LA Chargers, LA Rams prepare for Los Angeles return, as NFL planned all along
August 3, 2012 by Beatweek
by Bill Palmer
Even as the NFL makes preparations for the return of pro football to Los Angeles under the guise of not having any specific team in mind, the writing appears to have been on the wall all along: the San Diego Chargers and the St. Louis Rams, both former LA teams, are unofficially set to return home once the proper stadium has been built to house them both. The writing on the wall appears to have been in place for both franchises for at least a few years now – but the relocations weren’t going to happen until the league finished milking the situation to its advantage. It’s not that the NFL wanted both of the Los Angeles teams to vacate the city in 1995; the Raiders moved back to Oakland simply because they wanted to, while the Rams moved to St. Louis because the owner was in financial straits and pounced on the sweetheart deal being offered by the city. But once those moves happened, the league took its sweet time rectifying the situation. Over the course of the next seventeen years, every NFL in need of a new stadium used the threat of moving to Los Angeles as a method of forcing its current city to build a new stadium and fund it with taxpayer dollars. The gambit worked. With the Minnesota Vikings having finally secured municipal funding, the last domino has fallen. There are only two teams which never did force the stadium issue with their current cities: the Rams and the Chargers. It’s as if they had both been planing to move to LA for awhile and were merely waiting for the greenlight from the league. But even with the apparent onset of two NFL teams in Los Angeles, there are questions as to whether anyone in LA actually wants them…
The unique nature of Los Angels is that most people living here are from somewhere else and moved here in order to pursue a career in the entertainment industry. Most bring their existing football allegiances with them. Visit a Hollywood sports bar on a Sunday afternoon and you’ll find that it’s chock full of people – pro football is huge here – but everyone is rooting for a different team on a different television screen. There are huge chunks of fans for successful teams like the Cowboys and Steelers, but all thirty-two teams attract LA football fans to some degree. Adding a local NFL team to Los Angeles wouldn’t necessarily impact the landscape much. The sheer number of people living in the area would mean that one or even two teams would have no trouble selling out eight home games a year, whether the team is a winner or not (even the LA Clippers, who have been pitiful for most of their existence, draw more fans to their forty-plus home games a year than many other NBA franchises). But for the NFL, real revenue comes from the television deals. And there is little reason to believe that Chargers or Rams games would be a big television draw in Los Angeles. The best evidence of that is already in place…
The NFL has been promoting the Chargers as a quasi-home team in LA for years now, airing most of the team’s games as if they were “local” games in the LA television market (and suggesting that the league has been planning for the Chargers to move up the freeway for awhile now). In reality the 120 miles between San Diego and Los Angeles can be a four or five hour trek by car in rush hour traffic, and few make the round trip without an overnight stay being involved. But the supposed “two hour proximity” has given the league an excuse to push the Chargers in LA nonetheless. The problem? Despite the fact that the Chargers usually field a winning team, there are very few people in Los Angeles sports bars watching Chargers games. That doesn’t mean they’re not watching them at home. But there’s little to suggest that anyone in Los Angeles cares about the Chargers one way or the other.
The Rams may be a different story. While the Chargers played in Los Angeles for only a single season in 1960, the Rams played in Southern California from 1946 all the way through 1994. Among those who moved here and sought a new favorite team, and among the minority of LA residents who grew up here, there still remains a vocal (if aging) contingent of Rams fans in LA who would like to have their team back. It helps that the owner who moved the Rams to St Louis passed away four years ago, leaving the team in new hands. And in a curious move, the league announced this year that it had chosen the Rams to begin playing one home game a year in London for publicity purposes. It’s an odd choice on the surface, both because the Rams are in rebuilding mode and because St Louis isn’t a big enough city for Londoners to take particular interest in. But if the Rams are about to become the Los Angeles Rams, representing the second most famous city in the United States, then the London tie-in makes sense.
The NFL is now stating that it wants any new stadium built in Los Angeles to be capable of housing two teams simultaneously, as is the case with the New York Giants and Jets at the New Meadowlands. The identity of the two teams seemingly couldn’t be more obvious. But the difference is that New York has plenty of natives who want to watch New York NFL teams on television, including many who’ve left New York in favor of warmer climates and want to retain their allegiances. Los Angeles has few natives, and even fewer former residents who’ve moved elsewhere. Local television ratings for the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers would seem to be questionable, and nationwide ratings even more so.
But the local ratings in LA couldn’t be worse than what the two teams are currently drawing in their smaller local markets. And with a new stadium in place for both teams, the ongoing saga of stadium funding battles would finally come to a close – at least until the current generation of stadiums becomes obsolete. While nothing is guaranteed, it would be more of a surprise if the Chargers and Rams aren’t playing home games in Los Angeles by 2013 than if they are.