The Chargers will open their season next month in very unfamiliar surroundings: a 30,000-seat soccer stadium 15 miles south of downtown Los Angeles.
For the team, the challenge will be to introduce a new franchise into a crowded sports market, where a losing team can easily disappear. But for the individual players, the stakes could be even higher. The move to L.A. offers a real chance at celebrity. LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers’ Hall of Fame running back who now serves as an advisor to the owners, talked over the potential opportunity for players during a panel at the Variety Sports & Entertainment Summit on Thursday.
“L.A. is really the mecca of sports and entertainment,” Tomlinson said. “You want to be able to build that individual brand that allows you to stand alone. I’m sure most players are thinking about that.”
On a subsequent panel, NFL Network personality Rich Eisen also talked up Los Angeles as the perfect place to blend sports and entertainment.
“Every athlete you speak to wants to be an entertainer deep down,” Eisen said. “There is a crossing of the streams between pop culture and sports, and Los Angeles is 1000% the perfect spot to do it.”
The Chargers, who went 5-11 last year, will be competing for fan loyalty with the Rams, who went 4-12 in their debut season in Los Angeles. The Chargers have adopted the theme “Fight For L.A.,” but general manager Tom Telesco clarified that they’re not in a fight with the Rams.
“We’re just fighting for our city,” Telesco said. “We’ve got a young team. They’re a hungry group of guys and they want to show that we’re better than what we’ve shown the last couple of years.”
The Chargers will be embarking on an unusual experiment. Until the new Inglewood football stadium is ready in 2020, they will be playing in the StubHub Center, the home of the L.A. Galaxy, which is about half the size of a typical NFL stadium.
Jeffrey Pollack, a special advisor to the Chargers, argued that it would provide a chance for fans to get introduced to the players in an “intimate” setting.
“It’s an environment that is going to be so thrilling — this is only once in a lifetime,” he said. “It’s not often you can see an NFL game so up-close.”