- - Thursday, October 3, 2019


LOS ANGELES — After falling into disarray under the chaotic ownership of Frank McCourt, the Los Angeles Dodgers had been trying since Guggenheim Baseball Management purchased the franchise in 2012 to re-establish their place as the top dog in the most competitive sports market in America.

Their competition, as always, is the Los Angeles Lakers. No one else matters, really, in L.A., which makes the city atypical of most sports markets where NFL franchises generally reign.

But there was no NFL team in Los Angeles for more than 20 years, after the Rams, losing fan support, left in 1994 for St. Louis.

Life went on in Los Angeles.

After all, fans, media, advertisers and corporate sponsors had plenty of choices. USC football, already a dominant force for many years, stepped in as an NFL franchise of sorts with two national championships in 2003 and 2004.

The Lakers continued their dominance on the court and in the market with five NBA titles from 2000 to 2010 with Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant, and now are about to enter the LeBron James-Anthony Davis era.

The Dodgers struggled with ownership issues, but the deeply rooted club remained relevant with fans. The Anaheim Angels won the World Series in 2002, and, after being sold to Arte Moreno, solidified their presence in the market by renaming themselves the Los Angeles Angels.

The Staples Center opened in 1999, and in addition to being the home of the Lakers, also hosts the city’s second NBA team, the Clippers, who, under owner Steve Ballmer, have become a force as well, ready to take it to another level with the arrival of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

There are also two NHL franchises — the Kings and the Anaheim Ducks.

Even in the absence of the NFL, L.A. was a crowded market.

Then, just like that, the NFL dropped not one, but two franchises back into the city.

No one knew what would happen. After all, no other sports market has ever seen such a dramatic change.

So what has been the impact of the 2016 return of the Rams and the surprising arrival of the Chargers from San Diego?

“The Rams have been received pretty well, and they’ve played well,” said Mark Whicker, long-time Orange County Register columnist. “But they still had a constituency. There are grandfathers and fathers who watched them when they were here and some were still holding out hope that they would come back. They have their niche.

“The Chargers just kind of showed up,” he said. “Nobody really asked them to come.”

It was a return for the Rams, who moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles in 1946. And, under coach Sean McVay, they gave Los Angeles a winner. McVay led them to an 11-win season in 2017 and a Super Bowl appearance last year.

They play in the Los Angeles Coliseum, and have drawn reasonably well, finishing 10th in the NFL in attendance in 2018, averaging 72,429 per game.

Los Angeles Times columnist Arash Markazi said fans looked to other NFL teams during the Rams’ absence.

Los Angeles didn’t have an NFL team for 21 years, that’s an entire generation of fans, so most in the city gravitated toward other teams such as the Cowboys, who had training camp in Oxnard, the Raiders, who moved only a one-hour flight north and won the city’s only Super Bowl, or other popular teams like the Steelers, Packers or Patriots,” he said. “I think Los Angeles has embraced the Rams as their team. Not only did they have a 50-year history before, but they’ve been a fun team to watch the past two seasons. The team that has struggled to gain traction is the Chargers. They will always be viewed as San Diego’s team by L.A. sports fans.”

The Chargers, who ironically began in Los Angeles in 1960 before moving to San Diego, have been largely ignored, playing in a 25,000-seat soccer stadium.

“The San Diego fans are mad at them so they don’t come up,” Whicker said. “More often than not it is road game for them.”

The question is what will the impact be of the opening of the new $5 billion stadium in Inglewood to be shared by the Rams and the Chargers — the L.A. Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park?

“It’s a saturated market,” Whicker said. “You’ve got to win, or you’re on page eight. UCLA football is like a non-entity, the Angels are kind of like a non-entity now. They haven’t been in the playoffs since 2014. The hockey teams are both rebuilding, and not many people are paying attention to them. People expect to be in the finals. They expect championships.”

This is why the Dodgers are feeling the pressure after two straight World Series losses.

I asked Whicker how the teams rank now in terms of market influence and attention.

“If you were to rank the popularity, it would be Dodgers-Lakers or Lakers-Dodgers, whichever way you put them,” he said. “The Dodgers drew nearly 4 million this year, and they are incredibly popular in the Latino areas, which we kind of gloss over that. They are huge in that part of town.

“The Lakers are the Lakers. They were selling out even when they were bad. They haven’t made the playoffs in six years. Now with them getting LeBron and Anthony Davis, basketball season is going to be nuts, with both of those teams in the same building.”

Now the Rams and the Chargers, soon to be in a new home, will fight for their place in L.A.’s sports pecking order. It is a strange place to be for two NFL franchises.

⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday and Sunday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

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