In what seems to be an annual cycle, rumors have again begun to swirl around the Chargers and their search for a “forever” home. In their eyes, they’ve already found it. They’ve signed on the dotted line and the upcoming SoFi Stadium grand opening is all that stands in their way.
The Athletic released a piece last night that mentioned “NFL sources” had begun discussions about sending the Chargers over to London. While the concept itself is not new, the idea that these discussions are being actively pursued by the NFL and England adds just a little more credence to the thought than mere dark-alley rumors.
London has done everything possible to show the #NFL it’s prepared to be the permanent home for a team. The league, and the Los Angeles #Chargers, are willing to consider the U.K. as a viable new home. My exclusive for @TheAthletic https://t.co/rHiF2zavIb— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) November 5, 2019
It’s worth noting that the Athletic is a pay-to-read site. They are well-aware that this sort of story would be a huge attention grabber for fans of the Chargers, the NFL, and gridiron football in England. The sources are, you guessed it, “NFL sources.” That could be an irate owner, an equipment manager, a recently released staffer, or even a writer not on the NFL’s staff in any way. So with that understanding, it’s still quite possible and even likely that everything in Bonsignore’s account is accurate.
Let’s take a look at the facts of the situation. We might be able to see a clearer picture of where this rhetoric is headed.
Where There’s Smoke
- London is locked and loaded for the NFL
London has, in fact, done everything it can to set out a red carpet for the NFL. The NFL, in turn, has done an impressive amount of work to have the pieces in place for an eventual expansion. Both Wembly and Tottenham Hotspur stadium have entertained sold out crowds of NFL fans, despite a revolving cast of “home” teams.
- The Chargers aren’t enjoying the fruits of a home crowd
The Chargers are famously under-represented in their own home stadium. It is clear that visiting fans are more than happy to buy ‘scalped’ tickets to support their team during a Pacific vacation. While the jersey colors on game day are anecdotal, they do indicate a trend that even the most stubborn NFL or Chargers executive have seen.
- Stan Kroenke can not be happy with his tenant-to-be
As illustrated with facts, numbers, and statistics in this article, the Chargers’ lack of fan draw has begun to negatively impact the Rams. While it is debatable that the Rams felt they had to sign Ramsey to help spur additional PSL sales, it is not untrue that the Chargers have failed to hold their end of the financial bargain. Their contributions to the stadium are as follows: a $200 million loan from the NFL put toward construction costs, $1 per year rent starting in 2020, and around $100 million in PSL sales specific to the Chargers, which is frighteningly less than the $400m originally expected (which was leveraged against additional loans Kroenke had to incur to keep up with SoFi’s ballooning budget). Of all of those large numbers, all of it has to be paid back (in 50 years for the PSLs and around 30 years for the NFL loan), except for that annual $1.
- The Rams stand to make more money without another LA team
While the stadium finances are one blemish, it is also undeniable that the Rams would very much like to have the massive LA market to themselves. The Raiders have abandoned their pursuit of the City of Angels, leaving just the Chargers (and the XFL and NCAA) to split LA’s football interests. After footing the vast, vast majority of what amounts to a $5 billion dollar investment, Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke might very well feel entitled to a commensurate slice of the pie. With the Chargers already failing to help subsidize the stadium, Kroenke can only stand to profit from the Bolts’ follies from this moment onward. He might just get the conversations started, but that’s a strong first step in any of these monumental changes.
- There’s a lot of money to be made in London
The Chargers are relatively late to the London conversation. Jaguars owner Shad Khan was nearly the new owner of Wembly Stadium in 2018, but withdrew his bid because the stadium’s voting body of ownership didn’t completely back the plan. With his Jaguars set to play in Wembly this weekend, Khan reiterated how valuable the London market is to his team.
Khan said the London game remains key for the Jaguars, and he and President Mark Lamping said Saturday the team hopes to extend the team’s contract with the NFL to play a home game in London annually. The current contract runs through 2020.
There is no reason to think that the annual contract for the Jaguars to play in London is in any danger—but the relative monopoly that Khan enjoys overseas would be severely curbed by the institution of a London-based home team other than his Jaguars.
There is Fire
- Bonsignore is adamant that the story is not just a kick in the rump to get Khan to act
Can assure you that isn't the case whatsoever. https://t.co/bpAOUnFg2m— Vincent Bonsignore (@VinnyBonsignore) November 5, 2019
If the Jaguars were the true intended targets of this ‘leak,’ the unnamed sources have the Athletic’s reporter convinced otherwise. He is doubling-down that the Chargers are the real candidates for another move.
- The 2021 labor deadline and 2022 TV deal make a dramatic change possible
The timing is not quite perfect, but not terribly off for a dramatic change to the NFL’s business practices. We know that they want to expand the season to 17 games. A change of divisions, the addition of new teams or games, the intricacies of international flights and fairness—those all would be incredibly difficult to add in a piecemeal fashion. If the NFL is serious about London, it has to get the cogs moving now to be ready for divisional realignment. If these concepts aren’t brought to discussion in plenty of time, they stand little chance of succeeding. The 17 game concept has been ‘leaked’ this year to give the league and players enough time to adapt and adjust expectations accordingly. London is similarly challenging, and it’s very close to midnight hour to ramp up those discussions in earnest.
- With an actual team attached, the concept becomes more tangible
The ending reality of this story is that there are a bunch of people now talking about London as a possibility. There is a very real, very NFL-esque possibility that the story is being run to instigate another team, owner, or city to do something because their interests would be threatened. If that is the case, then we should expect to hear a few more whispers in the next few days.
On the other hand, it makes even more sense to take this story exactly as it is being presented: that London is interested in having an NFL team, and that the Chargers have been targeted as the desired entity making the jump. The story itself implies that it is the NFL making these early inquiries, and that the Chargers would be interested in entertaining the idea if it begins to materialize.
The safe money is still on the Chargers sharing SoFi Stadium in 2020, but there are definitely rumblings that the new stadium might only be colossal enough for one team. In any event, discussions will only begin to increase about alternate possibilities until the first kick-off takes place next year.
-Jason “Who dunnit?” Michaels