Around 2013, the LA Times published a piece stating that native Californians were finally going to be the majority of the population. That was big news for Southern California. Over 55% of the residents in Los Angeles County were born in California. That’s a big jump from 1980, which was 45%. Los Angles has always had the reputation has being a city of transplants — more specifically, sports fans whose hearts live in another NFL city.
Why does 1980 factor into this? That’s the year that the Rams left Los Angeles and moved to Anaheim, which might as well be a different planet.
Once the LA Rams took the 10 east to the 60 west for a while, then get onto the 57 south and exited on Katella, they became neighbors and not residents of Los Angeles County – things were different. By moving out of the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Rams were over an hour away in normal traffic. The “LA” Rams spent 14 fourteen years playing in Anaheim Stadium, or I liked to call “The Big A.”
Now, what was happening in the 80s while the Rams were gone?
Los Angeles had a sports renaissance in the 80s. Simply put, it was showtime. Championships were won. Legends were created. But none of them were NFL related.
A kid that was born in the late 70s didn’t grow up with the Rams as their home team. They had Magic Johnson, Fernando mania, and Wayne Gretzky. LA still talks about Kirk Gibson’s homerun in the 1988 World Series. It defined sports in this town. Traditions weren’t just automatically transported into the county limits, it took years to establish these teams in the culture of Los Angeles.
And the “LA” Rams were playing in Orange County. I went to the games at the Big A and it wasn’t exactly an electric experience in my opinion. The overall vibe of the Rams from 1980 to 1994 wasn’t LA – it was Mickey Mouse.
When the Raiders and the Rams finally left Southern California, it wasn’t as heartbreaking as it was when Baltimore lost the Colts, or Cleveland lost the Browns. In a broad sense, the city embraced what they had even stronger. We had the Lakers, Dodgers, Kings, USC, UCLA, and uh, the Clippers. Don’t forget about the Los Angeles Clippers.
In fact, the Clippers are a good example that the “football teams can’t be successful in LA” theory is flawed. You know what helped the Clippers go from a forgettable sports team in LA? They got out of the LA Sports Arena and into the Staples center, which was a good first step, but then they needed to get superstars and a new owner. The Los Angeles Clippers are at the apex of their success in the NBA because they established a tradition – they proved to the fans that they’re going to compete and be entertaining while they do it.
That’s exactly what the LA Rams need to do. They need to prove that they’re a team to invest in. The typical LA sports fan has a high expectation – they want to win. Last year, when most LA fans were open to following the Rams, they were a national embarrassment. Not really a cool time to jump on the bandwagon.
Should a fan love a professional sports franchise blindly because they happen to play near their zip code? Maybe that should be case in some smaller cities, but Los Angeles County has over 11 million people and at least a half of them already have team allegiances in other cities.
In my friend group, there is a fan of the San Francisco 49ers, Arizona Cardinals, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. These are all guys that have lived in LA for over 20 years. And yes, they are all huge jerks.
The fans that are showing up to the Coliseum are predominately old school, or related to the original fans. It’s a good showing. The Rams have a passionate fan base that is excited to have their old team back. Is it the same showing as a USC game? No. And why should it be?
If the USC Trojans didn’t play a football game in Los Angeles County for over 25 years, would you expect the Trojans to stroll back into town and draw over 90,000 people? Hell, no. USC belongs here, for sure.
The fact that fans in LA aren’t packing the LA Coliseum for the Rams proves to me that LA sports fans are paying attention. They care. And most importantly, LA sports fans are smart.
Just because Stan Kroenke wants to make billions of dollars in LA, that mean the city wants to shell out their money for the team with a blind eye. A smart fan needs some sort of connection to the team. That’s why a good number of LA fans have stayed away for now. They’re in a wait-and-see mode.
In 2020, the Los Angeles Rams are going to have an amazing stadium to play in. If by that time, Coach McVay has turned the Rams into a team that’s constantly in the top ten Power Rankings every week and their offense is entertaining to watch, the crowd in that new place will be absolutely bananas. Just like how it’ll be for the Dodgers playoff games this year.
And yes, the Los Angeles Chargers make this whole transition extra awkward, but LA is gigantic and years of winning will fix a lot of these problems. In the meanwhile, get used to those photos of empty seats at the Coliseum.
But when you look closer at the empty seats photo, take heart in the fact that the fans in the shot next to the empty seats are happy to be there and love their hometown Los Angeles Rams.