For years, the San Diego Chargers have been unhappy with their stadium and weighing the merits of a relocation to Los Angeles. They are free to leave their market at the conclusion of every season.
But the Chargers announced Tuesday that they will not be moving in 2015, and that's the strongest indication yet that, despite rumors and speculation to the contrary, there won't be any NFL team in the nation's second-largest market by next fall.
Like the Chargers, the St. Louis Rams and Oakland Raiders are on year-to-year stadium leases and are free to relocate at the conclusion of the season. Under their current leases, these three teams all have an annual decision about whether to relocate.
So why is a decision by the Chargers an indication of what the Rams or Raiders might do? Because it's almost inconceivable that Chargers owner Dean Spanos would show his cards this early if he weren't entirely confident that the L.A. market will remain vacant for the 2015 season.
It's unclear what assurances, if any, the Chargers have gotten from the NFL in this regard. But again, they would not swear off leaving San Diego in 2015 if they thought there was a chance another team or teams would stake a claim to L.A.
The Chargers' statement, from Mark Fabiani, special counsel Spanos:
"On February 1st of every year since 2007, the Chargers have been eligible to terminate the team's lease for Qualcomm Stadium. And each year since 2007, the Chargers have announced that the team will not exercise the termination clause and instead continue to work toward a permanent stadium solution in San Diego.
"Today, the Chargers are making the same announcement that the team has made each year since 2007: The team will not be exercising the lease termination clause and will keep working to find a publicly acceptable way to build a Super Bowl-quality stadium in San Diego. Calendar year 2015 will constitute the team's fourteenth year of work on a San Diego stadium solution."
Said San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer: "The Chargers belong in San Diego, and I look forward to continuing to work with them in 2015 to ensure the team is here for years to come."
Sherri Lightner, president of the San Diego city council, said she was "thrilled" the Chargers are staying for 2015.
"They're a great source of civic pride, and we're looking forward to working with the Mayor's office, the Council and the team on proposals to keep the Chargers in San Diego for the long term," Lightner said in an emailed statement.
The NFL did not immediately respond for comment on the Chargers' announcement.
For those connecting the dots, the Rams are the most obvious relocation candidate, and not because they spent the most time of any NFL team in the market. A year ago, Rams owner Stan Kroenke quietly purchased 60 acres next to the Forum in Inglewood, a rectangular piece of land large enough to accommodate an NFL stadium (but not all the desired parking). The Rams and St. Louis have not agreed on a stadium solution there.
The Raiders are interested in L.A. too, and would be willing to share a stadium. But in their current ownership configuration, they don't have the wherewithal to do an L.A. stadium on their own, and it's unlikely the league would pave the way for them to be the first team back in the market.
The Chargers contend that 25% of their season-ticket holders come from Orange and Los Angeles counties, and that the club would incur significant financial damage were another NFL team to relocate to the L.A. market. Also, the Chargers would lose leverage to get a stadium deal done in San Diego if the option to leave for L.A. were off the table.
The Chargers face long odds of getting a deal done in San Diego. The market doesn't support the sale of preferred-seat licenses, so the franchise couldn't use the financing mechanism that was essential to the San Francisco 49ers getting their deal done in Santa Clara.
What's more, the Chargers would not have the support of the San Diego hotel industry in building the team's proposed joint-use stadium/convention center facility. Hoteliers want any expansion of the convention center to be contiguous and not in a separate facility.
Any new stadium proposal would be put in front of San Diego voters and would, under the California constitution, require two-thirds approval. That's an extraordinarily difficult standard with an issue as controversial as a stadium.
Times staff writer Tony Perry contributed to this report.