11:37 AM ET
- Andrea Canales, ESPN.com
CARSON, California — It is going to be fútbol and football on the same grass.
While Major League Soccer enjoys growing popularity, the NFL reigns supreme as the top attraction in the United States sports scene. In Carson, California, the two sports are going to awkwardly coexist for a while.
The Los Angeles Chargers will play their 2017 season at StubHub Center, sharing the soccer-specific venue with the Los Angeles Galaxy of MLS.
The power of the NFL is such that Galaxy president Chris Klein was wary when he first heard the news.
"Concern, just because having our home and the integrity of what we do was important to us," Klein said of his initial reaction.
He now feels differently: "Optimism because of the things that we're going to do and the opportunity to improve the experience for our fans."
The Chargers have promised to be polite guests in Carson.
"They understand that this is our home," Klein said.
Carson is a working-class municipality of around 100,000, located south of Los Angeles off the 405 freeway. It was probably best-known for a history in oil production and an IKEA store until 2003, when a soccer stadium to host the Galaxy opened on part of the Cal State Dominguez Hills campus.
The Galaxy, founded in 1995, didn't hit mainstream awareness until 2007, when global superstar David Beckham joined the club on a five-year contract. With Mexican star Giovani Dos Santos now the face of the team, the Galaxy continue to draw fans to StubHub Center. The club's average attendance of 25,147 in 2016, was practically a sellout of the stadium.
According to the U.S. Census, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Carson grew by more than 13 percent to comprise 38 percent of the overall population. Although there is a sizable African-American community in the area as well (23 percent), Latinos are the biggest demographic slice in the city.
Lopez, who watched football games at the Los Angeles Coliseum while attending USC, is unsure as to how the Chargers will fit, literally, into the Carson stadium.
"It already looks like they're kind of crowded. They've obviously figured out the geometrics of it, but the StubHub Center is tiny compared to the Coliseum."
"There's not a bad seat in the house."
Carson resident Charles Thomas on StubHub Center
Top capacity at StubHub is currently listed at 27,000. The Chargers, even in a losing season of uncertainty last year, averaged 57,024 in home attendance at Qualcomm Stadium, (second-lowest in the NFL) and had the lowest percentage (80) of fans relative to venue capacity.
Charles Thomas, an associate professor of business law in the Cal State Dominguez Hills Department of Accounting, Finance and Economics, is also a Carson resident and member of the city planning commission.
"I live across the street from the stadium," he said. "On the Fourth of July, I can pull out a chair and watch the fireworks."
Thomas conceded that Carson residents will have to endure increased traffic around the stadium in double doses for Galaxy and Chargers games. "I am going to brace for it and probably avoid driving around in the city at that time," he said.
The city of Carson at one point proposed an entirely new stadium to house both the Raiders and the Chargers but lost when the NFL picked the Inglewood proposal that will host the Rams and Chargers once it is complete.
Thomas believes Chargers fans will enjoy their stint in Carson's soccer stadium. "There's not a bad seat in the house," he said.
He wonders, though, if limited capacity will keep out less wealthy fans, and in that case, perhaps the crowd at the stadium won't reflect the diversity of the fan base.
"We unify over a common team," Thomas said. "One of the concerns I have about the Chargers is that the tickets are reported as going to be very expensive. What's unifying for the Dodgers, in my mind, is that you can still go and buy a ticket for $10."
Fynnwin Prager, an Assistant Professor of Public Administration at Cal State Dominguez Hills and co-director of the Economics Institute there, doesn't envision that Carson will see a big financial windfall due to the arrival of the Chargers.
"With a short-term stay, the economic impacts will hinge on the extent to which the Chargers invest in the stadium and campus facilities and the extent to which employees and fans shop, eat and stay at local businesses," Prager said.
The city is moving on from being snubbed by the NFL over its stadium proposal, as well.
"A luxury outlet mall is what they're aiming for in the site," Thomas said.
Prager still sees positives to hosting the NFL, albeit briefly, in Carson.
"The NFL coming to campus brings extra exposure to CSUDH and Carson. More people will see the campus on television and in person, and hopefully we can take advantage of that in terms of marketing."
The Chargers won only five games last season. Although the team is technically returning to Los Angeles, where the Chargers played a debut season in 1960, few fans from that era remain. The Chargers abandoned more than 50 years of history with the San Diego community in the move to L.A.
Klein, who as a child cheered for the NFL’s St. Louis Cardinals before the team moved to Arizona, sympathizes with bereft fans in San Diego.
"When a team leaves, you have part of what you grew up rooting for that's suddenly gone," he said. "As a kid, you don't understand the business aspect of things."
But Klein was optimistic that the stadium-sharing would turn out positively for the Galaxy and Carson. He noted that the Chargers are facilitating incoming stadium improvements, such as a new video screen and improved seating sections.
"A lot of people coming to the facility have never been here before," Klein said of NFL fans. "We have an opportunity to create and engage more fans."
Others are set in their ways.
"I grew up on soccer, rugby and cricket and haven't really deviated from those," Prager admitted.
Lopez didn't anticipate switching from Galaxy soccer coverage to the Chargers. "It's hard to follow one and follow the other."
Even though construction is carefully scheduled to not interfere with game days, Galaxy fans will notice changes to StubHub throughout the season to prepare for the arrival of the Chargers. Some will be welcome, but others might not be. For example, Klein could not assure that the picturesque grass hill at one end of the stadium would not be sacrificed to provide additional seating for Chargers fans.
"I've sat in the grass area and watched a game," Lopez said. Noting the affordability of the area, she contended that it will be missed if removed. "It will be melancholy for some people who remember the way it used to be."
In a variation of "love the one you're with," however, some sports fans in Carson might come to embrace the Chargers.
"I grew up in Los Angeles during the '80s. It was gangsta rap and the Raiders — I'm a fan of the Raiders," Thomas said. "I have adopted the Chargers over time."