California Dreaming

With two teams in Los Angeles, the NFL got what it wanted, but playing “musical chairs” with franchises walks on fans in the process

St. Louis lost the Rams. San Diego is losing the Chargers. And the NFL is losing face, as the potential for the almighty dollar trumps loyalty and history.

Both the Rams and Chargers relocated to Los Angeles, the nation’s second-largest media market, which had two NFL teams in the late 1980s-90s and lost them both.

Since 1994, the NFL has dreamed of returning to L.A., and grabbing the fists-full of cash it expected to come via its presence in La La Land. Now the league is back in the city that, in the sports world, seems to have two of everything. In baseball there’s the Dodgers and Angels. Basketball fans can choose between Lakers and Clippers. For hockey, there are the Kings and Ducks. Meanwhile USC and UCLA provide multiple men’s and women’s teams at the collegiate level. Additionally, there are a few leagues that only have one franchise in LA, Major League Soccer’s Galaxy (which will soon be joined by Los Angeles Football Club) and the Sparks in the WNBA.

That’s 10, soon to be 11, professional teams and multiple collegiate teams from two universities, all in one metropolitan area. When you include surfing, skating, biking the beach, and the movie and television industries, it’s a market that’s growing ever crowded, and competition is fierce for the entertainment dollar.

The Rams returned “home” in 2016 after 21 years in St. Louis. They are playing at the 90,000-plus seat Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum until a new $2.6 billion, state-of-the-art stadium is opens in Inglewood in 2019. The team received a lukewarm welcome, as they struggled to a 4-12 record. USC scored more points in the Rose Bowl this year than the Rams did all season. Both attendance and television ratings for the Rams fell below league projections. In fact, Rams games had a higher television rating when they were in St. Louis, a much smaller city than L.A.

            Chargers ownership tried for years to get a new publicly funded stadium built in San Diego. In November, voters rejected a hotel occupancy tax which would have funded a proposed $1.8 billion stadium project. As a result, the team is giving up their 71,000-seat stadium in San Diego, their home since 1961, to play in the Galaxy’s 27,000-seat StubHub Center in the suburb of Carson for the next two seasons until they, too, become tenants of the Inglewood stadium. And they’re paying an NFL relocation fee of at least $550 million if paid as a lump sum or $650 million if financed over 10 years.

Now, both franchises are in an arms race to establish themselves as winners in order to take hold of fans’ loyalty (read money) as quickly as possible to take a greater share of the market from the other.

Sure, there are 3.97 million people in the Greater L.A. area.  But they’re not all sports fans. And many of those who are moved to southern California from somewhere else and don’t necessarily pull for the home team.

Some believe the interest in L.A. (and the Raiders – another former Los Angeles-based team’s – interest in moving from Oakland to Las Vegas) has as much to do with attracting opposing fans as much as home fans. But this doesn’t seem like a sustainable, winning formula, as it would repeatedly take a combination of transplants buying tickets to one game to see the team from the city where they grew up or attracting enough fans of the opposition to travel and make a weekend getaway.

The draw to the bright lights of Hollywood can’t be denied, but the league’s lack of loyalty is hurting its brand. People across the country are hurting financially. They’re concerned about their jobs, healthcare, education, and overall wellbeing.

The NFL is rich and getting richer – according to Forbes, each of its 32 franchises are worth at least $1 billion. It’s getting harder to argue for the idea that NFL owners should get millions of dollars in public assistance to build a stadium, which helps them maximize their profits, only to turn around within two decades and demand another or they will leave.

That’s blackmail. And its disgusting.

The true test, however, will be if Los Angeles can become a successful supporter of pro football. If it can, the league, and its owners, will win big. If not, the league will once again look to take advantage of another city willing to mortgage its future in order to be a “professional” city.



Categories: The Pennant Chase