The owners of the Los Angeles Chargers, the Spanos family, built inexhaustible, generational wealth in San Diego. Tens of millions of dollars of San Diego taxpayer subsidy helped.
But then the team left. As dysfunctional and mendacious as San Diego’s politicians may have been throughout the separation, the fact is the NFL wanted an exorbitant taxpayer payoff to keep the team here.
A lot of people responded with disorganized rage. One fan, though, managed to channel it in what became a master class in modern communication.
Joseph MacRae showed up at a welcome rally the Chargers held in Los Angeles. He heckled Dean Spanos there, and the still shell-shocked San Diego media turned the cameras to him.
Macrae’s Twitter following exploded. He decided to turn it into a sustained protest. The Chargers weren’t coming back to San Diego. But the NFL should know what it had done. Spanos should hear it. It should burden them.
He raised $22,000 on GoFundMe from hundreds of fellow fans. He put up a billboard in Carson, in plain view of Spanos and anyone going to the new Los Angeles Chargers home.
The messages hit the right note, and national media attention scaled up rapidly. The Chargers’ move had gone poorly. Comedians and sports talk shows across the country were filleting the team for how uninterested Los Angeles seemed.
Like so many other things that go viral, MacRae’s protest articulated something bigger. But MacRae also showed uncanny instinct with media. With money to spare, he found a pilot willing to push the boundaries and fly a banner over the Carson StubHub Stadium before the Chargers’ home games. He recruited the Mighty 1090 radio station to help crowdsource the messages with disaffected fans.
The NFL tried to get the government to stop the flights.
The Federal Aviation Administration agent that took the NFL’s panicked complaints reported that the NFL was “freaking out” over the possibility that Commissioner Roger Goodell would see these insults. It’s unclear why. What was he going to do? Melt down into a puddle of tears?
MacRae said he’s purchased enough flying banners to last the year. When asked if he’d keep it up next year, he said he would have to think about it and see if he could get some help.
Then he thought about it.
“Yeah sure, why not? Let’s keep going,” he said.
This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego in 2017.