Unable to con the people of San Diego into giving them money to build a new stadium, the Chargers are moving to Los Angeles, fulfilling the National Football League’s self-destructive wish to have two teams in the nation’s second-largest television market.
While a lot has been made of the NFL’s declining television ratings this season – and television, above all else, is the financial lifeblood of the league – explanations have tended to revolve around things like quality of play, the oversaturation of the market with Thursday Night Football, the attention of the nation being diverted to politics, the public’s dissatisfaction with the league’s handling of domestic violence and concussions, and on and on. What hardly anyone talks about is Los Angeles.
From 1995 - when the Raiders and Rams left L.A. - until this year, when the Rams returned, there was no better place to be a football fan than the City of Angels. If you had a favorite team that you wanted to follow, you could get the satellite TV package and be sure to never miss a game. If you really wanted to see a game in person, San Diego was a manageable day trip. If you just wanted to see some good football, though, you were in luck, because without a local team necessitating TV coverage, the Los Angeles market got the best games that CBS and Fox had to offer on Sunday afternoons.
Then the Rams came back to town and screwed everything up. Not only did the return of the Rams attach a shambolic product to the city’s name, having the Rams in town meant that every week, television viewers in Los Angeles without NFL Sunday Ticket were locked into watching the Rams.
Discerning television viewers in the entertainment capital of the world were not impressed. The Rams wound up drawing better ratings in St. Louis than they did in their new home city. Not better ratings when they were the St. Louis Rams – better ratings in St. Louis than in Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Rams. Schadenfreude is a hell of a thing.
And it’s not as if people in Los Angeles stopped liking football, despite the best efforts of the Rams on the field to make it unappealing. When other games were on TV at times that the Rams weren’t playing, better matchups with marquee teams drew higher ratings.
Granted, Los Angeles is only one television market, but it represents 4.8% of the nation’s viewers. A decline in viewership there does impact the national picture. Adding the Chargers as a local team means even more viewing windows when Los Angeles is stuck with a local team instead of a big-time national matchup.
If the Rams or the Chargers get good, they’ll surely draw more eyeballs to television sets in Los Angeles and around the country. That, however, is a significant “if” in a league that likes to boast of parity but reality is that only a few teams – namely the Broncos, Cowboys, Packers, Patriots, and Steelers – are dependable television draws year in and year out.
Los Angeles, in the blink of an eye, has gone from being a football fan’s paradise to a football fan’s purgatory. There are plenty of good seats available, but it’s a TV league. Putting worse games on TV in one out of every 21 households in the country isn’t good for business.
The NFL got what it wanted, having two teams in Los Angeles again. The question the league will soon ask itself is why it ever wanted that at all.