The San Diego Chargers announced Thursday that they'll be relocating to Los Angeles in 2017, and the NFL franchise's move has a definite impact on MLS on a couple of levels.
First, the obvious one: The Chargers will be playing at StubHub Center for at least the 2017 season, becoming the LA Galaxy's first roommate since the dear and departed Chivas USA. With ownership across both leagues overlapping plenty, MLS teams have long played in NFL stadiums–the Seattle Sounders, D.C. United and New England Revolution still do–and New York City FC plays in a baseball stadium, but no NFL team has ever played in a soccer-specific stadium, and for obvious reason. The attendance caps on soccer-specific venues would figure to be non-starters for NFL teams, who regularly attract crowds of upwards of 60,000 to their games.
The Chargers, however, will play in the way tighter setting of StubHub Center, in front of a maximum crowd of 30,000 and on the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills in Carson. It's hardly what you think of when "NFL" comes to mind.
“We are excited to welcome the Chargers to StubHub Center,” AEG president and CEO Dan Beckerman said in a statement. “This is a world-class facility that will give fans and our community a unique and intimate experience during NFL games."
The Chargers' eight home dates and preseason (and postseason?) slate won't conflict with the Galaxy's schedule, the club was quick to caution, and the arrangement is what it is. The teams will adjust, the field conditions will become extremely scrutinized and the grounds crew will have its work cut out to ensure that the field remains intact and not a detriment both to the quality of play and players' health.
Then there's the more abstract impact: Expansion. San Diego has been mentioned as a possibility for some time, and it is one of the 10 cities MLS identified as a location that has publicly expressed interest in an MLS expansion franchise. Details beyond that are scarce, but the Chargers invading the Galaxy's territory could pay dividends for the league down the line.
Commissioner Don Garber indicated that the Chargers leaving would, in fact, increase the city's chances of landing an MLS team, much like the SuperSonics leaving Seattle did for the Sounders and much like the Rams leaving for Los Angeles could do for an expansion bid in St. Louis.
On a conference call following the league's most recent announcement of its road map to 28 teams, Garber said the following: “There are changes that could take place in the professional sports environment in the city that I think could potentially play into whether San Diego is more attractive to us today than it was in the past. The Rams leaving St. Louis has certainly opened up an opportunity for us in that market that we had not seen in the years prior. And should the Chargers make the decision to not remain in San Diego, the market would be more attractive to us. We believe that because we’ve seen what happened in Seattle when the (NBA’s) Sonics left. In many ways, the (MLS’s) Sounders were able to fill a void in the professional sports landscape in that city.”
Landon Donovan, for one, appears to be a proponent of bringing MLS to the city, whose closest club now is just over the Mexican border in Liga MX's Tijuana.
There's plenty that will be sorted out over time, but while the Chargers' decision is more impactful for its fan base and the NFL, it's not without aftershocks that will most certainly be felt in MLS.