Chargers move strains fan loyalty

Any time a pro sports franchise up and moves to another market, it leaves fans fuming. Remember the Colts slipping away from Baltimore to move to Indianapolis in the “dark of the night?” Or when the Cleveland Browns went to Baltimore and left their loyal Dog Pound back in Cleveland feeling totally betrayed?

What about when the Brooklyn Dodgers jumped from coast to coast to live large in Los Angeles, or when the Seattle Supersonics devastated basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest by moving to Oklahoma City? The NFL’s Rams franchise may have moved the most, from L.A. to St. Louis and, now, back to L.A.

And now we have the Chargers. San Diego loved their bolts in blue, and the team loved the city … but they hated the stadium, and they wanted something better. San Diego wouldn’t cough up the cash to build the team a new-fangled stadium, so the team moved up the road to L.A. … a city that already had a (new) NFL team and also has Oakland relatively nearby. Chargers fans were enraged.

As San Diego fans began burning jerseys on video and raging online, the team prepared to make the move and then announced a further indignity. They would be soon debuting a new team logo to go with their new city.

That new logo, using an electrified “LA” as the base, is salt in the wound for loyal Chargers fans. They don’t want their team to move, and they certainly don’t want to be reminded of the move every single time they see the team logo.

It could have gone another way, because team ownership held the team for ransom, demanding a new facility to replace the aging Qualcomm Stadium. That park, built in 1967 and home as well to the San Diego State Aztecs college team, is a proverbial dinosaur by NFL standards. Ever since the Cowboys and now the Vikings revealed new “futuristic” stadiums, owners have been in a self-imposed contest to see who gets to have the best and brightest new tribute to their egos.

Chargers owners told the city to pay up or else, so city officials put a ballot initiative that would have paid for a new stadium up for a vote. It was voted down, and the team that called San Diego home for 56 years hit the road.

This is likely only the beginning of this sort of scenario for NFL franchises. There are several markets with aging stadiums where owners will want to leverage love of the “home team” against a willingness of the public to come out of pocket for something that directly benefits the owners but doesn’t do much for the actual community.

There is a tipping point, though. NFL fans are already disgruntled, and this season has not been pretty in terms of attendance, sales and TV viewership. While some markets have thrived, this has been in spite of growing discontent among the fans. At some point, love for the team will be strained too much by ownership groups, unless NFL team execs can find a way to win back the kind of “all-in” support they enjoyed in previous decades.

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