Why the Chargers Left Los Angeles

1960 los angeles chargersI have been asked on a number of occasions why the Chargers left Los Angeles.  Really, the answer is quite simple.  They didn’t draw enough fans.  Take a look at the photo of Jack Kemp leaping while being tackled.  See the stands in the background?  This photo was taken during a regular season home game on November 13.

The Chargers played their home games in the Los Angeles Coliseum, which also happened to be home to the USC Trojans and Los Angeles Rams.  At best, the Chargers were the third-tier football team playing at the Coliseum in 1960.  At the time, the Coliseum had a seating capacity of more than 100,000.  The Chargers 1961 media guide lists their 1960 average home attendance as being 15,768, and that does is not differentiating paid attendance from those who attended games with complimentary tickets.

1960 los angeles chargersThere are some photos of 1960 Chargers games that show what appear to be packed stands.  What one must keep in mind is that the fans were concentrated into certain sections of the stadium, for example, around the 50-yard line.  While that areas appeared to be full, the vast majority of the seating bowl remained empty.

Perhaps former Chargers’ center Don Rogers said it best.  “It was pretty obvious that we weren’t making any headway in Los Angeles.  I don’t know if you’ve been in the Coliseum, but to get from the dressing rooms to the field you go through these really long tunnels.  Every time we’d come out on the field, Don Norton and I would always be next to each other and we’d say, ‘They’ve stayed away by the thousands.’  Nobody was there.  A couple thousand people in the stadium and then they’d start putting them all together.  You’ve got this 100,000-seat stadium and you’ve got 2,000 people there.  We never did draw very well.”

Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

23 Responses to Why the Chargers Left Los Angeles

  1. Eddie Arminio says:

    I really don’t think any professional football team can make it in Los Angeles. There are to many transient people there who have other things to do. Football owners,as you know, thrive on full capacity in their stadiums. If not, they constantly cry poverty,which is a total lie.

  2. Howard says:

    The Rams left LA for Anaheim during the late 1970’s. And eventually the Rams and Raiders left for other locations. So, the lack of success is not limited to the Chargers.

    The Chargers have always produced exciting teams. They may not have many championships, but, always a fun team to watch.

  3. LIN BUTLER says:


  4. Dave Steidel says:

    guys – take a look at the second picture of Todd’s posting – it is filled to capacity with fans that Harry Wismer counted at the Polo Grounds 😮

  5. 1967 says:

    Despite being the hometown team (NFL to wit), more than half a decade later the 1966 Los Angeles Rams were not doing much better trying to fill that huge venue, averaging less than 50,000 per game the Coliseum – better than the NFL average but an veritable ripple in the football ocean, stadium size considered; makes Superbowl I’s 61,946 seem legion, comparison.

    [ Seven straight losing seasons previously 1959-1965 likely didn’t help, nor did the Rams losing out the signing of local hero #2 draft choice Mike Garrett, who went to the AFL and Kansas City in ’66.)

    ~ On the other hand, careful what you wish for… if you’re the opposition.

    November 3, 1961 at Boston University Field, Boston (or should I say Dallas, at least the Texans) had an converse problem – namely, one too many fans – as in “the man in the trench coat”.

    That would be the guy who entered the playing field from behind the end zone & knocked down a Cotton Davidson pass intended for Chris Burford – PATRIOTS WIN!

    Nod ‘The Gipper’, win one for… Billy? Patriots owner Billy Sullivan (commonly seen wearing a trench coat), was rumored to be the Pat’s 12th man on the play; Sullivan never denied it (visions 1954 Cotton Bowl Tommy Lewis / Dicky Moegle & the td that was – but wasn’t.)

    Attendance in Boston, ’61?

    Who cares, or even remembers.

    THAT was the ‘colorful’ AFL – long may it live!

    If he’s reading this, wonder what Chris Burford has to say 50+ years later : )

  6. Tom says:

    starting and starting early to the mid 1950’s large parts of LA experienced quite possibly the largest shift in population demographics in the history of urban America up until that time. The term used to explain the phenomenon is ” White flight”. That population shift to the Valleys and newer suburbs, the decline in the area surrounding the Coliseum, the shortage of parking that forced fans to pay local residents to park on the lawns of there homes, television and the Rams loosing ways chased fans away.
    In 1957 and 1958 the Rams drew record crowds averaging around 86K per game and drew over 100K three times and in 1957 the NFL single game record of nearly 103 k. The demise was near complete by 1963 when the Rams played in front of less than 30 K. I recall going to Rams games in those years with my dad, he would park his car near his office on Broadway and we would take the Yellow Street car to and from the Coliseum.

    • Howard says:

      How was attendance during the George Allen years? The Rams were a powerhouse from 1966-1970.

