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The Future of Fandom After Relocation Is Uncertainty

What does it mean to be a fan of the Los Angeles Chargers, after they left one community to start another?

NFL: NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

This January, the then-San Diego Chargers officially announced that they would be relocating two and a half hours north to become the Los Angeles Chargers. The Spanos family, led by Dean Spanos, had been threatening this action from one degree or another for years. When the Rams announced their intent to move from St. Louis, those threats suddenly became very real. A half-hearted and doomed-to-fail stadium plan was put forth and put to a vote last year. It came nowhere close to passing. At that moment, moving became inevitable. Until the official announcement came, many of the people of San Diego still held onto the hope that their team was not leaving.

Now, because the Chargers ownership is not especially good at anything they do, they are still doing things in San Diego while they get their house in order in Los Angeles. And because the local sports media in San Diego has always focused almost entirely on the Chargers, they still continue to cover them more or less as though they are the local NFL franchise. This combined with the fact that we are still in the offseason and there are no games being played has left the fact that the Chargers have fled the city they called home for over half a century feeling more theoretical than a reality.

Many Chargers fans, some of whom were the most diehard of Chargers fans, have washed their hands of the team. Others are still hanging on but their hearts are no longer in it, or at least they are less so. On the other side of the coin, there are new fans of the team and there are those who are invigorated by the move as well. They would seem to be in the minority, but it is difficult to be certain.

My own background is that I have lived in San Diego County my entire life. I was born in the 80s and was raised to be a Chargers fan from the beginning. All throughout grade school, all of my friends that had any interest in football were Chargers fans. Even now in my 30s, nearly half of my friendships are with people where a large percentage of our regular conversations were about the Chargers - until this year.

Things are simply different from how they were before. My father who indoctrinated me into Chargers fandom has largely given up on the team. Many of my friends who would have normally spent the weeks leading up the draft asking who I thought the Chargers were going to select and telling me who they hoped would be taken never mentioned football at all. At my office, only one person has brought up the draft after it concluded and it was a former season-ticket-holder who was hoping to hear that the team had screwed up or embarrassed itself. He was disappointed to hear that it looked like a success early on.

As the Managing Editor of a Chargers blog written for and by fans of the team, I had a team of writers that as you would probably guess were as invested in the team as any fans of any team. Two of my most knowledgeable and most passionate writers have completely rejected the team they had spent their lives supporting through good times and bad. My predecessor who has stayed on as a writer openly discusses the fact that he is not sure if he will continue to be a fan or whether he even is one now.

Personally, I remain a supporter of the now Los Angeles Chargers. Perhaps there is a refusal on my part to let go of the sunk cost of decades spent living and dying with the results of games. But mostly I just find that I still care about the team and their fortunes. I do not believe I could choose to stop caring about the composition of the roster or the outcomes of the games.

Still, things are different from how they were before. So much of being a fan of a team is the sense of community. The shared joy and shared misery are important to the overall experience. The buzz of people talking about the team when you would walk into the breakroom at work, or at a bar, or at a family gathering was a big part of what made being a fan rewarding. At least for now and at least in San Diego, that has largely gone away if not disappeared entirely.

The excitement that normally follows the NFL Draft has been replaced by uncertainty, not just about the product on the field (which will be played in a soccer stadium of all things) but about what the experience of being a Chargers fan is going to be this year and for years into the future. I am still a fan of the team, but I do not know what that means anymore.