Last week the Rams hosted the Chargers at the LA Coliseum, and the stadium was pretty full. That’s not a sentence you’ve often seen before with regard to the NFL in LA. This was a different weekend. It was good. And I know why.
A quick trip over to StubHub (the website not the stadium) showed the get-in price for this much-ballyhooed “fight for LA” was about $30. I can’t take my kids to Rubio’s for that little. An NFL game with TWO local teams for $30 is a steal. So people showed up.
The 49ers are coming to LA this weekend, and even though Mr. Jimmy GQ won’t be suiting up for the visitors, it’s still a not too far away California NFL brand, so here comes the visiting crowd. The “home” of the Chargers will be painted red & gold with ticket prices that top a minimum of $150 per ticket. There are some Chargers fans in southern California, they just don’t want to pay $1,000 to bring a family of four, park and eat. I get it.
Of those two different experiences, which one do you think will be the norm in two years when Rams owner Stan Kroenke opens up his sparkling new, but cavernous building in Inglewood? Prices will be large, and once the novelty wears off, I predict the numbers of empty seats will also be large.
It’s all just two much. It’s not that sports fans in LA don’t like football. LA is so big there are plenty of people who like anything and everything. Almost every NFL team has a dedicated sports bar in LA. There are THAT many people. But a football fan doesn’t need to fork over Whole Foods prices to see football. There’s USC and UCLA, both significantly cheaper. And there’s not just football, there’s fútbol. The new LAFC games are garnering huge support. Did I mention that LeBron is now in LA also and just about to get started? The Dodgers are still playing as well.
You know this. The saturation of sports in the LA market is overwhelming. So why, when something is oversaturated, do people keep on saturating?
While all of us know the quick answer, which is money, my question is, why does the parent company allow it?
Let’s go to Chicago for a moment. The Cubs average about 39,000 people every time the lights go on. They have Wrigley Field, Wrigleyville, a great team, stars like Javy Baez and Kris Bryant. Most importantly, they have historical relevance.
Across town, the White Sox average 20,000 a night. (Cough cough yeah right). It’s actually less than that. You can see it just by looking at pictures of the stadium where on certain nights, you can literally count the fans. Two teams, one city. Why?
Let’s go to the Bay Area in California. They have 2 football teams. Oh wait… that’s about to change. But they do have two baseball teams. Oh wait… the playoff bound A’s average less than 20,000 per night and probably should get on the phone with city leaders in Portland ASAP.
If you catch my drift here, the rule is simple.
No city should ever have two teams from the same sport. Ever.
Well, maybe except for New York. Somehow, the historical significance of multiple teams works there. The fan bases are strong, consistent, and passionate. The Giants have most of the fans, but the Jets have plenty. The Yankees have most of the fans, but the Mets have plenty. Like always, New York is just…different.
But outside of the Apple, I struggle to understand why the bosses let the employees run the show.
Here’s what I mean by that. The NFL, for example, has a Commissioner, just like all sports. Now it’s true, he is the employee of the owners. However, the owners as a whole, all 32 of them combined, are the boss. Each owner individually, needs to answer to that boss. But when it comes to relocation, that boss does not get in the way of the financial desires of its employee. And that is a damn shame.
Sure, sports are a business, blah blah blah. Not to fans they aren’t. If sports are just like any other business, then name the comparable business. Have you ever gone over to the Apple Store and stood at the genius bar with your face painted, screaming at the kid in the blue t-shirt to make better swipes on the iPad?
Sports are the only business where we passionately care about the performance of the employees. And that important distinction is why the football reality in Los Angeles doesn’t make sense. The whole point of sports is to entertain through community connection. It’s one community and its fans, against another, every weekend, for fun. One community against itself just lessens the fun. To be exact, it cuts it in half.
I host a radio show in San Diego. The day the Chargers announced their departure, people called in and cried. Cried. It was like their childhood had been ripped from them, replaced by an empty parking lot. It was sad to say the least. And for what? So a small family of billionaires could become even bigger billionaires. But again, that family is one employee of the larger corporation. That larger corporation is not benefiting from its employee’s financial goals. Instead, the corporation is subject to the weekly embarrassment of empty seats, silly minor league style promotions, and a constant flow of broadcasters who still call them the San Diego Chargers.
I’m aware of this article’s somewhat utopian tone. But truly, sports are so much better when they’re injected with love in addition to money. The Rams and Chargers are both good this year. Who knows, they could meet in the Super Bowl. And then, one of them would win it. And the next day, the LA sports fans would all gather to celebrate… LeBron’s big game the night before.
Image Source: Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY Sports