San Diego Chargers may fight over L.A.

The San Diego Chargers may try to block the entry of an NFL team into Los Angeles, contending a relocated franchise there would significantly threaten the team’s business.

With two other teams, the Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams, free to move after this season and eyeing Los Angeles amid long-standing NFL efforts to find a stadium site there, the Chargers are now speaking up publicly for the first time. Any action by the team would further complicate an already contentious issue for the league.

“Over the last 20 years, there hasn’t been a team in the L.A. market. We have reached out into that market and 25 to 30 percent of our business comes from the L.A. [and] Orange County areas,” said Dean Spanos, the Chargers’ owner. “Putting a team in there right now, or two teams, would have a huge impact on our business going forward. So we are trying to protect our business in San Diego. … It would really be harmful to us.”

This marks the first time that the Chargers have revealed the amount of business they generate from the Los Angeles market, which sits 120 miles north of San Diego, though Orange County is about 40 miles closer.

It’s also the first time that Spanos has been so vocal publicly about opposition to another team relocating there. It’s something he said he’s shared with his colleagues and Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“I have talked to owners about it, they understand. I know the commissioner does,” he added. “[I]f you put another team in there to help that team and you hurt another team, what does that do? Right. If you put two teams in there, what will that do?”

Eric Grubman, the NFL executive vice president in charge of Los Angeles, declined to comment on Spanos’ remarks.

Spanos could be speaking up now to send a message to the Raiders and Rams that they’ll encounter opposition, or perhaps to persuade the owners, if they assess a relocation fee, to share a disproportionate amount with the Chargers.

Spanos stressed that he remains committed to finding a stadium solution in San Diego.

The Chargers’ stance adds yet another layer of intrigue to the NFL’s two-decade-long quest to return to Los Angeles. The league is exploring several sites, including one downtown controlled by AEG, and has considered land near Dodgers Stadium and the Hollywood Park racetrack, among others.

The NFL’s official policy is that Los Angeles is an “NFL market,” meaning the clubs cannot unilaterally cut a deal to relocate there. The policy suggests that, despite the Chargers’ claim that they derive almost one-third of their business from Los Angeles, it is not the team’s market.

Owners received an update on the league’s Los Angeles efforts, with Houston Texans owner Bob McNair saying last week they are “far from a resolution.” A league source seconded that opinion, saying nothing is imminent.

When the Raiders in the 1980s won an antitrust lawsuit against the NFL for blocking the team’s move to Los Angeles from Oakland, the ruling hinged on an NFL team already residing in the market. Left unanswered is legally whose market is it if there is no team there.

Talk has swirled in league circles, however, that St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke is already telling people he will move the team after its lease expires at the end of this season. Kroenke, questioned about the St. Louis stadium process, referred questions to his spokesman, who did not immediately respond for comment. Kroenke recently acquired 60 acres near Hollywood Park, stoking the rumors.

“There is a lot of speculation out there,” Spanos said, “I am waiting to see what happens.”

If the Chargers are pressing the case with owners that the situation is dire, it may not have gotten entirely through.

Jeff Lurie, the Philadelphia Eagles’ owner, said he had not heard the concern Spanos expressed.

Mark Fabiani, the political consultant who has been working with the Chargers since 2002 on the stadium effort in San Diego, nevertheless, like Spanos, is worried about facts changing quickly on the ground in Los Angeles.

“While the Chargers have been searching the last 12 years for a stadium solution here in San Diego, there have been a great many articles about the supposedly imminent return of the NFL to Los Angeles,” he said. “What’s changed now is that, for the first time in the Chargers’ 12-year search, there are at least two other NFL teams that could be seeking to apply for relocation.”

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