The NFL has lost its mojo
Since the 1980's the NFL has blackmailed cities into giving them tax breaks, guaranteed attendance contracts, and public-financed stadiums.
They could do this because they could always move to another city and find a ready fan base. Always.
Even though the Chargers' temporary home in Los Angeles holds no more than half the seats of a regular NFL stadium, the team has had trouble selling it out, and games there are marked by an unusually high proportion of fans on hand to root for the opposing teams. The situation has caught the attention of other NFL owners, according to a report Wednesday, and they have discussed the “viability” of the Chargers remaining in a place where they have gone from a disliked downstate rival to a distant second fiddle to the Rams.
That’s according to ESPN’s Seth Wickersham, who reported that the Chargers' plight was a “major discussion topic among NFL owners/executives at this week’s league meetings.” Citing sources, Wickersham added that the team has struggled to sell personal seat licenses for the new stadium, set to open in 2020, that it will share with the Rams, and that the Chargers are “expected” to drop their initial revenue goals for that season from $400 million to “around” $150 million.
Given that the ultimate point of NFL relocations is to make more money for those squads and the league as a whole, the sharp decrease in revenue expectations from a facility expected to boast the latest in state-of-the-art stadium design and amenities has to have come as worrisome news for other owners.
A 65% cut in revenue is a crisis no matter how you spin it.
That's a monstrous drop for a team that's also in the middle of paying a $645 million relocation fee.
It isn't just the lack of ticket sales. The value of the team went from 21st to 22nd in the league.
So yes, fans do still matter. Or lack of them.
it's hard to imagine the Chargers filling a 70,000-seat stadium in 2020 if they can't even fill a 26,000-seat soccer stadium with their own fans right now.
Charger attendance is so bad that it's become a late-night joke.
Even when fans do show up, they are generally opposing team fans.
How many Chargers fans do you see in this image of a Chargers home game pic.twitter.com/F97c2YiQuu
— Rodger Sherman (@rodger) September 9, 2018
In fact, the Chargers even started pumping in crowd noise at practice to prepare for a home game.
It isn't just attendance. No one is watching the games either.
This past Sunday, the Chiefs-Chargers game (5.5) had a lower rating than the Cowboys-Panthers game (7.6) shown at the same time in LA.
In San Diego, where fans don’t have a team anymore, ratings for Chargers games have taken the kind of dive that would make for a great roller coaster ride. PFT said that in 2010, ratings in San Diego for the Chargers sat at an average of 31.6. In 2016, their final season in San Diego, ratings dropped but held strong at 24.4 considering local fans knew they would be losing their team. Now that they’re in LA, ratings have gone down to 14.2 in 2017 and 11.7 in Week 1, retaining just below half the audience compared to two years ago.
— Annie Heilbrunn (@annieheilbrunn) September 23, 2018
For now the Chargers and the NFL are taking a "if you build it, they will come" approach.
But if the fans don't turn out, if the NFL is wrong, then this would completely upend the power dynamics between NFL teams and cities.
No longer would moving an NFL team be risk-free, and thus blackmailing cities would become much more difficult.
Also, the NFL is a revenue-sharing league. Thus one team's losses get shared with everyone else.
Finally, any team that simply lacks fans is a PR nightmare that will eventually force the league to do something about it.