The Chargers have long been the main game in town for San Diego sports media. But with the team abandoning San Diego, how much local airtime and ink will it receive next season?
No one seems to know, including the local outlets doing the covering.
Before deciding how much to cover the team, local outlets say they’ll take the temperature of Chargers fans over the next year. So far, it’s boiling hot — and not in a good way.
“There’s so much anger that we can’t cover them the same way,” said Mighty 1090 reporter and producer Marty Caswell. She said some listeners threaten to turn off the radio if the station talks Chargers: “It appears the appetite for Chargers coverage will decrease dramatically.”
Caswell and other media members said it seems likely there will be less Chargers coverage, though to what degree is unclear. Higher-ups will decide over the next season after poring over ratings.
Yet even if fans still crave Chargers reporting, there’s the matter of geography.
Instead of a short drive to practices and games, reporters would have to battle perpetually clogged freeways, a nonstarter when facing tight deadlines.
The distance will likely lead Caswell to cut back her constant presence at games, training camps, practices and National Football League combine sessions. Reporting and analysis of these events, along with in-studio interviews, are the Mighty 1090’s bread-and-butter.
“With training camps, for example, that’s when you get to know players. That’s when you build relationships and find storylines. That disappears if you’re no longer there.
“I can see myself going to and covering a few of their games in Los Angeles, especially early on to see the difference. But as far as discussing who practiced, who didn’t and who should they draft? That changes. We’re still seeing what our coverage will look like,” Caswell said.
Caswell said some Chargers fans remain loyal. But added among the jilted, some have sworn off following them, while others will still keep tuning in, like checking in on a despised ex via Facebook from time to time and hoping they’ve put on weight.
Another name for it is hate-watching, which has proven popular in St. Louis when the city’s former Rams, now in Los Angeles, are being stomped.
But will CBS News 8 — the local channel for nearly every Chargers game — still air the team’s games?
The station’s sports director Kyle Kraska expects it will, but said that decision rests with the network, which has the option of showing a different American Football Conference team.
“Will they say it makes a lot of sense for us to continue showing Chargers games because there are still a lot of Chargers fans there, or do they say let’s put on the game of the week?” Kraska said. “I assume they go with the Chargers.”
Regardless, Kraska said CBS News 8’s coverage will still include a post-game show. But he isn’t sure how many games the station’s crew will attend, and he forsees fewer local Chargers stories throughout the week.
The station will also be able to run Chargers stories from its Los Angeles affiliate.
The crowded sports market there, however — the Dodgers and the Lakers, to name a few — will likely mean not a whole lot of Chargers coverage to pick up.
“The Chargers were a very integral part of the fabric of San Diego, and that’s not the case in Los Angeles, and nor will it ever be,” Kraska said.
Teams can encourage coverage by providing access to coaches, players and front office personnel. Kraska said so far the focus has been on Los Angeles press, including Chargers owner Dean Spanos’ four-day media blitz up north after the move was announced.
Bill Johnston, the Chargers’ director of public relations, did not return an email requesting comment.
“Do the Chargers care at all about maintaining the San Diego media, and maintaining some shred of popularity? Or is there attention and focus solely going to be on building the LA market?’” Kraska said.
“I haven’t gotten a call from Dean saying, ‘Hey, we would really love to have you up here today. We still really need you guys. We need to maintain our San Diego foothold to make this work.’”
Keeping that foothold, Kraska said, seems important for the Chargers on the off chance that the Raiders look to relocate to San Diego if its Las Vegas deal falls apart.
Could increased coverage of the Padres, Aztecs, Gulls, a potential Major League Soccer team, high school sports — or a mix therein — fill the news hole left by the Chargers?
“We’re waiting to see who jumps up and captures the imagination of sports fans here,” said San Diego Union-Tribune sports editor Jay Posner. “I’m not ruling out anything.”
As one measure of how important the Chargers have been to the Union-Tribune, the newsroom sent a small army to cover home games this season — four to six writers, not counting staff for photos and video.
Posner expects only a reporter, columnist and videographer covering the first Chargers home game next season. Beyond that, the Union-Tribune will track readership surveys, online metrics, TV ratings, online reader comments and social media before making staffing decisions.
Going forward, even disgruntled fans may be interested in coverage of popular players like Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, Posner said.
“We’re not going to cover the Chargers to the extent that we covered them for the past several decades. But I don’t think it’s wise to stop covering them either,” Posner said. “We’ll try to find the sweet spot.”
Posner said in recent weeks, reader response has run the gamut, from fans who still feel a connection with the team and are seeking stories to threats of canceling subscriptions if coverage continues. Falling somewhere in between, a Twitter user on Sunday told Posner he’ll read every word if the Chargers are terrible.
Sports reporters, too, are feeling the disappointment of the Chargers’ unceremonious exit.
Fox 5 sports reporter Jordan Whitley said she cherishes the quiet, personal moments of covering the beat — like Rivers playing catch with his kids on the field long after the game, listening to Gates tell stories of his college basketball days and cornerback Brandon Flowers looking up in awe at how much work goes into sweeping the stands and taking down banners.
Whitley said she believes the Chargers will be good in the coming years, and “we may not be there to tell the stories of how their struggles and perseverance through adversity have finally paid off.”
Judson Richards, half of “Hardwick & Richards” on Xtra 1360, said the dilemma over how much to cover the Chargers is even tougher considering that the team didn’t move across the country.
“Does that make it easier to keep a connection?” Richards said. “Instead of 112 miles, what if it was 1,112 miles?”
Richards said those with a higher pay grade will decide whether to carry games and put on pre- and post-game shows.
While sports talk radio has always revolved around the Chargers, he looks forward to what’s next.
“We were stuck in neutral with the Chargers staying or going,” Richards said. “I think the conversation can be more interesting or intriguing about what’s next. If this MLS development of the Mission Valley site happens, I do think it’s a step in the right direction, whether for sports fans or sports talk radio.”