Keith Strudler: The Cheap Seats

Sep 13, 2017

If you live in Los Angeles and didn’t get a chance to see a live NFL football game last weekend, that is on you. That’s because there were at least 30,000 vacant seats at the Los Angeles Rams home opener on Sunday, where they dismantled the Indianapolis Colts 49-6 in the debut of 31-year-old wunderkind head coach Sean McVay, who’s seems like he should still be doing an internship with the front office. The crowd was estimated at 61,000, which feels just a little like the White House’s estimated attendance at the Presidential inauguration, minus the self-righteous indignation. The Rams currently play in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum, the building best known for housing the 1984 Olympics, a space that comfortably holds over 90,000, although the term comfort should be used with great discretion in reference to that facility.

That’s where they’ll stay until 2020, when the city opens its new stadium at Hollywood Park, a stadium that will also host the opening ceremonies for the 2028 Olympic Games. Along with that will be an entertainment complex complete with hotels and restaurants and a casino and enough places to burn through cash to require its own currency. Until then, the Rams will stay in a stadium that’s about as comfortable as a park bench in a snowstorm.

Clearly, this stadium isn’t the only issue for the Rams. Or equal importance is the fact that from 1995 to 2015, the Rams played in St. Louis, which was the essential end of generation of fans that knew the franchise when they played in Anaheim before that. So, in the years that nation’s second largest metropolis lay NFL bare, minus a short dalliance with the soon-to-be Las Vegas Raiders in the 90’s, the city moved on. They found new interests. So when the Rams came home, expecting the love affair to start just where it left off, they were reminded that absence doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder. Even when the team sold $6 seats to Sunday’s game. You know what they say. Money can’t buy love.

Interestingly, across town another NFL team will make its regular season Los Angeles debut next week. The LA Chargers, formerly of San Diego, will play its inaugural home match Sunday against Miami, after losing on the road last Monday to Denver. The Chargers will likely have a far greater percentage of filled seats, if for no other reason than they’ll play in the city’s StubHub Center, a 30,000-seat soccer stadium. They'll be there until 2020 as well when they join the Rams in the city’s mega complex. For a whole lot of reasons, the Chargers have essentially sold out season tickets, none-the-least of which being these carpetbaggers are only moving two hours up the road instead of half way across the country. And because of their relative scarcity of product, the Chargers have the highest average seat ticket price in the country at near 200 bucks. That’s a far cry from tickets that go for less than the movie-plex down the street.

From a 10,000 foot perspective, which is usually unhelpful unless you’re a pilot, the NFL is largely a TV sport, and bean counting the number of people in a stadium is probably less important than taking a fine tooth comb to media ratings. It’s not professional wrestling, which can be filmed in a studio for all practical purposes, but it’s far more for the flat screen than the stadium seat. That said, these attendance figures from LA aren’t insignificant, at least if you’re at all interested in the future of America’s post popular leisure activity.

The NFL has waited a lifetime to reenter Hollywood, with the assumption that having a pro football team is like winning the lottery. LA seems to have won it twice, with an Olympic Games thrown in as a bonus. And yet by some accounts, the spoils of victory aren’t all that appealing. The city’s NFL franchise seems more fit to downsize to a soccer park than a Coliseum – literally. In other words, LA’s appetite for pro football is about the same as their taste for MLS – and yes, I know this is a horrible comparison with less research validity than study commissioned by Philip Morris. But perhaps, in certain parts of the country, like the well-educated West Coast that knows a fair amount about concussions and CTE, attending an NFL game is just not what it used to be. Cities should think about that next time they open up their tax books to woo a franchise from another locale – and I’m talking to you, San Antonio.

Of course, I could be completely wrong. Perhaps the Rams’ empty stadium is simply the fact that they’re new, the stadium stinks, and parking is pain. Maybe in a year or two, the Rams will be the hottest thing in LA since Spagos, and getting tickets to a Chargers game will be like going to the Oscars. Maybe this isn’t a football problem, but just an issue of timing. And pretty soon, you’ll only wish you would have gone to a game for 6 bucks when you had the chance.

Just that that if you didn’t go last weekend, that was on you.

Keith Strudler is the director of the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

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