Los Angeles, CA. I’ve driven by it so many times on my way down to San Diego for Chargers games or practices, far too many to count. My family and I had season tickets at Qualcomm from 2005-2009 and we made it nearly to nearly every single game.
Coming from the Fresno area it was a bit of a trek. Average was around five and a half hours each way if we got lucky and there wasn’t anything to slow us down (the longest was nine and a half, just so happened to be the first time I drove... I don’t like talking about that trip). When cash was a little tight there were many times we would drive down to watch the game then drive home right afterwards. I’m sure to some that seems crazy, but it was a blast and I enjoyed every minute of it. Nothing can take away those memories that were made in San Diego with the Chargers.
I say that to preface the experience I’m going to share with you now. I completely understand the “never LA” mentality of some people, in particular if you’re from or have lived in the wonderful city of San Diego. I realize that there are many people who will never embrace that they are now the Los Angeles Chargers and completely respect that position. There are, however, many of us that remain fans and will likely be heading to a game or two at some point so I wanted to share my experience doing so.
I travelled from the Central Valley towards Los Angeles (Costa Mesa, more specifically) very early on Friday in order to be there in time for when the Chargers joint practice against the Saints began. Ended up arriving earlier than anticipated and had plenty of time to check out the area and get a layout of where training camp would be held. First impression was similar to the first time I went to Chargers Park in San Diego, it seemed to kind of come out of nowhere. Wouldn’t have guessed an NFL team was practicing in the middle of this community.
Parking was fantastic, two dollars and was able to park exactly where I wanted. It was free in San Diego, but a couple of dollars isn’t anything to get worked up about. The line was much longer earlier than it was whenever I went to training camp in San Diego, however 80% of the line or so had Saints jerseys on. Once the gates were opened was when it really became clear to me that this was a new approach by ownership. There were so many booths and things to do everywhere you looked. Stuff for kids, a very large Chargers’ shop tent, even a hydration station with fresh water to keep cool. None of this was a thing in San Diego.
The staff working the event were exceptionally nice, another thing that didn’t ever stand out to me attending training camp in San Diego. It always felt like we, the fans, were an afterthought. Here, however, we were the focal point. Everything felt designed with the fans’ experience in mind. Of course this is the case because they need to appeal to new fans and try to be as welcoming as possible, but that doesn’t mean this mentality isn’t appreciated.
Practice was fantastic, as it always was in San Diego. That part didn’t change, at least it felt that way. Nothing really to discuss when it comes to that if you’ve been to a practice other than that 80% Saints fans I mentioned earlier continued and it was definitely a one-sided affair. Now the part that WAS different, however, was that almost no players came to the fence to sign autographs. In previous years, 10-12 players would come by to sign and take pictures and all of that. I saw three and they didn’t stick around long. In fact, I saw more Saints players signing and they hung out for much longer. That was a little discouraging as I felt they did a great job of that previously.
Fast forward to game day. I’m a little concerned because everything I keep hearing says to get there early for parking, so I do just that. Had purchased a parking pass online prior to going and it made the process so much easier than I had expected. Believe it was 7 or 10 dollars and got right in. The $100 you keep hearing is for the tailgating lots (still way too much, but it’s being misrepresented as the usual parking price). Was so early I was the first one in the lot. The attendant there who directs traffic even let me change parking spots as I didn’t want to be near a port-a-potty with ease of exit in mind after the game.
I was able to get in earlier than I was use to doing at the Q because they have a sectioned off area on one of the sides that has a bunch of food vendors and a lounge area on the tennis courts with deals on beer and some former Charger players come by as well. It really is a different vibe than I was use to. Seeing so many local food vendors and craft breweries embraced and shown off was something I always felt was extremely under-utilized in San Diego. Got some amazing pulled pork fries ($14 was a lot, but man was it tasty) and enjoyed the live broadcast of the radio show until they opened the seating area an hour before the game kicked off.
Going back to a previous theme, all of the staff I came in to contact with were amazing. Extremely nice and engaging, but not so much so that it was annoying. I imagine they were told to be this way but either way, it was a very welcoming environment.
The stadium itself was a treat. There is a ton of shade in the food vendor areas and plenty of lounging areas as well. There are even charging stations for your electronic devices, something that I can see myself using a time or two. People aren’t kidding when they say the place is small, it feels downright tiny when compared to Qualcomm. It was very easy to find the seats and, although a large portion of the stadium is bleacher seating, it didn’t bother me after the first couple of minutes.
The environment. The intimate game-day experience that has been talked about non-stop since it was announced. I was most concerned with this and if it lived up to that billing. I have to say, for me, that it did. It was amazing how close you are to the action. I went down to the front row and could listen to LaDainian Tomlinson giving an interview while the players were stretching, felt like we were right next to him. This made me so excited for the game to start and see how different things were now.
Game time, finally. Crowd was loud but, like practice, there was a large amount of Saints fans. That is something I was accustomed to though as that was a common sight at Qualcomm and it didn’t feel very different as far as ratio is concerned. Things felt pretty normal, just much closer. They have a bugler, for some reason, and it seems awkward and out of place. They have a cannon again, this one may be quite a bit louder to be honest and is very startling if you aren’t expecting it. It was also wonderful to finally get an actual video board, it was a thing of beauty. Replays were something you wanted to watch because it was that clear. I was in the end zone and could clearly see the board across the entire stadium.
Exiting the stadium was very easy, even with it being my first time. I learned over the years at the Q where and how to park to get out within three minutes, but here I didn’t have to experience it prior to be able to exit quickly. It was also a welcomed surprise to see that my drive home was less than four hours, for what that’s worth.
Overall I had a wonderful experience in LA for practice as well as the game. Yes, it’s very different, that’s for sure. Different, however, doesn’t always mean bad. The circumstances aren’t perfect and I too am angry they are no longer in San Diego. This doesn’t change the fact that they are now, indeed, in Los Angeles and since I have decided to remain a fan I had to experience this for myself. I’m glad I did because I honestly can’t come up with anything negative about the experience other than it just isn’t in the amazing city of San Diego. Luckily, it’s still close enough to visit when I go down that way to watch more games.
I surely intend on doing both.