Last Sunday, plenty of attention was given to the large contingents of fans in attendance supporting visiting teams at the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers games both played in Los Angeles County against the San Francisco 49ers and Pittsburgh Steelers, respectively.
The way the red jerseys popped on the red seats of the Coliseum drew oohs and awes from Bay Area reporters while the optics of thousands of Terrible Towels in Carson created a cringy visual of LA football.
Is there really any problem though?
First, we shouldn’t put the Rams and the Chargers in the same boat. Regardless of whether there are a bunch of local and traveling 49ers fans at the Coliseum, the Rams have already proven that they can fill a large stadium as well as draw strong local television ratings. They have sold plenty of personal seat licenses at the soon to be opened SoFi Stadium in nearby Inglewood and have already become the 4th-most valuable franchise in the NFL — a ranking that should continue to climb when their new stadium opens.
Is it a bummer that season ticket holders look to double and triple their money when popular teams like the 49ers, Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys play in LA? It certainly can be irritating particularly if the Rams lose, but ultimately though nothing is failing. Money is being made and will continue to increase in increments that few other markets can replicate regardless of what kind of split the crowd brings.
The Chargers are the second team to arrive in Los Angeles and have sold far less personal seat licenses for SoFi Stadium than the Rams have, even at discounted rates. They have fans but significantly less than the Rams seemingly who spent 48 seasons in Los Angeles prior to their 21-season interlude in St. Louis. While the Rams have had nearly 50/50 crowds against the most popular teams, they generally enjoy having about 70%-90% of the crowd on their side for most home games. The Chargers on the other hand enjoy a 50/50 crowds on their better days, and are often outnumbered by out-of-towners or Angelenos masquerading as out-of-towners.
Does any of that even really matter to the NFL? Money is money right?
Well, it might matter in the Chargers’ case, more so than with the Rams’. The Chargers currently play in tiny Dignity Health Sports Park until they arrive in the luxurious new SoFi Stadium next season where they will have 40,000 more seats to fill on Sundays. Right now, with about 12,000 Chargers fans at a game along roughly 15,000 visiting fans, the Chargers soccer stadium is usually pretty full. But one has to wonder, in a 70,000 seat stadium how many more fans will actually show up? Even against the most popular teams, it’s hard to expect more than 30,000 visiting fans to show up. Are the Chargers going to suddenly quadruple their own contingent? Even with the allure of the new stadium it’s hard to picture the Chargers drawing more than 40,000 fans for games against less notable opponents. Still with all the gadgets, suites, and ad space in Inglewood, the Chargers should make out okay, even if ticket sales leave something to be desired.
Should LA be a two-team town?
LA has two teams in every other major American sports league: the NBA, MLB, NHL and MLS on top of high-profile collegiate teams like the UCLA Bruins and USC Trojans. In the Overwatch League, LA is the only city with two teams one of which, the Los Angeles Gladiators, happens to be owned by Rams Owner Stan Kroenke (Go Glads). All those teams have enjoyed financial success including the Anaheim Angels and Anaheim Ducks who are based in Orange County.
So why not the NFL?
The truth is, the Chargers can remain in Los Angeles and make plenty of money based on the NFL’s television deals and by playing in what should be the world’s greatest stadium. It may take them generations before they start attracting 50,000+ Chargers fans on Sundays. Transplants and fans who chose other teams in the NFL’s absence simply aren’t that likely to switch allegiances, so it comes down to the new generations who are actually growing up with teams in their city. The same is also true for the Rams, though less dramatically. There will always be visiting fans in a cosmopolitan city that people like to move to as well as visit.
Imagine the Chargers finding a home of their own where they are actually welcomed and enjoy a stadium to themselves. Imagine if they tapped into London’s economy, or unlocked Mexico City or claimed the Sydney of the North in Toronto? They would thrive. They would have a megamarket to themselves. Even if swaths of Dallas Cowboys or New England Patriots fans remained in those cities, they wouldn’t have another more popular home-town team to compete with.
From a Rams’ perspective, they would be able to go from a valuable team with a smallish but growing fan base, to one of the league’s power teams financially and in terms of fan numbers. Imagine if they didn’t have to split headlines and sports reports in LA. What if they could simply plant their flag and grow without another team sharing their market? Few other teams have had to deal with that type of an obstacle something the national media rarely considers when posting potshot photos of opposition fans on social media every week. Even if the Chargers moving only gained the Rams about 20% more fans, wouldn’t that come in handy as far as having a crowd that was wearing mostly blue and yellow?
They would thrive.
And if things remain?
When the LA Galaxy hosts friendlies against teams like Barcelona or Arsenal (also owned by Kroenke - Let’s Go You Gunners), there are inevitably tons of fans cheering on the high-profile opponents. So why should we expect anything different when NFL teams come to town representing a more popular American sport where tons of transplants and visitors have access to the event? If you’re, say, a Minnesota Vikings fan in LA, you can pay top dollar for one a game every five seasons or so whereas the locals would be less inclined to do so. So should LA continue to have an NFC and the AFC team playing in the greatest stadium on Earth, perhaps we should stop freaking out. Generations will grow up with local teams and balance will eventually be achieved. And if visiting fans find some level of worth because they’re shocked to see other visiting jerseys, and want to crow about “taking over” who cares? They didn’t take over anything, they just bought an inflated ticket for way more than any of the season ticket holders did.
Congratulations, and welcome to Los Angeles!