This season (and for the next three, in fact) the Los Angeles Chargers, formerly of San Diego, will be calling StubHub Center their home. If the fan base in Los Angeles is aware of this fact, they’re certainly not spreading it around. For their game against the Dolphins they managed to fill 25,381 seats. Now, to be fair, that’s a soccer stadium with a max capacity of less than 30K so it might not sound too bad, but this is the NFL. They should have sold that place out three times over. The Rams did slightly better in their home loss to Washington, filling a bit over 56K seats. But that’s a much larger venue and that number of spectators made it look like a ghost town. The two games combined failed to attract as many people as Saturday’s USC college game.
What’s going on here? The Chargers and the Rams are both venerable NFL franchises who have had good times and bad like all the rest. But they are definitely NFL caliber teams. (Says the guy hiding his Jets fan jersey behind the couch.) Why don’t the fans of Los Angeles want to show up and support their team? Is this a case, as some have often speculated, of the Angelenos simply not being into the NFL and there not being a natural fan base for any team?
Not at all, argues L.A. Times’ columnist Bill Plaschke. They’re simply refined shoppes who want quality entertainment for their sports fandom dollar. If the teams start performing like winners, the fans will come.
All those viral images of a half-filled Coliseum for a Rams team that won one-fourth of its games last year is not a bad look, it’s a smart look. Los Angeles didn’t ask for the Rams. It refused to pay for the Rams. Its sports landscape survived 22 years just fine without the Rams. So when the Rams spent their first season accruing only four wins and firing their coach while playing the dull football, potential fans turned their backs, and who can blame them?
After going on to explain that the the NFL needs Los Angeles far more than the City of Angels needs the NFL, and that the fans there are under no obligation to “fall at Stan Kroenke’s feet and fill his seats,” Bill cuts to the chase and explains that this is just how business is done in L.A.
If he puts out a winning and entertaining product, Los Angeles’ discerning sports consumers will buy and, if not, they’ll ignore. That’s just how it works here.
The Rams know this. They understand it. So last winter they hired a new young coach who instilled an exciting offense and by the end of the season, here’s guessing they will create some buzz. But it’s going to take time. While they drew 91,046 fans for last season’s Coliseum homecoming against Seattle, that number dwindled to 56,612 for Sunday’s loss to Washington. No apologies from the crowd are necessary.
It’s not about the fans, it’s about the Rams.
There’s two possibilities here. Either Plaschke is out of touch with his local readers and there’s some other explanation for the empty seats or he has his finger on the pulse of the L.A. crowd. I’m more inclined to believe the latter, personally, but my response to this is the same whether this is just a general, Tinseltown attitude or if it’s only directed to the author and a few like him: You’re not a football fan and should probably just stay away from the stadium anyway.
What Bill is talking about is a very sensible attitude among fiscal conservatives and, more generally, consumers of all stripes. When some product is not up to snuff you don’t purchase it and let the free market prevail. I applaud that sentiment as a fervent capitalist. And the fact that it’s coming out of Los Angeles makes perfect sense in a way. It’s the home of the movie industry. If somebody puts out a dog of a film you stay home and save your money for the next good one. That’s voting with your wallet.
It’s also unbelievably offensive when you attempt to transfer that attitude over to the sports world… particularly the NFL above and beyond all others. These franchises have a history and a family. There’s a reason that the fans in the stands are called the twelfth man. They are part of the team. They rejoice alongside the players in a giddy fashion when they win and they bleed in their team colors when they lose. And with this many teams in the league there are lots of losers every year. Aside from the consolation prize of a conference championship, it’s all about the Super Bow. If you don’t make it there, you didn’t make it.
But the fans don’t go away. They keep on believing that next year will be the year. And yes, that even applies to the Jets fans and we’ve been waiting since the 1960s. If all you can muster for a fan base for your teams in L.A. is a crew who won’t show up until you’re 15 – 0 going into the final regular season game, the team should leave. In fact, they shouldn’t have moved there in the first place. But what were we to expect from the home of Hollywood? Loyalty, patience and dedication are no doubt in short supply there and their “NFL fans” are apparently no exception.
Near the top of his column, Bill began by asking this question: “Everyone wants to know, what’s wrong with us?”
You unwittingly answered that yourself. And the answer is… a lot.