The late Art Modell, Cleveland Browns owner who spirited his team away in the dead of night pictured with Art Spanos who is ill-advisedly moving his in broad daylight to a city that doesn’t care.
It was with some sadness this morning that I heard the San Diego Chargers were moving, inexplicably, to a small soccer stadium in Los Angeles. I lived in the San Diego area for a few years in the early 2000s. As a huge sports fan, I never forgot my Bay Area roots. When the Giants played the Padres, my sons and I wore black and orange to the games and cheered loudly for our guys. And while I remained a 49er fan, I did root for the Chargers while I was down South. They didn’t play in the 49ers division and, in fact, didn’t play the 49ers at all while I was there. Chargers tickets were easy to acquire and the great weather made tailgating, almost literally, a day at the beach. The fans were were wonderful and the games were a positive experience unless the Raiders were in town.
As a city, San Diego is a sweet good natured kid. Because of the huge military influence between the Navy in Coronado and in the Bay as well as Camp Pendleton, many people come in from other parts of the country. Some stay. Some go. But San Diego has greeting, embracing and saying goodbye down pat. Everyone is welcome and when you have to leave for whatever reason, folks buy you a beer and wish you well.
When I heard that the Stockton-based Spanos family was pulling up stakes to become, at best, the fifth most popular team in a city (Los Angeles) that doesn’t even like pro football, I wasn’t surprised.
When Spanos wanted a new staduim, San Diego said no and billionaires like Spanos don’t like being told no.
When San Francisco told my beloved Giants no, the Giants investors (for the most part) financed their own stadium and now that we’re 17 years down the road on that, they’ve done quite nicely for themselves. The City too benefited as the surrounding neighborhood is now vibrant. Even on non-game days and even in winter. San Francisco is just not the type of city to give spoiled rich guys a hand. They stop just short of giving them the finger as a matter of fact. But SF knows what it offers and if you want it, build your own damn stadium.
When the 49ers wanted SF to hand them a stadium with a big bow on it, the City said no. The team leaned hard on my childhood home (Santa Clara, CA) and there they built an odd, soulless collection of luxury suites with a football field next to it. The Yorks who own the team are doing well financially on the stadium with Taylor Swift concerts, WWE wrestling matches, truck pulls and the like. Football-wise, the place was a ghost town last year and now the city of Santa Clara is suing the 49ers for various reasons.
Santa Clara, it turns out, had nothing to offer but acreage next to an amusement park and glass cubes that house tech firms. The warm, inviting town where I spent my childhood sold itself down the river to a rich family that doesn’t need it.
Long story short, San Diego deserved better but it’s not a market that rich, flinty profiteers like Spanos value. And while the fans deserve better, I’m happy that San Diego didn’t prostitute itself out to keep a rich man’s toy in its warmth. San Diego is a great place to live and raise a family. That’s good enough. In fact, it’s great.
Rather than being seen as a city that “lost” an NFL franchise, I hope they’re the latest example in what becomes a long list of cities that keep their priorities straight as carpetbagging sports team owners move from city to city and wonder why so many seats are empty.
One more thing: Oakland? Be strong. Be smart.