LOS ANGELES — The Chargers were the biggest story in Los Angeles for about four hours.
On the same rainy Thursday that the Chargers announced their relocation up the Southern California coast, the Los Angeles Rams hired 30-year-old Sean McVay to become the youngest head coach in NFL history.
Welcome to LA, Bolts. You’re no longer the greatest show in town.
While their franchise value soars and their stadium future becomes secure, the Chargers realize they face a lengthy struggle to gather respect, attention and a durable fan base among the roughly 19 million people who inhabit the five counties around Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest city.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos’ first public comments acknowledged the difficulty of the task they’ve accepted in leaving San Diego after 56 years.
“Our entire organization knows that we have a tremendous amount of work to do,” Spanos said. “We must earn the respect and support of LA football fans. We must get back to winning. And we must make a meaningful contribution, not just on the field, but off the field as a leader and champion for the community. The Chargers are determined to fight for LA, and we are excited to get started.”
Indeed, the Chargers are entering quite a competition.
The Chargers relocated exactly one year to the day after the NFL’s 21-year absence from LA ended with the Rams’ official move back to town. The Southland will be home to two teams apiece in five professional sports after Major League Soccer’s expansion LAFC arrives downtown next year.
The wildly popular Lakers and Dodgers rule their respective calendar months. The Clippers, Kings and Anaheim Ducks are perennial playoff teams. The Los Angeles Angels drew 3 million fans last season while losing 88 games.
There are collegiate athletics powerhouses at USC and UCLA, along with innumerable outdoor sporting pursuits around an entertainment-saturated metropolis that doesn’t get obsessed with sports in the first place.
Even among die-hard NFL fans, the Chargers will be at least a distant third-place team in their two-team market next fall. The Rams have a generational fan base that never gave up on them during 21 years in St. Louis, and the Raiders are still wildly popular in Los Angeles from their 1982-94 run at the Coliseum — along with that outlaw franchise’s status as a California lifestyle brand as much as a sports team.
But one intriguing aspect of the Chargers’ machinations is their choice to play their next two seasons at StubHub Center, the LA Galaxy’s compact soccer stadium in suburban Carson. Even with an expansion in capacity to 30,000 seats, it will be small by NFL standards — or even by some Texas high school football standards.
The Chargers and the Galaxy’s owners, sports conglomerate AEG, have plans for expansion and improvement of the modest facilities around StubHub. Yet playing in a small stadium should protect the Chargers from the unpleasant optics of thousands of empty seats while they attempt to build a fan base.
The Raiders’ annual road game against the AFC West rival Chargers should be a fascinating sight this fall, but the Chargers hope they’ll benefit from their temporary home by providing an unusually intimate setting for fans — and whatever ticket prices the market will bear.
“I would like to commend the Chargers on this bold and innovative decision to move to StubHub Center,” AEG President and CEO Dan Beckerman said. “It is truly a testament to how strongly the Chargers feel about the fan experience and their willingness to create something special for people in Southern California.”
The Rams were ripped on social media and by rival fans for empty seats this season at the cavernous Coliseum, which doesn’t look full even with 80,000 people in attendance. The Chargers’ games will be packed by comparison — even if the crowds are one-third of the Rams’ turnouts.
The Chargers’ training complex is expected to be in Costa Mesa, 40 miles southeast of Los Angeles amid the Orange County fan base often cited by the Chargers as evidence of their appeal in the area.
But pure winning would be the easiest way to get LA fans’ attention, and the Chargers could be in position to do that more quickly than the Rams, who are rebuilding from a 4-12 season with the youngest head coach in NFL history.
The Chargers fired head coach Mike McCoy after going 5-11, but their new boss will inherit a team with decent talent around 35-year-old Philip Rivers, one of the league’s most consistent veteran quarterbacks — assuming the father of seven has no qualms about moving to family-friendly Orange County.
Rivers’ $83.25 million contract extension through 2019 kicked in this season, and a good coach could put the Chargers in position for a quick return to the postseason — somewhere the Rams haven’t been since the 2004 season.
“LA chargers does not change our main goal and that’s winning,” Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward tweeted. “LA let’s make this year great.”