The Los Angeles Chargers played a regular season game in StubHub Center for the first time in Week 2 in front of a crowd of 25,381 fans.
Maybe an even bigger concern than how that’s not a sellout in the 27,000-seat stadium is the fact that the crowd had swarms of Miami Dolphins fans. There’s a good chance that it’ll be even worse for other games, including divisional matchups like the game against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday.
Essentially, the Chargers’ relocation from San Diego has been a botched mess.
The birth of a Chargers return to San Diego rumor
Earlier in the week, NFL reporter Don Banks wrote in The Athletic that the league was surprised by how fast things have gone south for the Chargers. On Thursday, Banks joined The Mighty 1090 in San Diego to talk more about the issue.
"There are people in the league — including the commissioner — they did not want to see San Diego forsaken,” Banks said on the radio show. “They would rather there be a team in San Diego. If there’s anything viable that they could find to put the league back in to San Diego, I think they will be in that camp strongly.
"I think there’s already a level of concern at how far south it’s gone, that there are at least people talking about it. I don’t think a true tipping point has been reached, it’s too early for that. But I think there’s enough concern that people are saying, 'What’s the best option perhaps among bad options?'"
But the story really took off Friday when ESPN’s Steve Mason linked to an article with Banks’ comments in a tweet:
“The NFL is considering abandoning” LA to go back to San Diego is a pretty big leap. Banks wasn’t impressed with the sudden fuel that was tossed on the fire he had technically started.
Re: My Chargers column, I didn't write team would be "sent'' back to SD by decree or "forced'' to sell. Not my words. Reading is fundamental— Don Banks (@DonBanks) September 22, 2017
Wrote NFL is very concerned, and it is. And no good options for short-term fixes, except long-shot scenarios, some of which being discussed.— Don Banks (@DonBanks) September 22, 2017
But a report that the NFL is concerned enough to be talking about alternatives and that a solution in San Diego isn’t immediately dismissed is noteworthy.
Why it makes sense
The biggest problem with the Chargers in LA is that the team doesn’t have a built-in fan base there. The Rams and Raiders both do and the fact that it was just a 100-mile move for the Chargers made it difficult to draw in new fans in an already saturated sports market.
All of these problems were easy to see coming.
So if a solution presented itself in San Diego — a market that averaged 66,772 fans per game in 2015 — that’d be ideal for the league. It already has the Rams in LA and doesn’t need to dilute the market with a second team, and could keep an influence in San Diego.
Why it doesn’t make sense
There were reasons the Chargers left San Diego in the first place and none of those problems have been solved.
Qualcomm Stadium is now 50 years old and an unsuitable host for an NFL franchise, but another home hasn’t been easy to secure. San Diego voters have shot down plans that would raise public funds for a new stadium and there just isn’t enough private contributions to make a plan work.
It’s the same problems that led the Raiders to announce a relocation from Oakland to Las Vegas.
A lot would have to change for San Diego to suddenly make sense as a home for the Chargers again. Given the contentious relationship between the team and city, Dean Spanos would probably have to sell the team too for a reunion to work.
Walking away from the new stadium being built isn’t so easy either. The team agreed in principle with the Rams in 2016 to contribute more than $200 million toward the construction of a stadium and it would create budget problems if the Chargers bailed and that money suddenly disappeared.
If the Chargers move back to San Diego, it’s probably not going to happen for a long time. Hurdles that forced the team to move in the first place still exist and there’s even less urgency to clear them now that the team already left.
Still, the challenges facing the Chargers are very real and the NFL discussing alternatives makes sense.
The likeliest scenario is that the Chargers stick to the plan. They’ll probably stay in StubHub Center, attempt to build a brand in a new city, and eventually move in with the Rams in a new stadium.
If there’s a crazy alternative that comes out of nowhere, it’s probably more likely that the NFL ships the Chargers off to a new market ready to dish out public funds the way Las Vegas did for the Raiders. Just don’t count on it.