In my dream world, the NFL would decide which team could move to Los Angeles based mostly on fan loyalty in the teams’ current home cities.
In the real world, it’s almost all about the money, and these days about lucrative development opportunities around new stadiums.
So this week, owners gave permission for the St. Louis Rams to relocate to Inglewood and gave the San Diego Chargers a year to reach a deal to share the new stadium. If they don’t agree, that option goes to the Oakland Raiders.
Still, I thought I’d look at fan enthusiasm in Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis, as measured by recent home attendance and TV ratings.
As much as I hate to give any credit to the colossal NFL money machine, the owners got it at least partly right. If they wanted to reward steadfast support – and punish apathy – they would move the Rams and Raiders and keep the Chargers in San Diego, which is also the biggest market of the three cities.
The Rams and the Raiders both ranked near the very bottom of the NFL in home attendance the past five seasons. This regular season, St. Louis was dead last, with an average of 52,402, according to ESPN.
For all the bragging about the rabid Raiders Nation, Oakland was No. 30 out of 32 teams at 54,613 per game. Attendance for the Chargers has been in the middle of the pack in the past five seasons, but it’s still better than the Rams and Raiders. In the 2015 season, San Diego ranked 19th at 66,772 per game.
(Dallas, with its 100,000-plus seat, $1 billion-plus stadium, has led the league in home attendance each of the past five seasons.)
In local market TV ratings, Oakland ranked dead last in all four seasons between 2011 and 2014. In 2014, only 10.9 percent of all TV households in the market watched the Raiders play. That season, St. Louis was toward the bottom, while San Diego was in the middle, slightly above the league average, according to Sports Business Daily.
Green Bay, New Orleans, Seattle and Denver were the top four local TV markets in 2014, all with ratings in the 40s.
These numbers, of course, are partly due to the shortcomings of home stadiums, as well as whether each team is winning, or at least exciting to watch.
And the numbers don’t capture residents’ emotional investment in their hometown teams. As much as I feel good for L.A. fans who have been without a team for 20 years, I feel badly for Raider Nation, still in limbo.
If the NFL truly put fans first, it would have placed an expansion team in L.A. years ago, instead of using possible relocation to extort new stadiums in other cities. But as fans in Oakland, San Diego and St. Louis know painfully well, the NFL isn’t a game; it’s a cutthroat business.
By the numbers
How the San Diego Chargers, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams stack up in home attendance and regular season local market TV ratings:
Average attendance, 2011-15:
- San Diego, 64,353
- St. Louis, 55,874
- Oakland, 54,462
Average TV ratings, 2011-14:
- San Diego, 28.6
- St. Louis, 18.9
- Oakland, 11.4
Sources: ESPN, Sports Business Daily