Over the last few years, the Los Angeles sports terrain has been quickly reshaped with the reintroduction of the NFL to the market and the birth of Major League Soccer’s LAFC.
The contrasting narratives that have been attached to football and fútbol in the area over the last couple seasons have been largely shaped by bleacher optics. So what lessons might the Los Angeles Rams take with them when they move into their new stadium in Inglewood after watching LAFC’s entry into Banc of California Stadium within shouting distance from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum?
LAFC has generally been deemed a smash hit in Los Angeles, despite having to compete with a nearby established MLS juggernaut, the Los Angeles Galaxy. LAFC’s rabid booster club, The 3252, has occupied the standing room only bandbox behind the northern goal since the LAFC’s birth and has received about as much airtime as the actual players on the field. Most Angelenos couldn’t name a single player on LAFC but would tell you that they have really great fans. While attendance has been strong with every game sold out, the optics of black and gold clad fans jumping and singing in unison has been the number one reason that LAFC has been quickly labeled a hit. A couple thousand revelers on the same page almost resembles some of the insane soccer meccas that you might find overseas and makes LAFC games feel like a real event.
Conversely, the narratives that the Rams and Los Angeles Chargers’ scenes have been tagged with nationally and locally have been more dismissive despite having far more fans, more recognizable athletes, and all of the cachet that America’s most popular sport brings. In the Rams’ case, the immense Coliseum bowl has provided a contrasting aesthetic to that of a condensed crowd in a far smaller soccer stadium. In an effort to alleviate the pressure of 92,000 fans converging on a single concourse for refreshments, the Rams have generally held back about 20,000 tickets a game which often leaves huge patches of empty seats around the edges of the stadium. Cameras have often pointed towards the empty seats to paint pictures that can be misleading, but also provide impressions. None of this is helped by the fact that there are tons of transplants who show up like snow birds looking to enjoy a California escape toward the end of fall.
That whole depressing depiction could be smashed though with a couple lessons from their little brothers in Exposition Park have done. If the Rams dedicated an end zone to the booster clubs, melonheads, Rambros, and all the other diehards, think of where the cameras would point and the impression that would make. The Black Hole in Oakland has always got heaps of attention, despite patches of empty seats and tarped off sections throughout the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum because of their identifiable (you could use a synonym here if you want) fans.
That’s what a couple good fans can do for you.
The Rams have plenty of fans just like the ones on the rail in Oakland, but we’re spread out in remote locations throughout the Coliseum. Bring us down to the end zone, and let them bring the party to Sunday. Let their passion infect the newcomers.
What do you think? Where would the cameras point? How would that affect the Rams national and local narrative?
But what about in the new stadium?
The new stadium is going to be stunning. No doubt if the Rams continue winning, the place (and the Rams) will be the talk of the town for years. That being said, Staples Center has always felt sterile compared to the Forum. It has been the center of the sporting universe many times, but still feels a bit like a hotel where it takes a Kobe-to-Shaq lob to really become electric. One thing to avoid at the new Inglewood stadium will be to feel like we’re in a high-end mall.
It will need life and energy.
If the Rams’ brass wants shots of people having a ball to flood the nation, designate a few sections to passion. It’s probably too late in the game to alter the course, but would you rather have a bunch of country clubbers staring at their phones in the end zone, or a sea of blue and yellow that makes sure Inglewood is truly (...whose house?) Rams house. If the Rams want that look, it’s right there for them. Just tap the booster clubs and die hards.
LAFC had other advantages that deserve mention like starting off in a new stadium with new uniforms whereas the Rams have had to play a three-year prologue heading into their new home. You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
The Rams have become a well-run team with great community involvement, but they could begin to gain Dodgers or Lakers status in the area if one of the big stories became the weekly party in Inglewood.
Who would want to miss that?