NFL: Could a Permanent Move to London Save the Los Angeles Chargers?
A city and a professional sports team usually have a symbiotic relationship. The pair usually complement each other’s identity; the Yankees’ confidence fits perfectly in New York, for example, while the Montreal Canadiens symbolize an entire segment of Canadian culture. The Los Angeles Chargers, however, don’t seem to have that sort of relationship with anyone.
After shuffling between Los Angeles and San Diego, the Chargers might be on the move again. Could London, England, really be the Chargers’ new home?
The Chargers home town history
The Chargers began their life in Los Angeles as one of the charter members of the AFL. After one season in Hollywood, however, the team was ready to relocate.
The Chargers played their first season in the Los Angeles Coliseum, before moving to San Diego in 1961. They changed their name to the San Diego Chargers and settled in Balboa Stadium; while the seating capacity was raised to 34,000, the team needed a bigger home. The club relocated to the new San Diego Stadium in 1967 and would call the complex home, albeit under different names, until 2016.
In 2017, the Chargers finally ripped the bandaid off and moved to Los Angeles. While the team plans to share a stadium with the Rams, construction won’t finish until 2020. In the meantime, the Chargers have been playing their home games at Dignity Health Sports Park, a soccer stadium in Carson, California.
The Chargers home-field disadvantage
Every sports team dreams of having a raucous crowd that gives them a home-field advantage. The Chargers have had the exact opposite in Los Angeles.
Since moving to Dignity Health Sports Park, which was previously known as the Stubhub Center, the Chargers have essentially been playing on the road every week. The crowd is, at best, equally divided between both team; stronger fanbases have been known to descend on LA en masse, outnumbering Chargers fans. When the Chiefs came to town in 2018, for example, Andrew Joseph of For the Win simply wrote, “This was essentially a Chiefs home game.”
The Chargers players aren’t immune to the crowd noise. “We were kind of expecting it from the tendencies from the past,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “There’s no hiding it. A lot of times, we have more away fans than home fans. We’ve kind of gotten used to it.”
Could the Chargers move to London?
There could be one solution to the Chargers’ stadium struggles, however: moving them to London. According to Vincent Bonsignore of The Athletic, the NFL is considering the move in order to help the Chargers gain traction. There’s a fear that, even in their new stadium, the team simply can’t compete in the crowded Los Angeles sports landscape.
On the surface, the idea seems tempting. The Chargers would get plenty of breathing room, moving into a new city with no American football competition on the continent; they’d presumably call Tottenham Hotspur Stadium home, which would be a clear step-up from Dignity Health Sports Park. From the league’s perspective, a move would allow them to continue tapping into the global NFL market.
Despite that, there would be massive logistical concerns over such a move. Divisions would have to be reorganized, and the schedule would need to change; more international travel would have to require additional bye weeks. Stadium details would need to be squared away; Tottenham can give up their stadium for a couple of games, but it’s hard to imagine a European soccer team wanting to sacrifice their own home-field advantage for weeks at a time.
The Chargers would also need plenty of time for personnel moves. You would have to assume that there are quite a few players, especially big-name veterans like Phillip Rivers, who don’t want to move to another continent.
From a business perspective, there’s plenty to like about moving the Los Angeles Chargers to London. On the logistical side of things, however, there’s still plenty of work to be done; that work, especially since it impacts the entire league, will likely take years. If a move does happen, it’s not going to be a magic bullet that fixes the franchise tomorrow. The Chargers made their bed by leaving San Diego, now they have to lie in it for the foreseeable future.