Chargers have to do better job making San Diegans feel welcome

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- A year after relocating the team to Los Angeles -- and with many fans in San Diego still bitter and angry about the team’s move and how it was handled -- Los Angeles Chargers president of business operations A.G. Spanos said the franchise has to re-engage with fans in their former market.

“We have got to do a better job as an organization to make them feel welcome,” Spanos said during an appearance on Xtra 1360 Fox Sports San Diego. “I think that’s the headline here. More than anything, we are for Chargers fans everywhere.

“I think a lot of the feedback is that they feel excluded, and we’ve got to listen. We’ve got to do a better job of responding, and creating a better invitation.”

Spanos said ways the team can begin to repair that relationship are to be good community partners off the field and play well on the field.

The Chargers remain involved with charitable causes in San Diego, including the Make-A-Wish foundation, along with community outreach director Dick Lewis’ continued effort to feed the homeless.

“Any time you relocate an NFL team it’s going to be very emotional for a lot of people,” said John Spanos, president of football operations for the Chargers. “So I think no matter how you do it, that aspect is not going to change. I think this past year was a great success for us, while fully recognizing the tremendous emotion in San Diego, and I completely validate that and empathize with that as well.

“But we are really excited about our future, and it’s been encouraging to see the support we’ve gotten from our fans in San Diego.”

John Spanos said in 2017 the most people in franchise history watched the Chargers on television when you combined the numbers from the San Diego and Los Angeles TV markets, and merchandise sales were up from 2016.

A.G. Spanos also addressed the issues in making the transition from the 27,000-seat StubHub Center to a much larger facility when the new Inglewood Stadium opens in 2020.

“I’ve been asked a lot about the question of this trend of the NFL moving to smaller facilities,” A.G. Spanos said. “And my answer to that is no, not necessarily. What it is really about is experience. People want a great experience.

“We know how great the experience is to watch NFL football on TV in the comforts of home, so the bar is so high to come to a venue at a game. People want a great experience, and in a smaller venue it’s a little easier to do that. There are fewer lines to use the restroom in the stadium and parking is a bit easier. But with the new facility the goal is still every seat is going to be a great seat.”

A.G Spanos said the Chargers have committed to play two international games over the next two years, including the team’s game against the Tennessee Titans in London in 2018. He also said there’s no chance the team plays a preseason game in San Diego because SDCCU Stadium is no longer NFL compliant.

As far as on the field, John Spanos said he was pleased with the way the Chargers finished after a 0-4 start, winning nine of 12 in going 9-7 and barely missing the playoffs.

And with Philip Rivers having one of his best seasons as a pro at 36 years old, while the Chargers have to consider a succession plan for the aging Pro Bowler, Spanos believes the North Carolina State product still has gas left in the tank.

“I know this: He feels great physically,” John Spanos said. “And I think this last year, just with the transition and everything, it went better than he even thought it would. I know he’s really fired up for next year.

“Obviously, it’s a year-by-year thing, and we’re on the back nine and down the home stretch for sure. I think he’s used the phrase, ‘A handful of years left.’ And that can be up for interpretation on what that means.”