The National Football League’s (NFL) Chargers have just completed their first year playing in Los Angeles, CA since the year of their founding, 1960. They spend the next 56 seasons in San Diego and returned to LA in 2017. Chargers’ Chairman and Owner Dean Spanos could not have been more delighted.
“We have been very happy with the support we received from the Los Angeles fans; we sold out every game,” he told The National Herald.“We have also been receiving great support from the political leadership in the greater Los Angeles area.”
That is a remarkable turn of events, considering the controversy that surrounded the team’s departure from San Diego and the initial lukewarm reception the team received from fans and local media upon arriving in LA. A critical factor in the turnaround is due in large part to the Chargers’ equally impressive reversal of fortune on the football field. The team had lost its first four games to start the 2017 season, only to showremarkable resilience and come back to finish with 9-7 record, barely missing the playoffs.
Though the Spanoses nowadays are mostly known for owning the Chargers, the family’s fortune was made in real estate. Family Patriarch Alex G. Spanos embodies the American dream: overcoming the odds of his humble origins to becoming a billionaire.
AN $800 INVESTMENT
Spanos was born in Stockton, CA in 1923, the son of Greek immigrants Constantino and Evanthia, who owned a bakery. Young Alex started working in the bakery from the time he was eight years old. In 1951, he borrowed $800 from a local bank, bought a food truck and started selling sandwiches to migrant farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley.
Spanos invested his earnings inapartment building units and in 1960 he founded A.G. Spanos Companies. By 1997, the organization had become the largest apartment builder in the United States and in1984 his childhood dream became a reality when he purchased a majority interest of the Chargers.
His son Dean took over the team’s daily operations in 1994, becoming President and CEO. Dean Spanos’ leadership of the team was highly successful. In his first year in charge, the team made it to the Super Bowl, only to lose to the San Francisco 49ers.
Overall, the Chargers won 113 games, including five American Football Conference (AFC) championships and four playoff games.
Now Controlling Owner and Chairman of the Board,the younger Spanos turned over the daily operations to his two sons, John and A.G. (Alexander Gus), in 2015, just like his father had done with him 21 years earlier.
FROM THE BOTTOM UP
The new generation of Spanoses were not simply handed executive positions based on nepotism. They had to do it the old-fashioned way; they had to earn it. “My pappou Alex was a strong believer in hard work and emphasized the value of learning the business from the bottom up,” John, who is President of Football Operations, told TNH.“We enjoyed working every position of the organization. We feel very fortunate and it was a tremendous learning experience.”
He assumed the position in May, 2015 after working for the organization for more than 20 years. A.G. Spanos, who was named President of the Business Operations in May,2015, followed a similar path to the top. He was responsible to oversee the multimillion dollar upgrades to StubHub Center, in Carson, the Chargers’ home field, after the team’s departure from San Diego was announced, and also to secure space for training camp and a new practice facility at Jack Hammett Sports Complex in Costa Mesa.
NEW CITY, NEW HOME
The team will play at the StubHub Center until the new stadium is ready in 2020. The Chargers will finally have a state-of-the-art stadium in Los Angeles, something they were not able to achieve in San Diego despite years of negotiations with the city. “We tried very hard to reach an agreement in San Diego but it did not work out,” A.G. told TNH.“The move to Los Angeles provides us with stability and the framework to plan for the future. We are excited. ” The new stadium will cost approximately $2.6 billion and will be the home for the Chargers as well as their National Football Conference (NFC, which along with the AFC comprises the NFL) counterparts, the Los Angeles Rams. It will also feature a performance entertainment venue, 900,000 square feet of retail stores, 800,000 square feet of office space, 2,500 new residential and condo units, a luxury 300-room hotel and 25 acres of public parks and playgrounds. When it is completed, it will become an instant attraction inLos Angeles.
According to Dean Spanos, the Chargers will make a sizeable contribution to the new project. “A $200 million dollar loan from the NFL, and approximately $400 million projected revenue from seat licenses will go directly to pay for the cost of the new stadium,” he told TNH. Also with two tenants in the same venue, the price for naming rights will be significantly higher. The stadium is also expected to host the Super Bowl game in 2020, the College Championship game in 2023 and the Opening ceremony for the 2028 Summer Olympic games.
Alex Spanos was also very active in philanthropy and politics, and those two traditions have remained part of the family. Spanos was one of the largest contributors to President George W. Bush’s reelection campaign in 2004. By contributing $5 million to various groups that supported the Bush campaign, Spanos ranked among the top five GOP donors. President Bush then appointed Spanos to the Kennedy Center board in 2004.
Dean Spanos is also active in politics. In the 2016 Republican presidential primary, he supported and raised money for former Texas Governor Rick Perry. So, what does he think of President Trump? “We have never seen anyone in the Oval Office like President Trump before. At this point it is too early to judge his presidency, since he has only been in office for a little over a year. However, regardless if the president is Democrat or Republican I always support the president, because I want every president to succeed,” Spanos told TNH.
An even larger philanthropic imprint is the annual Alex Spanos All-Star Classic, a game featuring the region’s best Northern and Southern high school football players.In 1995, Alex and Dean and Spanos launched the Chargers Community Foundation to support community nonprofits and in 2000, the family established the Chargers Champions through the Community Foundation to support local schools. To this day, over $5 million has been allocated to San Diego area schools.In 2014, the family donated $500,000 to the University of California, San Diego for the Alex G. Spanos Athletic Performance Center. Dean also led the Chargers to partner with the Susan G. Komen Foundation in San Diego in honor of his wife, Susie, who is a breast cancer survivor. And they established the Chargers Champions All Star Gala that recognizes high school students and educators in the San Diego area.
Despite the football team’s departure from San Diego, the Spanos’ commitment to that community has remained constant. The Spanoses now seek to extend their philanthropic outreach to the greater Los Angeles area.
Kimberley Layton, Vice President of External Affairs for the team, told TNH that “in partnership with the nonprofit organization Bikes for Kids, the team each year adopts a full grade at a local school, this year was in Carson where the team plays, and provided a free bike and helmet to each child in the fifth grade. It is a heartwarming event to watch the reactions of a classroom full of jubilant kids.”
And the Chargers are planning to expand their philanthropic activities even further.“We are in the process of evaluating the needs of the greater LA area communities and organizations, and they are many. Right now we are in discussion with the Mayor’s Office to establish acollaboration for the Summer Night Lights Program that operates in 32 locations across the city. The program aims to reduce the influence of gangs with the young people by keeping open recreation centers and parks for extended hours. We are also talking with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the major LA Metropolitan area to establish a partnerships” Layton said.
ON THE FIELD
Success on the football field, of course, is vital to the team’s future, a fact that John Spanos knows all too well. Since his leadership of football operations, the team’s direction has been very positive.
Among others, there are wide receiver Keenan Allen, who won Rookie of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year awards in 2013 and 2017, respectively, and Pro Bowl cornerback Jason Verrett.
Future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates’ contract is up for renewal and will be one of the most important decisions for John Spanos this offseason. Another significant
decision will be the contract renewal of Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley. The defense made big improvements in 2017 and Head Coach Anthony Lynn made it clear that he would like to keep Bradley in Los Angeles. “We understand that winning is of paramount importance,” Spanos said,“especially in a market like Los Angeles, and it is my responsibility to put a winning team on the field. We are very confident about the future of this team.”