In what seemed like a week with little NFL news, there might be a bombshell brewing for the Los Angeles Chargers. The NFL Fall League Meetings are taking place this week in New York, New York, just as the NFL and the Chargers in particular are looking forward to their London brawl against the Titans.
With anthem protests and their counter-movements catching fewer headlines than last year, the League might finally feel it has time to do some overdue housekeeping. The biggest known issue this year has been the controversial changes to the ‘Roughing the Passer’ rules, but the NFL has already announced that they won’t be altering that during the regular season. Instead, it appears that The League is most interested in discussing whether or not the Chargers are a viable franchise for Los Angeles.
A major discussion topic among NFL owners/executives at this week’s league meetings is the Chargers’ viability in LA. PSL sales have been a struggle and team is expected to revise its Inglewood revenue goals sharply to a more realistic number: $400m to around $150m, per sources— Seth Wickersham (@SethWickersham) October 17, 2018
This is an incredible change of tone for the NFL, which has not allowed more than rumors to circulate that “certain” owners are not happy with the Chargers’ lack of home support. Even then, the carrot that has been held out through the entire process is Stan Kroenke’s palatial stadium that promises to cure all ails in 2020. Even then, the NFL would not consider a public about-face unless both that goal and the time it takes to get there would put the League’s finances in jeopardy.
With the Chargers playing out of a soccer stadium, the franchise and the NFL tried to spin gold by branding it as a short-term intimate experience that would never be replicated. With the Chargers seeming to be outnumbered by away teams each game, the League spun it as the glamour and opportunity offered to traveling fans jumping at the chance to enjoy LA. With season tickets taking longer each year to sell out (this year, selling out on the eve of the new season), yet less being available than any other team in the entire League, it became harder to find the positive. The bean counters have begun to take notice.
While having seats filled each game, even by the visiting team, counts as a sale, those visitors do not buy the coveted ‘PSLs’ that teams rely on. Personal Seat Licenses are a source of what is often assumed to be guaranteed money, but they still require buyers to purchase them. This is a primary source of funding expected for the Inglewood Stadium that also will serve as the HQ for NFL Media. The Chargers are reporting that this important revenue source has fallen below estimates... and significantly. Instead of bringing in $400 million, they are anticipating $150 million. Did we mention that Stan Kroenke will be on the hook for construction costs that PSLs fail to cover? Ah, now therein lies the rub.
As for the cost of such seats, according to the San Diego Union Tribune:
Team Spanos seeks fees between $10,000 and $75,000, just for the right to buy one Premium Seat in the massive venue going up in Inglewood some 120 miles north of Mission Valley.
Tickets for each of the 13,000 Premium Seats will cost $350.
That’s $350 per game. (The price is fixed for just the first three seasons, 2020-22.)
We could get well ahead of ourselves with rumors and theories about what could happen if the NFL decides that, yes, the Chargers are not a good fit for LA. Until the timbre of the conversation is reported, and until the NFL moves beyond just ‘discussion,’ everything is just a rumor. The big news today is that the Chargers no longer expect to raise the money that they were counting on to help finance their eventual home. This stands to hurt more than just the pockets of Stan Kroenke and Dean Spanos, and that’s why this discussion happening at this time is so intriguing. If the NFL was seriously going to think about changing course on the Chargers, every additional lost day puts a strain on some of the NFL’s biggest owners.
Much of the Chargers’ lingering debt is tied to their relocation fees ($650 million over 10 years), which the NFL directly controls. The Chargers also are in need of a home, which the NFL has the ability to finance. If the owners feel that they can negotiate a new or revised stadium deal with the Chargers that covers or increases their expected income from that (about $209,000 per team per year), then things start to look a lot more likely that action might take place.
One thing to take note is that NFL games in Europe are gaining traction. Crowds of over 80,000 are not unusual, regardless of the teams playing. Although firmly in the rumor category, this next game might offer the NFL a preview of how they can have their cake (not lose money) and eat it, too (save face/gain fans). What about those fans back in old San Diego that are currently looking at two upstart pro football leagues? There’s a lot of dominoes for the NFL to consider.
-Jason “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” Michaels