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Friday, March 1, 2024

Charged Up: L.A.’s Other NFL Team Seeks Spotlight With Harbaugh Hire

  • The hire of the CFP-winning coach is one of the NFL team’s biggest moves in franchise history.
  • The Chargers look to escape the long shadow of the neighboring Rams.
USA TODAY

One of the runts of the Los Angeles pro sports litter is making one of its biggest moves in franchise history, altering the shape of the local sports scene and the NFL in the process. 

On Wednesday night, the L.A. Chargers completed a five-year agreement to bring on Jim Harbaugh—fresh off his College Football Playoff championship run at Michigan—as its head coach, giving the Bolts a major jolt of energy aimed at resetting the team’s prospects both on and off the field.

The Chargers have struggled mightily in their seven seasons since relocating north from San Diego, reaching the playoffs just twice and perpetually existing in the long shadow of the much-more-popular L.A. Rams. That already-uneven dynamic—based in no small part on the teams’ sharing of SoFi Stadium, which is controlled by Rams owner Stan Kroenke—only grew further with the Rams’ triumph in Super Bowl LVI, two years ago. 

In each of the six non-COVID seasons the Rams and Chargers have played together in L.A., the Rams have surpassed the Chargers in average attendance. Team valuations tell a similar story, with the Rams’ $6.9 billion ranking third in the league, compared to the Chargers’ 25th-place ranking at $4.15 billion. The Rams’ annual revenue of $686 million and operating income of $125 million, according to Forbes estimates, also easily outdistance comparable figures of $518 million and $65 million for the Chargers.

But the Chargers now look to make all that ancient history with Harbaugh. “Who has it better than us?” team owner Dean Spanos asked in announcing the hiring, echoing Harbaugh’s recent catchphrase.

Mark Your Calendars

The hire immediately isolates an upcoming 2024 game between the Chargers and Baltimore Ravens as one of the biggest on the NFL’s schedule for next season. The Ravens—coached by Harbaugh’s older brother, John—will play the Chargers at SoFi Stadium, and the matchup will be highly coveted by each of the league’s rights holders as the NFL completes its schedule construction process this spring. That game will be a rematch of sorts of Super Bowl XLVII, in 2013, when the John-led Ravens beat a San Francisco 49ers team coached by Jim. 

The arrival of Harbaugh additionally extends Los Angeles’s status as a hub for many of the most prominent figures in sports, with the title-winning coach joining local luminaries such as Shohei Ohtani, Mookie Betts, LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Matthew Stafford, and Anze Kopitar. Many of those stars, however, will not have coverage on the road from the city’s newspaper of record, The Los Angeles Times, after a massive bloodletting at the outlet earlier this week. 

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