By: Mike Gastineau
Watching the Seahawks slog and slug their way to a win in Los Angeles last week I was struck by two thoughts.
First, five games into the season it may be reasonable to assume that the Seahawks offense is what it is to borrow a phrase. It’s being charitable to call it a work in progress. The Hawks are not very good at running the football and the passing game has been erratic at best. They are 3 and 2 on the young season because of a defense that has been tough, dominant, and opportunistic. If that defense can hold up the Hawks can have a good year. But if Seattle has to count on the offense to win a game…well, we’ll see.
It’s a bye week for the Fightin’ Renton Seabirds so maybe they can come up with some new ideas to fix their problems. We’ll see starting against the Giants on the 22nd.
The second thought that struck me while watching the Hawks and Rams was how bad the NFL has screwed things up in California. California likes to famously boast of having the fifth largest economy in the world and the most successful sports league in American history has completely bolloxed up their business there.
There are a lot of people in California and there’s lots of money. But those people understandably don’t choose to spend a lot of their money (or time) at NFL games and the league has no one to blame but itself for that fact.
Fans of the Rams, Chargers, Raiders, and 49ers (no need to list cities associated with these teams, based on past experience there’s a chance one of them will have moved by the time you read this) have glorious histories to boast about featuring Hall of Fame players, colorful coaches, and championship teams. They also share in common a collective jacking over by pro football’s business machine that is staggering to comprehend.
The Rams arrived in 1946 and set NFL attendance records in the 1950s in the huge Los Angeles Coliseum. But when TV arrived on the NFL scene in the 1960s skittish owners agreed that games that weren’t sold out wouldn’t be shown on local TV. The Rams drew well, but seldom well enough to sell out the cavernous Coliseum. So they moved to Anaheim and a smaller stadium. They never caught on in Orange County and ultimately left California for St. Louis in 1995. When they soured on their stadium deal there in 2015 they came BACK to Los Angeles and BACK to the Coliseum. They are now building a new stadium in Inglewood that will open in 2020 but for now play in front of mostly empty seats due to their own creation of a Los Angeles fan base that long ago learned to live without them.
Oakland fans were among the fiercest and most loyal in pro football. But when Raiders owner Al Davis grew frustrated by pushback on his effort to get the city to pay for improvements to the Raiders stadium in the early 80s he set his sights on Los Angeles and the empty Coliseum. He moved the team there in 1982 but after 12 years of poor attendance and unsuccessful attempts to get a new stadium built (on Los Angeles’ dime) he again grew frustrated and moved the team BACK to Oakland.
Amazingly enough (this should really resonate with Sonics fans after what happened here) Oakland fans weren’t necessarily ready to welcome the Raiders back after being abandoned 12 years earlier. After finishing 24th in the NFL in attendance in 1994 the Raiders return to Oakland saw them jump all the way up to 23rd in 1995. In recent years they have consistently ranked near the bottom in the league. So they have now struck a deal to move to Las Vegas in a couple years and what fans ARE left in Oakland will once again know the pain of losing a team they love.
The Bay Area still has one team, the 49ers, but their fans have also been pushed away. The team’s move to Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara a few years back echoed the Rams departure to Anaheim 35 years earlier. The 49ers moved far enough away from their geographic fan base to alienate some of their longtime fans who didn’t want to go an hour south of the city to see pro football. And similar to the Rams in Anaheim the 49ers have slumped dramatically on the field since leaving San Francisco so their games are played before a sea of red seats.Then there’s the Chargers. Believe it or not, they started life in 1960 as the Los Angeles Chargers and played their games in the Coliseum. In a foreshadowing of things to come, no one in Los Angeles seemed all that interested in the Chargers and the team drew just over 15,000 fans per game in 1960 before relocating to San Diego. In San Diego the franchise flourished for years but owner Alex Spanos was unable to convince the city to build him a new stadium so he agreed to partner with the Rams on their new stadium and will join them playing there in three years. For now, the Chargers play at the 30,000 seat Stub Hub Center. Things are so bad there in terms of attendance that the Chargers have used advertising banners to cover sections of seats they can’t sell. It’s like their 1960 season in the Coliseum all over again.
Both the Rams and Chargers now have the unenviable situation of playing “home” games in front of “road” crowds. Fans of opposing teams are going to games in Los Angeles because tickets are so easy to get. That’s created an atmosphere where a big play by the visitors (think Sheldon Richardson’s recovery of Jared Goff’s fumble that set up the Seahawks final field goal) is greeted by a cheer so loud that when you’re watching on TV you have to remind yourself that something good just happened for the visitors.
Of the four teams, San Francisco probably has the best chance to regain their fans. If the 49ers start winning again it’s easy to see fans coming back to a team that has so much successful history. But the longer they keep losing and fans keep staying away the more difficult it will be to bring them back.
As for the Rams, their fan base WAS in Los Angeles until they played games elsewhere for three decades. Good luck with that rebuild. The Raiders? Their fan base has always been in Oakland. We’ll see how things work out in Las Vegas. And the Chargers? Their fan base is in San Diego and as evidenced by paltry attendance this season they are NOT following the team to Los Angeles.
A state that ably supports four NBA teams, three NHL teams, five MLB teams, and two (soon to be three) MLS teams doesn’t support any of their NFL teams. It’s no surprise. The NFL gave them every reason not to.