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Is the Sean McVay era building out the fan base of the Los Angeles Rams?

The Rams have one of the smallest fan bases in the NFL. Is their recent success changing that?

Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams have one of the smaller fan bases in the NFL.

That’s been the case for the franchise extending back into their years in St. Louis, and it continues to be the case in 2019.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Quantity and quality are two different things. It’s not in any way something deficient about a fan base to have a lower number of fans. If it were, nearly every NHL fan base would have to bow down to nearly every NFL fan base.

But the Rams are in a unique position. From 1990-98, the Rams’ best season was a 7-9 campaign in 1995 in the first year after relocating to St. Louis. The Greatest Show on Turf kicked off in 1999 and took the Rams to two Super Bowls including one championship amid a six-year period with five playoffs appearances. The next three eras brought about a run that coupled with the 2004 season created a 13-year run without a single winning season.

From 1990-2016, the Rams made the playoffs just five times, moved from LA to St. Louis and then moved back.

That’s not a resume that’s going to bring in a ton of new fans.

But the baseline has changed. The Rams remade their outlook in 2017 by hiring a new head coach in Sean McVay and making successful personnel decisions in key positions. As a result, they’ve won the NFC West the last two seasons and thus made the playoffs the last two seasons including a playoff run that took them to the Super Bowl earlier this calendar year.

Is it having an effect on building out the fanbase? Is the Ramily growing?

It’s hard not to think so. Rams QB Jared Goff is the face of Banana Republic’s new volcanoclothes. DL Aaron Donald continues to attract attention as perhaps the best individual player in the NFL. And despite the drama around his knee condition, RB Todd Gurley remains one of the best-known superstars in the NFL if not specifically for his fantasy outputs.

But the Rams are working from nearly the bottom.

I looked into social media accounts for teams as a pretty simple barometer as to how popular they were across different audiences. Your average Facebook user is different from your average Instagram user, but looking at those as well as Twitter at least gives us a sense of a general fan base size:

2019 NFL team social media comparison

Team FB FB rank Twitter Twitter rank IG IG rank Rank AVG Rank AVG rank
Team FB FB rank Twitter Twitter rank IG IG rank Rank AVG Rank AVG rank
New England Patriots 7,088,879 2 4,455,981 1 3,856,340 1 1.33 1
Dallas Cowboys 8,596,228 1 3,799,782 2 3,004,275 2 1.67 2
Pittsburgh Steelers 6,404,364 3 3,424,524 4 2,180,441 4 3.67 3
Seattle Seahawks 3,948,973 9 2,357,676 7 2,251,213 3 6.33 4
Green Bay Packers 5,317,163 4 2,221,175 9 1,713,961 7 6.67 5
Philadelphia Eagles 3,253,698 12 3,426,018 3 1,797,854 6 7 6
Denver Broncos 4,269,042 5 2,639,732 6 1,190,950 12 7.67 7
San Francisco 49ers 4,066,519 6 2,061,885 10 1,590,021 8 8 8
New York Giants 3,876,010 10 1,819,445 12 1,853,569 5 9 9t
Carolina Panthers 2,336,269 13 3,014,625 5 1,559,426 9 9 9t
New Orleans Saints 4,031,576 7 1,394,238 16 1,233,651 11 11.33 11
Oakland Raiders 3,380,045 11 1,607,792 14 1,427,865 10 11.67 12t
Chicago Bears 4,014,819 8 1,758,696 13 1,018,381 14 11.67 12t
Houston Texans 2,186,031 17 1,862,762 11 1,163,696 13 13.67 14
Atlanta Falcons 2,007,776 19 2,344,655 8 945,166 16 14.33 15
Baltimore Ravens 2,279,429 14 1,458,277 15 908,082 18 15.67 16
Miami Dolphins 2,266,723 15 992,612 24 915,407 17 18.67 17
Minnesota Vikings 2,167,732 18 1,285,209 18 838,594 21 19 18
Kansas City Chiefs 1,618,768 23 1,284,933 19 887,549 19 20.33 19
Washington NFL Social Media Accounts 1,926,034 20 1,250,065 20 688,408 22 20.67 20
Cleveland Browns 1,295,438 26 1,212,284 22 956,893 15 21 21
Detroit Lions 1,875,800 22 1,345,553 17 633,586 25 21.33 22
Indianapolis Colts 2,201,154 16 1,033,173 23 599,791 26 21.67 23
New York Jets 1,887,694 21 1,224,062 21 646,035 24 22 24
Arizona Cardinals 1,454,713 25 920,617 26 668,589 23 24.67 25
Los Angeles Rams 861,325 31 847,157 27 845,439 20 26 26
Los Angeles Chargers 1,551,963 24 842,414 28 599,577 27 26.33 27
Buffalo Bills 889,746 30 985,728 25 516,723 28 27.67 28
Cincinnati Bengals 1,155,847 27 829,888 29 419,448 31 29 29
Tennessee Titans 947,012 28 758,478 31 436,485 30 29.67 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 938,351 29 770,471 30 405,374 32 30.33 31
Jacksonville Jaguars 631,945 32 662,283 32 459,639 29 31 32

Part of this is the strength of Facebook as a social media platform compared to Twitter or Instagram as lesser platforms, but the numbers are stark even as entirely unscientific as this is.

The Dallas Cowboys have more than 8.5m Facebook likes. The Rams have less than 870k.

And just to point this out again, that’s not a condemnation of the Rams’ fan base. Quantity is not quality. The Denver Broncos had periods before and after the Peyton Manning years that, should the current one continue to extend their losing records, could well see the tectonic plates of NFL fans shift.

And that’s really what brings us to the current era of the Rams.

How do fan bases grow? Winning matters more than anything, but it also requires sustained winning and playoff appearances. Winning nine, ten, or eleven games is what grows a fan base internationally. Not Super Bowls. Not superstars. And the Rams are seemingly in a window where they can stack up at least a few more winning seasons even if the next few years go south. Otherwise, we could be looking at the best Rams era since the 1973-1989 run that built up so much of the generation of Rams fans that power the older end of the fan base.

And I wonder what that means as we head into a new stadium in 2020.

The Rams are on the upswing. The fan base is entering into an era of growth as we bid farewell to the Coliseum this year. That’s coming as the Los Angeles Lakers, the most successful team in the history of the NBA (suck it, Boston Celtics), are in the lowest point of their franchise timeline. The USC Trojans are similarly in a nadir with their worst season win-wise since 2000. The Los Angeles Dodgers, on the other hand, look like world-beaters, so it’s not as if the Rams get to take over LA-area media. But if the 2016 landscape put up a wall for the Rams to break through, (a) the Rams didn’t break through it with their 4-12 season, but (b) that wall came down thanks to some other teams in the LA zeitgeist failing on their own merits.

So into the 2019 season we go.

The Rams are coming off of a Super Bowl or bust season that successfully saw them reach that pinnacle. Already, there are similar aspirations being floated for this year. But those aspirations attract attention. And interest. And, ultimately, attraction.

Los Angeles went without an NFL team for 21 years. Expecting Angelenos who had figured out how to apply their fandom to suddenly switch to become Rams fans just because the franchise relocated was silly. Beyond that, a resume of what the Rams brought to LA was among the NFL’s worst of the last decade. Things are much, much, much (, much, much, much) better now. That’s an attractive proposal in and of itself aside from being buttressed by a gleaming palace in Inglewood opening in a year’s time.

The Rams remain one of the smallest fan bases in the NFL. But could winning ways and sleeker homes change that?