Yesterday was officially the first day of autumn, which in Los Angeles means a few things: Jewish holidays, Santa Ana winds and another season of ignoring football.
The NFL has been back in L.A. for more than a year, not that you'd notice. The Los Angeles Rams just started their second season here, and the Chargers just started their first. As has been widely reported, both teams had home games this past weekend that combined for attendance of 81,993 — fewer than the 84,714 who were on hand to watch USC take down the Texas Longhorns at the Coliseum. That's also the temporary home of the Rams, but not the Chargers, who are playing their home games over in Carson at the much smaller StubHub Center. Both teams are eagerly awaiting the 2020 completion of their new, permanent, 70,000-seat stadium/retail wonderland in Inglewood.
For years, L.A. was gripped by the ongoing will-they-or-won't-they drama surrounding various NFL teams rumored to be considering a move to our sunny shores. When the City Council voted unanimously (and gleefully) to approve the construction of a football stadium in downtown L.A., Councilman Paul Koretz called it the most “important political decision” of his career (that stadium was never built).
And when the NFL finally voted to allow the Rams to move back to the city they left in 1995, Mayor Eric Garcetti said it was “confirmation that this is a town that nobody can afford to pass up.” (Never mind the fact that Inglewood is a different city than Los Angeles, with its own mayor and everything.)
But Angelenos' relative indifference toward the nation's most popular sport is enough to make one wonder what all the fuss was about.
Why is the NFL failing in Los Angeles? Here are six reasons:
6. The teams are just not that good.
“Devotion from the average Los Angeles sports fan is never simply given, it is earned, every day, every season, and if right now that means empty seats on a Sunday afternoon, well, the onus is on the Rams and Chargers,” L.A. Times columnist Bill Plashke wrote this week. “They have to figure it out.”
In Plashke's view, L.A. only respects winners. Fans will flock to the NFL when its teams are actually good. Just ask the Clippers.
5. They're the wrong teams.
No one is really sure why we got the Chargers. San Diego wanted them to stay. They have no history in L.A. (well, only a little). Even Garcetti recently said L.A. would have been just fine with one team.
But let's face it: That one team should have been the Raiders. They're the better team, and they have the better logo. N.W.A made Raiders apparel ubiquitous in the late 1980s and early ’90s. To this day, there might well be more Raiders fans in L.A. than Rams and Chargers fans. Raiders owner Mark Davis certainly thinks so.
4. The NFL is too Republican.
If we learned one thing from the election of Donald Trump (and we didn't), it's that everything can be broken down along party lines — even sports. Democrats have basketball, soccer and tennis. Republicans have NASCAR and NFL (baseball is probably the one true centrist sport, hence its decline into irrelevance).
How else to explain the continual non-employment of Colin Kaepernick? Or the enduring popularity of Tom Brady? During the last election, NFL owners gave $8 million to Republican candidates and causes, and only $189,610 to Democratic ones. That may not affect sports fans much. But the disparity is, perhaps, indicative of just how conservative the NFL's fan base is.
Kickoff at the Coliseum between the Rams and Redskins. Not many here to see it. pic.twitter.com/XAwandU2l6
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) September 17 3. Football games are too populist and too expensive.
Basketball arenas are small, intimate, like theaters or nightclubs. People crane their necks around to see who else is there. They're scenes, perfect for L.A. Football stadiums will never have that kind of vibe.
Which is not to say that Angelenos don't like cheap thrills. Plenty of people go to baseball games and soccer games. But tickets to those games won't set you back $100. And parking, just as important, won't set you back $100 — as it did at the Chargers home opener.
The NFL, at least in Los Angeles, is neither luxury product nor popular entertainment. It's in that awkward middle space.
They're kind of a bummer.
1. There's too much else to do here.
To say L.A. has a wealth of entertainment options is an understatement. The Dodgers are doing well and heading toward the playoffs, despite their bizarre late-season crappiness. Basketball starts in a little more than a week. Hockey just started. We've got soccer, too. This is basically the busiest sports season of the year.
Then there's everything else: movies, music, Hamilton and restaurants, which Tyler Cowen argues have become the center of American culture, at least among a certain class of Americans. Between Netflix and the beach, there's no shortage of weekend activities vying for Angelenos' time.
It is, perhaps, too early to write off the NFL's second tenure in Los Angeles as a complete failure. As NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart told reporters during a conference call this week, “To a person, both at the club level and here at the league office, we remain confident that the city of Los Angeles can support in a very strong way two franchises, and we’re committed to making that happen as we work toward the opening of the new stadium.”
Maybe the new stadium will change everything. Maybe the Rams are actually good and in a few weeks everyone will notice. Maybe we'll get a Super Bowl. Or maybe we just don't give a shit about football.