It has been a tumultuous two years since the Chargers moved north, and, by and large, the move is largely in the rear-view mirror. We are not going to continue to talk about the positives or negatives of the jump from San Diego (that has been done to death, and I’ve surely contributed), but instead focus on the realities of the LA Market.
LA is not often referred to as a sports town, what with other glitzy and glamorous tentpoles to focus on. That non-designation, however, is a bit disingenuous. After their New York days, the Dodgers have firmly planted themselves in to the day-to-day life and conversation in Southern California. As Brian Wilson, the immortal composer of Beach Boys/Jan and Dean/SMiLE and other famous bands and albums, has cemented in his 2008 semi-autobigraphical album, That Lucky Old Sun:
The sun burns a hole through the 6 a.m. haze. Turns up the volume and shows off its rays.
Another Dodger-blue sky is crowning L.A. The city of angels is blessed every day
If the Beach Boys are talking about you, you’re as timeless as beach days, sun, cars, and fun, fun, fun.
The Dodgers have their season. If they are having a good year, there’s a bit of NFL overlap, but there’s generally room for both in a sports bar. The LA Market, however, isn’t so easily compartmentalized.
All the while, however, LA seems to be even more in tune with professional basketball than baseball. While the Lakers have long been a draw in the region, they performed a bit of a coup this summer by attracting LeBron James. Did you hear about that?
The Chargers won’t only have to worry about the Rams and Dodgers for LA seats and wallets.
On the football front, there are now two teams in LA—or are there? USC kickoff is in seven weeks, and their attendance has been consistently better than both the Rams and the Chargers since the moves. That hasn’t been a surprise for either team, and this was always intended to be an uphill battle. What likely HAS been a surprise to the NFL has been the emergence of not one, not two, but THREE startup professional football leagues. The XFL and the AAF will be hitting the scene in the very near future, with the Pacific Pro Football League also joining the fray. LA is a bona fide tack on the map for all three leagues.
But those leagues are the future challengers. The Chargers need to worry about the here-and now.
The LA Rams have the most flash and sizzle of this latest off-season, second only to the Raiders for off-season headlines. That’s OK. Within the NFL, popularity is granted through success on the field (though the Chargers, if successful in 2018, will prove a very interesting data point to validate or challenge that notion).
The Lakers have grabbed all of the headlines of late, and for good reason. They really took a swing and they have the bases loaded. All the potential in the world, however, won’t grant you a home run. They’ll know very soon if this was a boom or a bust. I’m throwing in a baseball metaphor because it’s so completely indicative of the already confusing and crowded Southern California market. Separating themselves from the competition, both in their league and outside of it, will continue to be the Chargers’ greatest challenge going forward.
Alas, this is the only part of the equation that the Chargers have a significant say in. If they want to make an impact, if they want to survive and flourish in LA, they have to win. They have to win. Big free-agent additions only help to set the table (or load the bases, to use the earlier metaphor). The Lakers and the Rams have really set themselves up well for potential success in the very near future.
However, until they capitalize on that potential, it’s just fleeting headlines and hubbub. Winning, the great equalizer of fame, is what can make the LA market an equal playing field. To that end, the Chargers actually look like they can make an impact in 2018. They would be wise to make a very powerful impact, because the challenges with upcoming leagues and audience attention will only be more difficult after this season.
-Jason “Utilities are OVER 9,000” Michaels