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Bryce Miller: Spanos, Chargers stumble amid unprecedented NFL PR blunders

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2016, file photo, San Diego Chargers team president and CEO Dean Spanos looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, in San Diego. The Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, where they will join the recently relocated Rams in giving the nation's second-largest media market two NFL teams for the first time in decades. The announcement was made Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017.(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File) NY163

FILE - In this Dec. 18, 2016, file photo, San Diego Chargers team president and CEO Dean Spanos looks on during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, in San Diego. The Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, where they will join the recently relocated Rams in giving the nation's second-largest media market two NFL teams for the first time in decades. The announcement was made Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017.(AP Photo/Denis Poroy, File) NY163

Stop trying to wrap your head around what the Dean Spanos-led Chargers did Thursday when he announced the team would jettison its hearts-and-wallets supporters of 56 seasons to move to Los Angeles.

Consider, instead, how they did it.

This will go down as arguably the biggest public-relations fumble in NFL history. It's that epic, that tone deaf, that cold, that distant, that delusional, that entitled and that ham-handed.

Yes, Robert Irsay's Colts left Baltimore for Indianapolis in the middle of the night. This, though, was so much more.

This involved two years of stringing along, two years of empty promises, two years of half-hearted efforts — with slivers of fan hope kept afloat by an information vacuum and disrespectful silence.

"It's very frustrating," City Councilman Scott Sherman said, "when everything you're getting from other side is a bunch of" lies.

That, from a city leader who nearly begged to help forge middle ground for more seasons of middle linebackers in America's Most Frazzled City. If a person in a job like that feels trampled, blown off and that jaded about the road traveled, you take notice.

Spanos announced the team would leave San Diego, playing in a new city for the first time since JFK's inauguration, in a four-paragraph letter posted on the team's website.

Hit a button, break thousands of hearts. For maximum impact, squeeze a little lemon on a fresh wound by swiftly, unemotionally adding "but today, we turn the page" to "a remarkable place."

There was a mention of San Diego, a pretty remarkable place in its own right. To be precise, 42 words worth of mention. The letter included "gratitude" and "appreciation," but it sounded empty and disingenuous in ears routinely dismissed since 2015.

Then you hear on 1360-AM's "Hardwick & Richards" show that Philip Rivers learned news of the move like we did, from the Twitter account of ESPN's Adam Schefter. Are. You. Kidding?

This man is the heart of the franchise, the face you plastered front and center on your reshaped "Los Angeles Chargers" social media page. Did someone consider passing along a little bit of a heads-up?

As a final slap, the announcement came on the day of Mayor Kevin Faulconer's State of the City address.

The message: Only our timing matters.

Only we matter.

"It just never felt like the city was in love with the ownership of the Chargers, even back when I was there," said Dennis Gibson, whose pass deflection sealed the team's only Super Bowl appearance. "I understand the fans' side of it. Why are we building a stadium for a guy who's got so many zeroes behind his name?

"It's business, but I feel bad for the people of San Diego."

If Gibson grasps that disconnect, more than 20 years removed and 1,500 miles away in his native Iowa, why didn't Spanos?

There were endless chances to explain why considering a move from San Diego ached, gut deep. There was time to field questions, to demonstrate you understood and appreciated the fears, to explain why business and loyalties sometimes butt heads.

Instead of speaking to San Diegans, Spanos saved his time and words for interviews in Los Angeles and another on ESPN.

"They go up to L.A. and spend more time in the public than Dean Spanos spent down here the entire time on Measure C," Sherman said. "It just shows they didn't want to be here the entire time."

Speaking of Measure C, the thrashed ballot initiative to capture tax support for a downtown stadium: The team recruited television personality Mario Lopez to appear in ads for the facility push. That's the same person who tweeted in early October, after the team's 1-3 start: "And they want a new stadium. Yeah, good luck with that."

There's the new logo, which might or might not be something official. The first impression you offer Los Angeles, a city already shrugging at the news: Hey, we're the Dodgers with some lightning!

You cannot make this stuff up.

Some real PR 101, huh?

So much of this felt like cruel theater. It seemed staged and awkwardly orchestrated in a Chargers Park bunker. If it was more than that, if there was real emotional investment, no one took the time or effort to let San Diego know.

Sherman said Spanos never made a trip to City Hall to meet with council members. Faulconer's office confirmed Friday that concessions reached to earn the mayor's public support for Measure C involved no face-to-face meetings with Spanos — negotiated exclusively through special advisor Fred Maas.

What?

"It became fairly obvious early on that their intention was to go to L.A. all along," Sherman said. "Everything else was just a ruse. They'd go through the motions, the bare minimum, to show the NFL that they tried — but that was it.

"They'd tell us what their objection was, we'd overcome their objection and they'd raise another. And it's tough to negotiate when you're sitting at the table and there's nobody sitting on the other side."

What did Spanos truly want?

"That's been the $64,000 question," Sherman said.

Business decisions happen. The Rolling Stones, after all, remind us that you can't always get what you want.

But the dismissive distance was obvious — and absolutely avoidable.

Bryce Miller: Spanos, Chargers stumble amid unprecedented NFL PR blunders 01/14/17 [Last modified: Saturday, January 14, 2017 12:16am]
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