Throughout the history of expansion and relocated pro sports teams, a great first season at the gate has been a near certainty. Whether the team wins or loses, there’s a novelty for at least the first season.
The Los Angeles Rams aren’t really getting that grace period.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dan Caesar broke down the television ratings numbers, and they’re a little surprising. The Rams, back in Los Angeles after 21 seasons in St. Louis, are not drawing huge ratings. They’re averaging a 9.4, or 9.8 when an early start game on Oct. 23 in London is not counted. Ratings in St. Louis were much better for Rams games. The Post-Dispatch said the worst rating for a Rams game in 21 seasons was a 10.6, and that came in 2013 when the St. Louis Cardinals were playing a World Series game at the same time.
Rating is based on percentage of homes tuned into a program. It makes sense that the Rams aren’t drawing a higher percentage of viewers in massive Los Angeles than they did in St. Louis. And a lower rating in Los Angeles still could mean many more viewers than they were getting in St. Louis, since it’s based on percentage. However, the Post-Dispatch also said that two other NFL games (Oakland-Carolina, Denver-Kansas City) drew better ratings in Los Angeles on Sunday than the Rams’ 8.4 for its 49-21 loss to the New Orleans Saints. The USC-Notre Dame game last weekend drew a better rating there too.
The Rams’ attendance numbers can be looked at in two ways, too. They are filling just 89.4 percent of their capacity this season, one of only two NFL teams under 90 percent capacity this season according to ESPN. The other team under 90 percent is the San Diego Chargers, who might move to Los Angeles after the season. Like L.A. seems to be clamoring for a second team.
If you want to be positive about the Rams’ attendance, their average of 83,687 is second in the NFL. However, they also have the second-largest stadium in the NFL and a market of more than four million people. If the Rams didn’t rank that high, there would be a serious issue.
The Rams’ relocation is unusual in many ways. The Rams used to play in L.A., through the 1994 season, so it feels different than a new team moving in. The Rams are plugging away for three seasons in the old Los Angeles Coliseum, so the Rams might not get the new-team buzz until 2019 when a grand new stadium opens in Inglewood. Also, Los Angeles is a market that doesn’t blindly support a bad and boring team. The Rams are 4-7 and have played some of the dullest games in the NFL this season. There’s too much to do in Southern California to waste Sundays watching an uninteresting football team. With the Rams practically eliminated from the playoff race with five games to go, it won’t get better over the rest of the season either.
The Rams and the NFL can’t be thrilled to see the mediocre television ratings, or to see the Rams getting fewer viewers than a Broncos-Chiefs game got in the Los Angeles market. It can change if the results on the field get better, or when the new stadium opens. It’s not a crisis or anything like that. But if the NFL and the Rams expected enormous numbers just because the league was back in L.A. for the first time since 1994, it hasn’t happened.
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