      • Tom says:

        Howard the seats shown in the Chargers photo’s were later blocked off for Rams games and seating on the east end and Peristiel end shown in the photo’s blocked off and not sold. I sat in those seats in 1967 at what is now called “The Game” UCLA vs USC Beban vs OJ. Later the Rams installed bleacher type seating on the field behind the east end zone and replaced the bench seats with theater and capacity was reduced to 80 thousand. During the Allen years they sold out big games, Packers, Vikings, Colts and rival 49ers etc.
        Part of the sales pitch used to lure the Rams to Orange County was part Real Estate and an upwardly mobile fan base of 700,000. The thought of 700,000 fans in close proximity to Anaheim was most attractive and ownership could see dollars and years of fans on waiting lists to get in.

        Football is big in LA, baseball has fallen flat but will rebound with a winner and with the increased Latino participation in the sport the Latino population in Southern Cal, and gentrified Downtown LA, Magic Johnson knew what he was doing.

        Football in LA is king and could easily support two teams with fans. I attended the USC Ohio State game a few years ago, it was both teams first game of the season it was an elbow room only crowd and you could cut the atmosphere with a knife.

      • Andy says:

        The George Allen Ram teams drew very well, from ’67 to ’70. I think they must have averaged 70,000 plus the latter three of those years. The Reeves Bowl set-up cut down on the capacity, or they would have brought in even more. I think their crowds were as fun as any I sat with in L.A. People went to those games really looking to have a good time. I remember walking through the stands after the games and being awestruck by the number of whiskey bottles I’d find under the seats. But I don’t remember any big problems with fights. They came later with the Raiders. Their fans couldn’t hold their liquor like Ram fans could, and that’s a fact. .

        • Howard says:

          ha ha, great analogy about Raiders fans!!

        • Tom says:

          I recall the 1967 Rams Packers game and with less than a minute left, thinking the game was lost started to leave the stadium and missed Tony Guilliory’s punt block, then hearing the crowd erupt ran back to our seats to watch Roman connect on a 5 yard TD pass to Bernie Casey to win the game. Later I got to see Guillory’s punt block, it was replayed a thousand times.

          • Howard says:

            There was a famous column written by Jim Murray of the LA Times after that game. In essence, in spite of the loss, he marveled at how hard the Packers played that “meaningless” game. He commented that in a country where you can’t get an appliance fixed, etc, Green Bay showed up every week trying their hardest to win.
            The Rams expected to walk into Milwaukee for the playoff game a week or so later, and win by default. The final score of 28-7 Green Bay was a reminder that games are played on the field.

          • Tom says:

            “Travelin” Travis Williams set an NFL record in that game as a rookie, when he returned his fourth kickoff of the season for a touchdown. The Rams kicked away from him and the ball rolled four yards deep into the end zone where he picked it up and went 104 yards the other way. Travis was 6’1″ 215, a kind of Bo Jackson of his day and possibly faster, he ran a 9.3 100 at Arizona State without serious training or weight lifting. In high school in Oakland he is the only prepster to have beaten the one time worlds fastest man and the first to break the 10 second barrier in the 100 m Jim Hines in the 100 yard dash.
            Travis found life more difficult than running back kicks and at the age of 47 lost the struggle with life.

    • David says:

      The Chargers struggles in LA were due to them being the 4th choice for football fans in an oversaturated market. LA supported the Rams, Trojans, and Bruins and the Coliseum was an outdated venue 50 years ago.

      • Tom says:

        ABA teams never did well in the LA market either, tough competing with the Bruins and Lakers. I do remember the 1960 Chargers as an attractive alternative to the Rams who went into a tailspin after Reeves fired Gilman, so their games must have been televised as I never attended games.

        • Howard says:

          I remember when Dan Reeves fired George Allen before the 1969 season. It sparked a players revolt; forcing him to rehire Allen for 1969. Reeves got his wish after the1970 season.
          I was looking at Gilman’s record in the AFL. He had I think only 1 losing season. Surprised he didn’t get another shot in the early 1970’s.

          • Tom says:

            Jon Arnett who was a local hero has commented that he loved playing for Sid Gilman and after Gilman’s firing his days with the Rams were the worst years of his athletic career. Jon Arnett is and interesting guy and if you look at his numbers for ten years, a case can be made that he belongs in Canton.

  7. I think I see two fans in that second photo–and that’s two more than I see in the first.

    Great pictures–partly for the action on the field, but also for the stark nothingness in the stands. Man, that really tells a story. Unreal.

  8. Jimax says:

    Interestingly, I attended Chargers games in the mid 70s (pre-Fouts) and the stands in San Diego were also pretty empty.

  9. Mike says:

    They didn’t have to worry about the fans – they had them outnumbered!

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