MCCARTHY: Chargers’ move won’t solve Spanos’ woes

Photo+by+Amy+Elliot-Miesel

Photo by Amy Elliot-Miesel

Breaking up is hard to do. In Baltimore, there are still fans bitter with Jim Irsay for moving the Colts out in the dead of night nearly 35 years ago. In Cleveland, the name Art Modell still draws invectives, and even the Rams’ move last year from St. Louis to Los Angeles was not without controversy. Naturally, when you leave after 55 years together, like the Chargers and the city of San Diego, things are bound to get uncomfortable.

Most of the commentary surrounding San Diego’s move north to Los Angeles focuses on the shortsightedness of the decision. Critics point to the inadequate StubHub Center, the Chargers’ and Rams’ shared venue that seats just over a third of most modern NFL stadiums, as well as the city of Los Angeles’ lukewarm reaction to the news that a new franchise was coming to town.

There is little evidence that the Chargers will find success or enthusiastic fans in L.A., although the team’s value will certainly increase regardless. The real story is the comically poor fashion with which the Chargers organization handled the transition.

The decision to release the Chargers’ new L.A. logo the same day as the decision to move was announced was an overt sign of disrespect toward San Diego. It also didn’t help that the logo was so universally reviled online that the team promptly removed it. The Spanos family, who owns the Chargers, did not leave San Diego on good terms. Tension boiled over and former fans burned memorabilia and drove by the team’s offices honking their horns. One San Diego man even filmed himself throwing eggs at Chargers Park. Any hopes of San Diego fans sticking with the team after the move were squelched.

If burning every bridge in San Diego was not unfortunate enough, there was no one waiting in L.A. to welcome the team. Sure, the mayor of Inglewood introduced the team in a press conference, but there was a huge missed opportunity to partner with local brands and established L.A. sports teams like the Lakers or Dodgers to give the move legitimacy. Some cities offer parades to franchises that move. The Chargers were given a dull press conference where their new coach opened with “I’m so proud to be the head coach of the San Di… L.A. Chargers. Oops.”

It seems that the best solution for Dean Spanos might have been to leave the Chargers’ history in San Diego, retire the team name and start as a new organization with L.A. as its home. They’ve managed to maintain a brand that their new market doesn’t care about while alienating the only people predisposed to supporting the team.

San Diego is not too small a market to support multiple professional league sports teams. Cities like Pittsburgh and Baltimore are smaller, yet their teams receive higher levels of support due to their interaction and investment in their communities. Now, in a city where they may be the fifth most popular football team behind the Rams, Raiders, UCLA and USC, the Chargers will need to work harder than any other team in professional football to build and foster a following through community engagement.

It seems that the real problem with the Chargers was never their location, but weak ownership and an undisciplined culture. Teams as historically bad as the Browns are not supernaturally unlucky — they lack leaders with clearly defined goals who can execute their vision. The Chargers risk falling into a spiral where they lack success and a fanbase. How can you build fan support in a success-obsessed town like Los Angeles without winning?

Moving to a city that is at best indifferent to your franchise is tough enough, but the execution of the Chargers’ move did the organization no favors.