NFL reportedly already concerned that Chargers might fail in Los Angeles

After watching only 25,000 fans show up for the Chargers' home opener in Los Angeles on Sunday, it appears that there's at least some concern in the league office about whether or not the team can actually make things work in their new home. 

According to longtime NFL writer Don Banks, who now writes for The Athletic, the NFL was "discouraged" by the way things went for the Chargers during their home opener.  

Banks expounded on the topic during an interview with 1090-AM and didn't paint a very rosy picture for the Chargers' chances of survival in L.A. 

"I think a lot of people are kind of, in retrospect, looking back and saying, 'This was not a smart move and how do we get ourselves out of it,'" Banks said. 

Although the Chargers have only played a total of one game at in their new home, that one game painted a bad picture for the NFL. Only 25,381 fans showed up for the Chargers' opener, which wasn't a great look for the team or the league. 

The early returns on the Chargers' move to L.A. are so concerning that apparently people in the league office have brought up the topic of moving the team back to San Diego. 

"I think they're talking about it," Banks said. "I think there's already a level of concern at how far south it's gone, that there are at least people talking about it."

Now, this doesn't mean that anyone in San Diego should be getting their hopes up about a possible Chargers return. Team owner Dean Spanos isn't a popular man in San Diego, so it wouldn't make any sense for him to move his team back there while he's still in charge. 

"I don't know that there's a good option short of perhaps pressure on trying to force a sale, because I don't think there's anyway back for Dean Spanos to the San Diego market," Banks said. "That's pretty clear."

Of course, don't look for a sale to happen, because that wouldn't be a smart business move for Spanos. When the NFL agreed to let him move the Chargers to L.A., the league instituted a "flip tax," meaning he's not allowed to sell the team anytime in the near future without being penalized. Since the the value of the franchise went up after the Chargers moved to L.A., Spanos would have to pay the owners a 20 percent tax on any possible sale to discourage him from flipping the team.

According to Chargers special counsel Mark Fabiani, the flip tax will fall down to 10 percent for any sale that takes place between 2021 and 2025. After that it will go down one percent for each year between 2026 and 2035.  

The other part of this is that even if the optics look bad for the league, the other owners are still making money. Spanos agreed to pay a $645 million relocation fee, which means the 30 other owners have a financial incentive not to let the Chargers leave L.A. (each team gets a $21.5 million cut of the relocation fee, with the exception of the Rams and Chargers). 

On the other hand, if the Chargers continue to struggle to draw fans for the rest of the season, that could be enough to get the NFL to come up with a contingency plan. 

"I don't think a true tipping point has been reached," Banks said. "It's too early for that, but I think there's enough concern that people are saying, 'What's the best option perhaps among bad options?' Where that goes, it may ride on how much continued attention this situation in Carson gets."

The NFL isn't going to panic, but the Chargers are scheduled to spend the next three years at the StubHub Center, and if they can't fill that going forward, that panic may eventually set in. However, even if the NFL is concerned, they're never going to admit it publicly, according to Banks. 

"The [NFL] is saying the right things now and they're going to keep a stiff upper lip and say that 'we knew that this was going to be a hard slog uphill,'" Banks said. "There's a lot of concern already. And there's a lot of people who are thinking, 'How can we put up with these optics for the next three years if the Chargers can't improve the situation in Carson?'"

The NFL doesn't want this to turn into a public relations disaster, so it will be interesting to see how the league reacts if the Chargers struggle in their new market for the next year or two. According to Banks' piece that he wrote for The Athletic, a source told him that the league would "jump" at the chance to get a team in San Diego, but there's just no good option for doing that right now without a stadium deal in place. 

It's not a shock that the league is concerned about all of this. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made it clear on several occasions that he wanted the Chargers to remain in San Diego. Not only did Goodell say that keeping the Chargers in San Diego was a priority, but he also promised to give the city a Super Bowl if it could figure out a way to build a new stadium.

Even though the owners will be well compensated for the Chargers' move to L.A., many of them were still upset when the move became official in January, and CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora can explain why. As La Canfora reported in early January, several owners had "grave concerns" about putting a second team in L.A. so soon.

After 21 years without a team, the league didn't want to rush into L.A. The owners and the league also didn't want to put a second team in the market with the Rams still trying to win fans, but they did it anyway, and now they're going to have to figure out how to make it work. 

(Wink of the CBS Eye to the Big Lead)

CBS Sports Writer

John Breech has been at CBS Sports since July 2011 and currently spends most of his time writing about the NFL. He's believed to be one of only three people in the world who thinks that Andy Dalton will... Full Bio

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