $10 million on the failed initiative.
“I had the opportunity to go last year,” Spanos said. “I took this extra year. The league was generous enough to offer another $100 million, but at the end of the day, there’s just not voter support there for public money.”
After the defeat, Chargers officials believed that any public financing from the city or county would be subject to a vote that would be unlikely to take place until November 2018 at the earliest. Coming off a season with the second-worst home attendance in the NFL, they were loath to spend two more years as a lame-duck franchise with no guarantee that voters would green-light funding for a stadium.
“The Chargers will stand next to Donald Sterling in the Hall of Shame,” San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts tweeted Thursday, invoking the former Clippers owner who moved the team from San Diego to L.A. in 1984. “It hurts, but we will move on.”
Farmer reported from New York and Fenno from Los Angeles.
11:30 a.m.: This article was updated with additional information, including quotes from Chargers owner Dean Spanos.
9:55 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and San Diego County Supervisor Ron Roberts.
9:22 a.m.: This article was updated with comments from Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr.
8:55 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details and background, including that the Chargers will play at StubHub Center until the Inglewood stadium is complete.
8:15 a.m.: This article was updated with the Chargers officially announcing that they will move to Los Angeles.
Jan. 12, 7:55 a.m.: This article was updated with additional details and background.
This article was originally published Jan. 11 at 11:10 p.m.