22 Jan 19
San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Usually we sneer, or at least look askance, at those “bandwagon” fans who become interested in a team just as it reaches the big stage. The normal inclination is to ask, “Well, where were you during the long, hard slog of the regular season?”
But not here, and not now. If you are a new (or renewed) Rams fan, excited because of the first Super Bowl involving an L.A. team in 35 years (and the first involving an L.A. Rams team in 39 years) … well, welcome aboard. I’m guessing they won’t even ask, “What kept you?”
This is, after all, what the NFL had in mind when it finally returned to the L.A. market in 2016, 21 years after abandoning it.
(We will pause here for Saints fans/conspiracy theorists to vent about whether audience-building had anything to do with the controversial no-call late in Sunday’s NFC championship game. Response: It didn’t, and before continuing to act as if your team has been the only victim of an egregious call in a conference championship game, Google “Tom Mack” and “bad call.” Thank you.)
In capturing the imagination of Southern California, winning is far from the only factor, but it’s critical. Advancing to a Super Bowl, with the two weeks of attention leading up to it, cuts through the clutter and gets the populace’s attention.
It should put at least a temporary end to the narrative about how SoCal doesn’t care about the Rams, or about the NFL, or … whatever. This is a multi-layered, multi-faceted issue, one that involves two teams directly, a third tangentially, and a sprawling, diverse market featuring a lot of competition for attention spans.
What we know for sure: The Rams and the Chargers are still developing fan bases. The Rams have an edge in that competition, because (a) they were here for 49 seasons previously, compared to the Chargers’ one; (b) they moved back a year earlier, and (c) their practice facility and headquarters in Thousand Oaks are physically closer to the center of power (i.e., L.A.’s TV stations) than is the Chargers’ HQ in Costa Mesa.
Plus they’re still playing, and they now inherit the “Beat L.A.” chant that the Chargers heard two Sundays ago in New England. But while the Patriots are gods in their home region and will be temporarily popular in St. Louis and San Francisco for obvious reasons, Brady/Belichick fatigue means the Rams are America’s Team the next two weeks.
(OK, let’s add New Orleans to Patriots Nation for the time being. I suppose it depends on how long Saints fans stay mad.)
Layered over both the Rams’ and Chargers’ battle for market share is the Raiders’ immense popularity in SoCal, the remnant of that team’s residency in L.A. from 1982 through ’94. Just curious: Did the Raiders’ presence, and victory, in Super Bowl XVIII in their second year in L.A. create some of those now diehard fans?
And beyond the Raiders’ influence, in this metropolis of more than 16 million, lie varying degrees of strong loyalties to 29 other NFL teams.
Part of it is migration. As anyone who has attended a Yankees or Red Sox (or Mets, or Cubs, or Red Wings or Blackhawks) game in L.A. or Anaheim knows, people who move here bring along their loyalties. Those Eagles or Packers fans who invaded the Coliseum this year, or the Chiefs or Broncos or Ravens fans who stormed the turnstiles in Carson? Many of them live among you.
The other issue, and one not many people mention: How many Angelenos adopted another team after the Rams and Raiders left? And how many, faced with the dilemma of switching to the home team(s) or staying with the team they’d been rooting for, chose the latter?
The website teambarfinder.com is admittedly an unscientific form of research, but consider: Of the NFL’s 32 franchises, only fans of the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans don’t have an establishment within L.A., Orange, San Bernardino or Riverside counties that is considered their “official” gathering place. By this metric the Packers (12 bars), Cowboys (9) and Steelers (9) are the region’s most popular out-of-town teams.
It is also worth noting that this site lists 13 establishments as Chargers hangouts, compared to seven for Rams fans.
The issue of the Chargers’ impact in this market, and the narrative of small crowds, small TV ratings, etc., is a sensitive topic within their organization, as was noted after I wrote about it last week. The team is active in the community – it was honored in 2018 by both the American Red Cross and the office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti for its community and charitable efforts – and is selling every ticket it can sell, even if a good percentage of ducats wind up in the hands of opposition fans.
[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section”]But among the benefits of going 12-4 this year: The L.A. TV viewership for the Chargers-Baltimore game two weeks ago peaked at 1.1 million households, according to a team spokesman. The team organized 12 watch parties in SoCal for the New England game the following Sunday – from Northridge to, yes, San Diego.
That, too, is the bandwagon effect, and it’s immensely helpful with 70,000 seats to fill for each team when the Inglewood stadium opens in 2020. Right now the Rams have an extra two weeks of attention with which to woo however many undecideds there may be. Should they actually win the Lombardi Trophy? Just imagine the ticket-selling campaign that follows.
Finally, a suggestion: When Patriot fans blurt out “Beat L.A.” – and they almost certainly will – just note the difference between the temperature in the Northeast and the temperature here. That will remind you who’s really winning.
@Jim_Alexander on Twitter