Musical chairs not working for NFL
The first season of the second iteration of the los angeles rams was a fabulous one for fans of schadenfreude.
after multi-billionaire owner stan Kroenke refused a few hundred million dollars worth of public money toward a new stadium in st. louis, which would have replaced a publicly-funded stadium that was only 20 years old, he decamped for los angeles and the promise of a new football mecca that he would build in suburban inglewood.
it could not have gone much worse. On the field, the rams were an exceedingly boring 4-12, with a first-overall draft pick in quarterback Jared Goff who they were afraid to start, who then showed why: Five touchdowns in seven games, with seven interceptions and a 63.6 passer rating. and, they fired their coach, Jeff Fisher, midseason.
Off the field, it was pretty much the equivalent of a 4-12 season, with the rams drawing poor television ratings — worse than they ever did as a share of the local market in st. louis — and getting none of the first-year bump that always accompanies a team playing in a new market. We have come to expect sold-out games even for bad teams, with fans just happy to have this new sport in town. (Or, in l.a.’s case, back in town after a two-decade absence.)
as a share of home-stadium capacity, the rams were the second-worst draw in the national Football league. and while they still managed to move around 80,000 tickets per game at the massive los angeles Memorial Coliseum, there was either a lot of house-papering going on or a lot of people who decided to eat their tickets rather than bother going to see a lousy rams team at an old stadium that received uniformly poor reviews. Big chunks of empty seats were routine. They ran out of water at the debut game, so good thing it isn’t hot and sunny in California.
Business is not likely to pick up in the short term. The rams will play two more seasons at the Coliseum before the new palace is open in 2019. By the time last season ended, Goff and the rams were thumped by atlanta before a halfempty stadium. it was not much of a springboard toward 2017.
and so, there is apparently a clear solution to the disaster of the nfl’s return to los angeles: More teams.
san diego Chargers owner dean spanos announced Thursday that he intends to follow the rams to los angeles next season. spanos, who was given an option to become roomies with the rams in inglewood when his own scheme to relocate to l.a. alongside the Oakland raiders was rebuffed by nfl owners, had until next week to make the move official.
it’s a move that is, for not just spanos but the owners who have already given him their blessing to relocate, breathtakingly arrogant. The rams experiment should have been an obvious signal that the league took los angeles for granted: That it thought it could just show up in a city where nfl fans had largely stopped caring about the team and people would flock back because the nfl is a can’t-miss behemoth in the united states. instead, it proved that it can miss. in a market where fans are long used to staying home on sundays to watch the nfl, it turned out that the option to stay home was still pretty appealing. and now, spanos plans to bring a team with much less of an attachment to los angeles, having seemingly detected a clamouring for nfl football that was not evident to anyone else.
The league just finished a regular season that should have given it serious pause. Television ratings dropped significantly for its marquee games, although the resurgent dallas Cowboys, the biggest TV draw in the land, dragged them back up over the final two months. Whatever factors might have combined to hit the TV numbers — the presidential election, a lack of compelling matchups, continued concussion unease — it was quite evident that the nfl is past the point where it can assume there is great interest in whatever game it happens to put in prime time. Coupled with the l.a. experience, where the market was indifferent to the sport even as the dodgers led Major league Baseball in attendance and the l.a. angels (who stunk) were third in american league attendance, you’d think the nfl’s richdude club might realize that this is not an ideal time to abandon traditional markets like san diego. especially when the raiders are also fixing to move to las Vegas.
But no, the league owners think the nfl is impenetrable, as evidenced by its continuing to keep roger Goodell as commissioner even though he is the living embodiment of a public-relations mishap.
and so spanos, having been unsuccessful in trying to squeeze san diego for money for a new stadium, will instead leave, pay the other owners a reported $650-million in a relocation fee, and play two seasons who-knows-where in front of hilariously sparse crowds while they wait to move in with the rams. all because san diego wouldn’t give him enough free money for a new building. The current plan is for the Chargers to play two years in Carson, in a soccer stadium that seats around 30,000. if you thought 2016 was a good year for nfl-related schadenfreude, 2017 promises to outdo it.
Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams runs onto the field of Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 24. A lousy team led to many un-filled seats at the Rams’ stadium.