In San Diego, this is a fantastic NFL season.
The Chargers, who abandoned that city for Los Angeles, are 0-4 and, worse, have gone largely unnoticed.
This week’s game against the winless New York Giants has been shoved to Channel 9, where it won’t risk bumping into the Rams’ kickoff. Last week, the Chargers were exiled to Channel 13. What’s next, rabbit ears?
Whether it’s failing to sell out their debut at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, or needing a silent snap count at home because of all the screaming opposing fans, or barely beating the local ratings of the 6:30 a.m. game in London, it’s a new indignity every week for the Chargers.
These problems go beyond losing the first four games. They are baked into the situation, and the issues aren’t going to be solved with a few Ws.
Unlike the Rams, who could point to their 49 seasons in the market and the fact that owner Stan Kroenke was bankrolling a glistening new stadium, the Chargers came to Los Angeles without a compelling story. No matter what the club said, what everybody heard was: “San Diego wouldn’t help pay for a stadium. So … Hello, L.A.!”
Yes, the Chargers played the 1960 season here, but that’s a Trivial Pursuit question. No meaningful history. No significant fan base. No rationale beyond the bottom line.
The Chargers arrived uninvited into a market still skeptical about embracing one team. For Los Angeles, it was like getting a second bread-making machine as a housewarming gift. You weren’t even sure you’d use the first one.
This didn’t come out of the blue. The warning signs about the apathy were there before the Chargers announced they were moving north.
But they moved anyway. Then, in addition to a botched logo and other fumbles, the Chargers rolled out their “Fight for L.A.” slogan. That could be read one of two ways. They were either fighting the Rams for fans, which the NFL didn’t like — the league goes to great lengths to avoid owners competing over the same sports dollars — or fighting on behalf of L.A. Well, nobody here asked for the Chargers to fight on their behalf.
Now, there’s no longer any reference to “Fight for L.A.” on the team’s website, and the narrative has shifted to one that’s almost pleading and apologetic, in essence: “We knew this was going to take a long time. ... We didn’t expect you to love us right away. … Please, give us a chance.” There might be a niche market in that, but it’s hard to imagine the franchise growing a robust fan base that way.
For 20 years, Los Angeles was incredibly valuable to the NFL without a team. It was the threat that stadium-hungry teams around the league could hold over their cities. That leverage point still existed after the Rams moved, because Kroenke was building a two-team stadium. It would be for the Rams, and a team to be named later.
But now that the Chargers have moved here, and the situation has gone sideways, Los Angeles has become a cautionary tale. The only other team that would work here would be the Raiders, and they’re building a stadium in Las Vegas.
There’s no way this city will be looked at as a hammer again. A relocation-minded owner who threatened, “We just might be the second team in Los Angeles,” would be met with gales of laughter. So at least that’s a good thing.
All of this comes at a bad time for a league trying to cope with the dark clouds gathering over issues of health and safety, political protests, game attendance and TV ratings.
Commissioner Roger Goodell was at the Chargers’ game last Sunday — the second time in two months he has visited them — and saw how Eagles fans took over that stadium. The crowd might have been split, but players from both teams talked about how much it felt like a Philadelphia home game.
It won’t be any better for the Chargers when they play host to Denver in Week 6. And their New Year’s Eve finale is against the Raiders, when StubHub will surely be a sea of silver and black that’s accented by flecks of blue.
So where do the Chargers go from here? At this point it’s highly improbable that they would try to unwind the relocation and move back to San Diego. They couldn’t with their current owner, anyway, and the Spanos family has given no indication it intends to sell. Plus, the NFL has in place financial penalties for the Rams or Chargers if they sell their clubs in the next 10 years. The league doesn’t want house flippers.
After next season, both teams will have to start cutting $65-million checks every year for a decade to pay off their relocation fee. There is pain to come.
A new stadium is cool and exciting, except when you can’t fill it. Both the Rams and Chargers have to prove that they’re capable of doing that.
Meanwhile, there are former Chargers fans in San Diego who find themselves cheering for the Giants’ Eli Manning this weekend, and Miami’s Jay Cutler a few weeks ago. Back in the old days, Manning and Cutler were despised.
And the hits keep coming.
“Mr. [Dean] Spanos has talked about this being a process,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said. “He’s talked about getting in and doing the hard work of connecting with the community, and that’s what they’re doing.”
It’s a process. So is a root canal.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer