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Sell The Sizzle, Not The Steak

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To understand how the Chargers have gotten this close to moving to Los Angeles, all you need to do is watch Dean Spanos’ comments on filing for relocation.

Dean Spanos - Chargers Chairman and Salesman
Dean Spanos - Chargers Chairman and Salesman
Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Sell the Sizzle. Not the Steak.

It's one of the most popular axioms in advertising. What it means is that instead of selling a product itself, you have to make the customer want or need it. In other words, create an emotional response. The features of the product itself are not as critical as the emotional connection you create with the customer.

You can see this principle at work when watching Dean Spanos' interview on Chargers.com last night. Let me explain what I mean below.

What Are Your Rivals Doing?

First and foremost, it's very interesting to contrast the public statements made by the Rams, Raiders, and Chargers in regards to the relocation process.

Here is the statement released by the Rams on their website. Brief and blunt. No emotionalism. No interview with Stan Kroenke, or Kevin Demoff.

"The St. Louis Rams informed the National Football League today that the Rams propose to relocate to the greater Los Angeles metropolitan area. The relocation would be effective for the 2016 NFL League Year."

Here is the statement released by the Raiders. Again, relatively brief. No interview with Mark Davis.

In accordance with the relocation policies, the Oakland Raiders submitted a relocation package to the NFl. The matter is now in the hands of the NFL's owners. An owners' meeting is scheduled to take place in Houston, texas on January 12 and 13, 2016."

Both the Rams and Raiders are quietly going about their business with a minimum of fuss and emotionalism. They're not selling anything.

Of course, here in San Diego, we had both a Press Release and Dean Spanos providing what I called a "Song of Sadness" on Twitter last night. Here's the press release:

Today the San Diego Chargers submitted to the National Football League the team's application to relocate to Los Angeles.

We have tried for more than 14 years, through nine separate stadium proposals and seven different mayors, to create a world-class stadium experience for fans in San Diego. Despite these efforts, there is still no certain, actionable solution to the stadium problem. We are sad to have reached this point.

What happens next is in the hands of the NFL's owners, who will meet in Houston on January 12-13. The Chargers have pledged from the outset to respect whatever decision the League ownership makes.

So, what does this mean as it regards salesmanship, as it regards the Chargers? Simple. The Chargers are still trying to sell themselves as the solution to the NFL's Los Angeles situation.

Selling the Sizzle.

Among the 3 teams vying for relocation, the Chargers are reportedly the least popular option among fans in Los Angeles. This is likely because the Chargers left Los Angeles after 1960, and did not have the opportunity to build up the fanbase that either the Rams or Raiders built during their time in Los Angeles.

Author's Note: Save the "Chargers have fans in LA and will succeed in LA" argument. I'm not questioning either of those assumptions. I am operating under the assumption that there are more Rams and Raiders fans in Los Angeles than Chargers fans. Of course, if anyone has evidence which refutes this assumption, feel free to share it in the comments.

Next, of the 3 teams, the Chargers have the least appealing history. The Rams and Raiders have each appeared in multiple Super Bowls, and won at least 1 Super Bowl. As it pertains to Los Angeles, there's really not a brand to market. This is why some media members have suggested the Chargers might have to re-brand if they move to Los Angeles.

So, if the Chargers aren't highly popular in Los Angeles, and they don't have a historically successful brand to market, what's the sizzle?

Simple. The potential inclusion of current Disney CEO Bob Iger and the old narrative we've seen the last year - We have to go to Los Angeles because San Diego can't get anything done.

Once you determine the sizzle, you can also determine the customer. In this case, the primary customers are the other 29 NFL Owners.

In other words, the foundation of Dean Spanos' claim on Los Angeles rests on two elements.

  1. We admit we weren't on the right track, and got the right guy to help us make it work in Los Angeles.
  2. Gaining the sympathy of his fellow owners. Just consider this segment (slightly condensed) from the video:

"I've lived (in San Diego) for 31 years of my life... almost half my life. I have all my friends here. I have a lot of great memories, not just the football team, but the rest of my life and how it all played out here. So it was very difficult to come to this decision." - Dean Spanos on 1/4/16

Given the customers being targeted, that exactly who this emotional appeal is supposed to reach. Spanos is counting on his fellow owners watching that video and empathizing with his situation, instead of looking at what Kroenke is doing in Inglewood.

Not The Steak.

Depends on how you gauge the accuracy of the claims made by Spanos during the video. Let's review the talking points:

  • We've been working on this for 14 years. Well, that meshes with Mark Fabiani's hiring as Chargers Special Counsel.
  • 9 separate proposals. Depends on what you mean by proposal. If you mean a site, renderings, and a financing plan, there's only been 1-2 real proposals made by the team. If you mean cursory check or due diligence, then it checks out.
  • All rejected by the City of San Diego. The Chargers actually abandoned the Mission Valley proposal themselves. The City hasn't been enthusiastic about downtown (convention center or stand-alone), but at no point have they said that downtown is not an option - although the Citizen's Stadium Advisory Group (CSAG) report indicated they thought downtown was "unworkable". The other sites/ideas were either rejected by other communities (such as Oceanside, Chula Vista, National City, Escondido) or abandoned outright before any real proposal could be rejected.
  • Are the Chargers the best option for Los Angeles? As mentioned above, the Chargers carry neither the fan base, nor the brand to be a guaranteed success in Los Angeles. It would greatly depend on whether you think Bob Iger is the right guy to make the Carson Stadium Project successful - and he might well be.
  • It also depends on whether you think Carson is a better site/project than Inglewood, or if you think Stan Kroenke is better positioned financially to maximize the Los Angeles market.

In Conclusion

Dean Spanos' Song of Sadness is the latest iteration yet of the Chargers year-long strategy to try and play their fellow NFL owners for sympathy.

They don't have to go to Los Angeles because they are the most popular team, or have an iconic brand, the most money, or even the best stadium plan.

They have to go because San Diego can't get anything done, and they have someone who could make the Carson Stadium Project great.

Sell the Sizzle.

Not The Steak.