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Why San Diego Deserves an XFL Team

No word in the sports lexicon quite has the same effect then when a fan of a franchise hears the word “relocation.”

As a San Diego, California native I know full well what it is like to watch my hometown team uproot and move to another city. The Chargers were my first love as a sports franchise and one that I have loyally followed to this day. Conversely, I have friends and relatives that have switched their alliances since the Chargers’ packed up and left town and I can’t blame them with how unamicable the team’s ownership and city’s relationship is.

So one can only imagine how delighted I was when the Alliance of American Football League announced in 2018 that San Diego would be designated for one of their eight expansion franchises. The San Diego Fleet, appropriately named after the area’s prevalent military ties, signaled a new era of professional football in a town that had been burned by grab bag ownership seeking greener pastures. The gridiron was set to plant new seeds in still fertile soil.

The Fleet were one of the league’s standouts in terms of fan support. In their last home game against the Birmingham Iron the Fleet hosted over 20,000 attendees in the now torn down SDCCU stadium, the Chargers’ former home. On average 19,154 fans attended games for a brand-new squad in an old venue still lingering with the distaste of the Chargers’ exodus. Despite poor visibility and marketing strategies from the new league, San Diego had the third highest number of attendees per game only behind San Antonio (27,721) and Orlando (19,684). 

I was fortunate enough to attend the Fleet’s final home match and it was there I witnessed a rebirth in enthusiasm for professional football born from the community’s divorce with their NFL entity. Fans donned in foam hats shaped in the form of naval ships, old canopies with the Chargers’ logo crossed out, chants of “Spanos sucks” (in reference to Chargers owner Dean Spanos) were consistent at Fleet games as evidenced in person and on television broadcasts. This scene did not give off the impression that football was off the minds of San Diego residents.

Of course, the joy could not last forever the now defunct AAF folded after 8 weeks of play due to various financial issues. Broken promises by the AAF left San Diego for the second time in four years down another professional football team. An unfortunate trend for pigskin enthusiasts in my hometown was being funneled into a narrative that this sport simply could not last in this city.

Even after the team disappeared, I have still sported my Fleet t-shirt in public and have received comments from store employees and people around town to the effect of “I miss that team” and “I was looking forward to having professional football back here.” One of our longtime local television sportscasters Kyle Kraska moved on to the Los Angeles market in part because he wished to cover the NFL again. It became evident to me that while many of my friends and acquaintances throughout my life said that San Diego had “fair weather fans,” the apparent apathy towards football was mostly due to the Chargers’ ownership mismanaging their longtime relationship with fans which caused them to become alienated with their presence, not the sport itself. 

Yet despite the absence of a professional team, enthusiasm for football is far from being dead here. HUB Football has run multiple camps around the county, granting opportunities for players to showcase their talents. There is an indoor team, the San Diego Strike Force, who are returning this season to the IFL after a 2-year hiatus. But most notably, a new gridiron arena is on the horizon.

The XFL’s ownership looking into adding new teams coincides timely with the new SnapDragon Stadium set to be completed in Fall 2022. San Diego State University’s football team will host their first game at the new venue on September 3 should all construction proceed as planned. An expansion XFL franchise in Spring 2023 playing in a sparkling new 35,000 seat venue is a tantalizing prospect.

If the turnout for Fleet games was any indication, 35,000 seats are not as demanding to fill compared to a cavernous venue like SDCCU stadium. Before the XFL’s operations were shut down the average attendance clocked in at 18,125 across their eight locations. The Fleet, in an inferior league from a public exposure standpoint, cleared that average and thus showed a community with potential to accept a new team with better infrastructure. Optics are one aspect of marketing your product effectively and making SnapDragon Stadium appear at or near capacity is not impossible for an entity such as the XFL. 

America’s finest city is due for another franchise and a chance for its citizens to once again embrace professional football in the community. With the XFL announcing its return in 2023, San Diego absolutely must factor into the league’s expansion/relocation considerations. The conversations I have had about the Fleet and the attendance numbers convince me that if you give this town a team to support and not try to jiggle the fans’ wallets for extra change, they will get behind it.

Perhaps it is too early to begin dreaming about add-ons for a league that’s just trying to distance itself from its abrupt ending in 2020, but if NFL faithful can have boundless (and sometimes misled) renewed hope every season, so can a fan who just wants professional football back in his hometown.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Demarius Shelton

    March 17, 2022 at 3:17 pm

    Hey Andrew!!!! How are you? I am well and I read your article and I completely agree with you on the issue of your home town of San Diego deserving a new Pro Football 🏈 team in that city and if the NFL cannot or will not have the decenncy or the class to award a new NFL Expansion Team to San Diego or move the Chargers back home where they belong in San Diego,then your city most assuredly should be awarded and get a new Pro Football 🏈 team in town with either of the new major national American Pro Football 🏈 leagues rising to be the alternative opponents to the NFL in both the XFL and the USFL as we for the 2023 or 2024 XFL or the USFL seasons with the team being named either the San Diego Destroyers or the San Diego ThunderBolts with the team colors of aqua blue 🔵 navy blue 💙 silver 🥈 and white for the Destroyers or purple 💜 electric yellow ⚡ and white for the ThunderBolts as well in my view.

    • Andrew Murray

      March 17, 2022 at 4:24 pm

      Thank you for the kind words Demarius.

      In a perfect world the Chargers would see the errors of their ways and migrate back to their true home, but in the event new ownership or someone willing to foot the bill for a NFL stadium doesn’t materialize, I think a new franchise that pays homage to the city would be great. The Fleet were a nod to San Diego being a military city and perhaps something like the aviators, pilots, sailors, or something to that effect would be a good way to go. I agree that blue or silver would great for a maritime theme. There are plenty of possibilities and there certainly is an avenue for other leagues to explore in establishing a brand here.

  2. Dude

    March 18, 2022 at 1:31 am

    I think everyone agrees that San Diego deserves a team. But corporate types always think they can get in LA and be big, or need to, so moving the LA team to San Diego may look weak to them.

    You could likely build something close to the old AFC West with teams in San Diego, Seattle, Denver, St. Louis, and Oakland (or San Jose). The USFL seems to be willing to give these places up so the XFL may have to build a more Midwest and West coast league.

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