When the Rams were allowed to relocate back to Los Angeles in January of 2016, they knew there was a challenge ahead of them off the field.
On the field, the product would certainly have to get better. But in LA, there was going to need to be a generational effort to build the next wave of Rams fans. Having lived without NFL football for 24 years, most NFL-interested Angelenos had already assigned their affiliations. They were never likely to then shun those affiliations just because the Rams showed up.
Instead, the Rams’ best efforts at expanding their fan base (and thus their business interests) beyond putting together a winning product was going to come about by capturing new fans. Young fans. Future fans.
That’s become tougher in the last few weeks.
Los Angeles has become the center of the focus of free agency in the NBA as the Los Angeles Lakers completed a trade for PF/C Anthony Davis while leaving enough money to pursue a top-tier free agent followed by last night’s news that the Los Angeles Clippers had won the sweepstakes for SF Kawhi Leonard.
The bottom line is that there are only so many hours in the day. So many pages in the Los Angeles Times. So many minutes in a drivetime radio show. Forget national sports media that always has to make tough decisions about what to cram into their programming. It’s going to be increasingly difficult for LA media to make those same decisions.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in baseball. The Los Angeles Angels are having their best season four years in their first season with a new manager renewing optimism for the future (sound familiar?). The Rams are coming off of a season that culminated in an appearance in Super Bowl LIII. The Lakers just added one of the best big men in the sport to help LeBron James. The Clippers just added the most dynamic player in the NBA who single-handedly powered his team to a championship and paired him with Paul George. USC is USCing while UCLA is UCLAing. Should either of them turn things around, it gets even more glutted. Throw in hockey and soccer and all the other sports in town and you get a sense of just how hard it is going to be for the Rams to gain a stronger foothold.
Let’s not mangle the timeline. Once football is being played and especially once baseball (read: the Dodgers’ season) ends, the Rams are likely to be afforded A1 space. But in terms of the larger LA sports landscape, there’s just sooooooooooooooooooo much.
Consider others markets. Remember that study that recently ranked the Rams’ fan base/brand last in the NFL? Look at who came in first in the Dallas Cowboys and their market competition. The Texas Rangers are a surprise in staying above .500. The Dallas Mavericks haven’t made the playoffs for three seasons. And the Dallas Stars just made the playoffs for the third time in the last 11 years. Think of how much easier it is for the Cowboys to saturate local sports media than it is for the Rams. Or look at smaller NFL markets like New Orleans, Jacksonville, Nashville or Buffalo where there’s significantly less competition. It’s easier for NFL teams to get coverage above the fold there because there’s less local sports competing with them.
And consider the site of Los Angeles as a target for major sports events. The 2020 MLB All-Star Game will be at Dodger Stadium for the first time in 40 years. The Rose Bowl is set to host a College Football Playoff semifinal in 2021 and 2024 while the championship will be held at the Rams’ future home in 2023. Before that though comes Super Bowl LVI at LASED in 2022. For the first time since the Riviera Country Club hosted it in 1948, the PGA U.S. Open is coming back to LA in 2023 at the Los Angeles Country Club. In 2026, the Rose Bowl will be one of the sites of the 2026 World Cup. The world’s eyes will be trained even moreso on LA two years later when the 2028 Summer Olympics are held in town.
The Rams are doing what they need to do on the field. The local and non-local fan base is all but certain to grow as long as they continue to win. But there is just so...much...sports in LA and beyond that, good sports. Good players. Good teams.
It’s a great time to be a sports fan in LA.
But that makes things a bit tougher for the Rams.