Commentary: Chargers try new media strategy in battle for L.A.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers shows a clenched fist to a handful of fans as the end of a 31-20 win over the Buffalo Bills.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

They haven’t created an alluring, fake profile on Or paid starving writers to craft poetically positive posts on Yelp. Not even one robotic conspiracy about generating extra likes on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Instead, the Chargers have leveraged more traditional media platforms to mold a meet-and-greet game plan with the Los Angeles market since their move from San Diego became official in January 2017.

Jeffrey Pollack, the team’s chief marketing and strategy officer, said the union won’t come as a bolt of lightning out of the sky. But in the limited time the Chargers have re-established L.A. as a home base and await shared use of an Inglewood facility with the Rams starting in 2020, there has been traction in attracting new fans.


“It’s a long-term play for us; it won’t happen in one season or one year or even two or three,” Pollack said. “It’s setting the foundation, having the right people and the right brands and the right relationships to bring Chargers football and the Spanos family story, and all that we are, deeper into the L.A. market.”

Pollack is well positioned to nurture the plan. He is a director on the L.A. Sports Council, on the board of advisors for the L.A. Sports and Entertainment Commission and on the executive committee for the USC Marshall Sports Business Institute.

KCBS- 2 has several Chargers games this season, including Sunday against the Rams — the first regular-season meeting of two L.A. NFL teams in decades — because it has the league’s AFC contract.

So, in thinking differently, the Chargers decided to establish a deal with KABC-7, the top-rated station in the market. Not just for exhibition games, but also using its on-air talent to produce video board pieces to air during home contests. So there’s Dallas Raines with the weather report. Or Rob Fukuzaki with a Chargers news update fresh from the studio.

It almost feels as if KABC pulled off some kind of coup to align itself with the team.

“We are happy football has returned to Los Angeles and wanted to be a part of it in a meaningful way,” said Cheryl Fair, KABC president and general manager. “The games happen from August through December but our partnership with the Chargers is year-round, community driven and goes beyond what happens on the field.”

On radio, the Chargers plugged into iHeartRadio’s stable of stations that reach some 10 million listeners in the city. Games are on the 50,000-watt KFI-AM (640), but play-by-play hire Matt “Money” Smith, the weekday afternoon co-anchor of the “PMS Show” with Petros Papadakis on KLAC-AM (570), can expand on the team’s storylines from the end of one game to the start of another. Smith and game analyst Daniel Jeremiah also do an NFL Network show together.

The station’s five major FM affiliates that span hip-hop to alternative rock programming also are involved in parceling out team information. They also provide some on-field hosts in games.

A Spanish-language presence comes from Lotus Communications, based near Universal City. For games on La Mera Mera KFWB-AM (980), Mario Solis, the KNBC-4 sports anchor who used to do Spanish-language broadcasts for the Rams, has come over to the Chargers’ side, joining Jorge Villaneuva.

“There will always be the case of a fan at home turning down the volume on the TV and taking the team audio because they want the familiar voices,” said Kevin LeGrett, president of the iHeartMedia Los Angeles region. “But we’re also trying to make a three-hour game stretch across seven days here, building conversation.”

The Chargers’ latest media move is a deal with Spectrum SportsNet, creating a “Backstage: Chargers” series that debuted two weeks ago.

The first half-hour chapter — they aren’t called episodes; the focus is to portray an unfolding story — deals with the kind of things you’d find in an HBO/NFL Films “Hard Knocks” episode. First-round pick Derwin James tries to ingratiate himself, including throwing out the first pitch at a Dodgers game. Center Mike Pouncey explains during a haircut how he finds new incentive with a new team. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers recharges himself by coaching his son in a flag football league in Temecula. The series runs every other week, with chapter two coming Thursday night.

“We have found that this in-depth, personal storytelling resonates not only with the die-hard fans, but also attracts casual viewers who are drawn to human interest stories,” said Dan Finnerty, the senior VP and GM of Spectrum networks, including the Dodgers’ SportsNet L.A.

The Spectrum partnership allows the Chargers’ show to be promoted on Dodgers and Lakers programming.

Pollack said the first “Backstage” episode generated 600,000 views on Facebook Watch, the second-highest number in the league for a first-episode exposure.

“All the early signs are positive,” Pollack said.

Jeff Fellenzer, an associate professor of sports, media and business at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, said this strategy reminds him of when another pro team, the Clippers, moved to L.A. from San Diego.

“This is a more focused and engaged strategy than the last team to drive up the 405 from San Diego to compete with an iconic brand,” he said. “The Clippers built a pretty solid base in a different way, even when they were perennial losers: You could see the same NBA teams at much lower prices, just in a different venue downtown, which was convenient for a lot of people. Even being a clear-cut second fiddle and tenant to the Lakers, the Clippers today play in front of sold-out crowds every night. ...

“The Chargers seem committed to slow but meaningful growth. And as always, if they continue to win and play an exciting brand of football, there are plenty of NFL fans in Southern California to go around.”

How far would a Chargers win over the Rams go in influencing the media narrative and possibly challenge the allegiances of some fickle Angeleno followers?

“We are partners in a new stadium and share in growing a level of excitement of live NFL action in this market after a 20-year absence,” Pollack said. “… But when we play each on the field, that’s a competitive situation.”

Extra clicks

ESPN has launched a new “30 For 30” documentary on the life of late USC and Chargers linebacker Junior Seau that will first be funneled through its ESPN+ pay platform streaming service beginning Thursday. “Seau,” directed by “HBO Real Sports” veteran Kirby Bradley, eventually will air on the ESPN cable channels. …

Two more LeBron James-related projects reach the screen from his SpringHill Entertainment studio: “Best Shot,” a documentary series focused on the Newark (N.J.) Central High basketball team, starts Tuesday at 5 p.m. on ESPN2. James, the executive producer, appears in it with ESPN analyst Jay Williams. James is also the executive producer for HBO’s “Student Athlete” that comes out Oct. 2, focused on the exploitative world of high-revenue college sports.