By Alex Dobuzinskis
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – The San Diego Chargers said on Thursday they will move to Los Angeles this upcoming NFL season, ending sometimes tense negotiations for a new stadium in the city where the sports franchise has played for more than five decades.
Starting this fall, the Los Angeles area will have two National Football League teams in a potential boost to the region’s leisure and tourism industry. The nation’s second-largest city had no NFL team from 1994 until the St. Louis Rams moved and began playing there last year.
The Chargers played their first season in Los Angeles in 1960 before moving to San Diego the following year. Team owner Dean Spanos said in an open letter on the team’s website San Diego had shaped the team’s identity.
“But today, we turn the page and begin an exciting new era as the Los Angeles Chargers,” Spanos wrote.
In November, San Diego voters rejected a ballot measure that would have raised hotel occupancy taxes to help pay for a proposed $1.8 billion downtown stadium project.
The team and its supporters have actively sought a new stadium for about a decade and Spanos for a time negotiated with city officials over the proposal. But talks between the team and city officials appeared to hit a standstill in 2015.
“As difficult as the news is for Charger fans, I know Dean Spanos and his family did everything they could to try to find a viable solution in San Diego,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
The Chargers will pay the NFL a relocation fee of $550 million upfront or $650 million if paid over 10 years, team spokeswoman Jennifer Rojas said.
Following news of the move, city officials said it was time to move on.
“At the end of the day, Dean Spanos was never willing to work with us on a stadium solution and demanded a lot more money than we could have ever agreed to,” Mayor Kevin Falconer said in a statement. “San Diego didn’t lose the Chargers, the Chargers lost San Diego.”
The reluctance of San Diego officials and residents in recent years to provide public funds for a stadium was unusual for a U.S. city, said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
Some in San Diego vented their dissatisfaction. A video posted online by a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter showed fans dumping team gear, including jerseys, in a big pile in front of the team’s headquarters. When a giant toy helmet was dropped off, a man smashed it with a bat.
Going forward, the Chargers will have a more difficult time attracting fans than the Rams, who were based in the Los Angeles area until 1994, Carter said in a phone interview.
The Chargers will temporarily play at the 30,000-seat StubHub Center in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, the team said. Its current stadium in San Diego seats about 71,000 people.
Last month, the franchise made preparations for the impending relocation, leasing a portion of an Orange County office facility.
The Chargers said they will eventually join the Rams at a futuristic $2.6 billion stadium, which will be built by Rams’ owner Stan Kroenke in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood and is projected to open in 2019.
(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Additional reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, Ben Klayman in Detroit and Melissa Fares in New York, Editing by Alan Crosby and Richard Chang)