, , , , , , , , , , , ,

The O’Malley family, which 20 years ago unsuccessfully sought to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles, could now —€”in theory €— benefit from an NFL team moving to Los Angeles.

The O’Malleys, best known for owning the Dodgers for decades,  are part of the ownership group of the San Diego Padres, a club that now finds itself in an unusual position.

With the NFL Chargers moving to Los Angeles, assuming they don’t turn around,
the Padres have the San Diego market to themselves and become the first major league baseball team with no other major pro sports competition since 1962. At least by my reckoning. (More on that below)

When the Chargers’ exit became official, the Padres put out a statement about what a loss this was for the community. Were those crocodile tears? Will some at least some of the entertainment dollars that would have gone to the Chargers flow to the Padres instead?

It has been so long since a baseball team has been in this situation, and the sports landscape has changed so much, that it’s hard to say. But it seem unlikely it will have much measurable impact.

In fact, the last MLB team in this situation couldn’t wait to leave and eventually found a more crowded market.

The Athletics had the Kansas City market to themselves from — 1955 when they moved from Philadelphia — through the 1962 season. In 1963 the Dallas Texans  of the American Football League moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs.

But the market was still no gem —at least in the eyes of Charlie Finley, who bought the Athletics in 1960. In May 1962, Finley made a pitch to the American League owners to move the baseball team to Dallas, which already had two professional football teams, the Texans and the NFL’s Cowboys.

Finley also attempted to move the Athletics to Atlanta and Louisville, before finally
succeeding in relocating the franchise to Oakland after the 1967 season. moving to a market that already had another MLB team, an AFL team an NFL team and an NBA team. Kansas City was only without a baseball team for one season. The American League granted KC an expansion franchise for the 1969 season.


Now to explain what I mean by a major pro sports team — MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL or the AFL that played from 1960-69 (there have been several American Football Leagues, and the Arena Football League). My apologies to the WNBA, MLS, MISL, NASL, WFL, WHA and the ABA.

And by market, I mean TV market. So Anaheim is not its own market. Nor is Oakland.

Under those definitions, Milwaukee could qualify as a baseball-only market from 1953 to 1965. There was no NFL team based in its market —Green Bay is its own TV market. But the Packers played at least two home games and as many as four each season in Milwaukee (or nearby West Allis)  from 1931 to 1994. So I am not counting the Braves.

The NBA Bucks predate the Brewers and the return of major league baseball.

The Most Popular Sport

Back in 1962, baseball still was beating football in Gallup’s annual poll asking  Americans about their favorite sport. But football would pass baseball by the end of the decade.

Football, particularly pro football, surged in popularity, and the Chiefs were winners. They had won the AFL championship as the Texans in 1962. They played in two of the first four Super Bowls.

Yet that seemed to have little impact on the Athletics’ attendance.


Season A’€™s attendance Rank
1955 1,393,054 2nd of 8
1956 1,015,154 4th of 8
1957 901,067 6th of 8
1958 925,090 4th of 8
1959 963,683 6th of 8
1960 774,944 7th of 8
1961 683,817 8th of 10
1962 635,675 10th of 10

After the Chiefs came to town …

Season A’s attendance Rank
1963 762,364 8th of 10
1964 642,478 9th of 10
1965 528,344 10th of 10
1966 773,929 9th of 10
1967 726,639 9th of 10

The Athletics were awful throughout the entire period. After the novelty of having a major-league team wore off, attendance declined. It was still robust, for the era, until 1960.

But the Athletics’ attendance was actually better than its 1962 figure in four of the next five years.

The Padres

The Padres finished last and drew 2.3 million fans, finishing eighth among 15 National League teams. The Padres generally draw better with better teams (this does not always hold  true €” as the Indians showed last season.) Their best season for attendance was 2004 when they moved into Petco Park and drew 3 million. They are usually middle-of-the-pack  in the National League in attendance. Even in 2004, they were seventh of 16 teams.

When the Padres added pitchers James Shields and Craig Kimbrel  and outfielders Matt Kemp and Justin Upton before the 2015 season, the teams saw a 12 percent increase in attendance, even though the moves didn’t work for on-field success.

So signing Wil Myers to a long-term deal, assuming it works out, or the development of Manuel Margot might have more positive impact on the bottom line than the Chargers hitting the road.

According to Forbes, only about  20 percent of the team’s $244 million of revenue in 2015 (the latest available figures) comes from attendance. The rest is from local broadcasts, sponsorships and shared MLB revenue.

The Chargers have alienated a strong and loyal fan base, will all these people be so alienated that they stop following the team or the NFL?


The benefit

The Padres might sell a few more T-shirts.€” Who wants to be seen in Chargers gear in San Diego during the next year? €” But remember the Padres have to split that revenue with all the other major league teams.

Here is the possible payoff. Pro sports is to a large degree a shared experience. And with a local pro sports team you can share that experience with people you come in contact with any day.

For example, I can exchange a few sentences with almost anyone in Phoenix about the Diamondbacks. Even if they don’t follow the sport, they know something about the team. Maybe it’s just that the D-backs are angling for a new stadium.

But it is difficult to have a conversation, even a short one, about the Pirates unless the other person is a baseball fan or is from Pittsburgh. The NFL transcends that  — but only with good teams, and occasionally a laughable loser such as the Cleveland Browns. In seasons the Chargers are not good, they are likely to fall off the radar with casual fans in their former locale.

The conversations in the office or at the bar or at recess in San Diego County, it seems to me, are now more likely to include the Padres and less likely to include the Chargers.

Over the long haul that can create a greater connection between the community. That connection is extremely important to any pro sports team, particularly baseball with its long season.