Rams’ effort to block 49er fans from buying tickets for NFC championship game may have backfired

The Los Angeles Rams’ efforts to prevent their home stadium from becoming hostile territory on Sunday may have an unintended consequence.

It appears the Rams’ defensive maneuver has only made 49ers fans more motivated to snatch up tickets to Sunday’s NFC championship game.

Lifelong 49ers fan Shane Stern didn’t want the Rams to get away with restricting ticket sales to buyers with credit cards registered in the Los Angeles area. Last Sunday morning, Stern posted on Twitter that he would “happily buy everyone’s tickets” using his Thousand Oaks billing address if 49ers fans Venmoed him money in advance.

Stern didn’t check his phone again until later that day when he arrived at the mall with his wife and daughter. What he found was an onslaught of messages from 49ers fans from all over the country eager to take him up on his offer.

“I was pretty surprised,” Stern told Yahoo Sports. “They told me where they wanted to sit and let me know that they were ready to send the money. I took care of quite a few people before the Rams lifted the restrictions.”

Before the 49ers try to shatter the Rams’ dreams of hosting Super Bowl LVI in their glimmering new stadium, the first battle of the NFC championship game has already flared up on the ticket market. On one side is a Rams franchise willing to do whatever it can to protect its home-field advantage. On the other is a 49ers fan base more determined than ever to again turn the Rams’ house red and gold.

INGLEWOOD, CA - JANUARY 9: Jauan Jennings #15 of the San Francisco 49ers makes a 24-yard touchdown catch during the game against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium on January 9, 2022 in Inglewood, California. The 49ers defeated the Rams 27-24. (Photo by Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)
SoFi Stadium was jammed with 49ers fans on January 9 there to see their team beat the Rams 27-24 to clinch a spot in the playoffs. (Michael Zagaris/San Francisco 49ers/Getty Images)

Many 49ers fans from outside Southern California evaded the Rams’ ticket blockade by asking Los Angeles-area friends or relatives for help buying tickets or by signing up for PayPal or single-use credit cards. Then, when the Rams lifted their restrictions on Monday morning after presale tickets sold out, 49ers fans scoured the pricey secondary market for the best deals they could find.

“The Rams aren’t going to stop anybody who wants tickets from coming,” said Joe Leonor, founder of Niner Empire, a 49ers fan group with more than 100 chapters worldwide. “What they’re doing really just infuriates 49ers fans. You’re trying to keep us out? OK, now we really are going to go.”

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the makeup of Sunday’s SoFi Stadium crowd will be, but preliminary evidence suggests there will be plenty of red.

Stubhub said Thursday that the NFC championship game is on track to be the best-selling playoff game in the ticket resale company’s 22-year history. More than three-quarters of the tickets purchased on StubHub have gone to California residents. Of those buyers, 57 percent hail from Southern California and 43 percent from Northern California.

Stephen Spiewak of Vivid Seats cautions against equating where NFL ticket buyers live with what team they support. Spiewak’s company has created a proprietary algorithm that uses “more than simply geography” to project what percentage of a crowd will be rooting for each team.

Sixty-five percent of fans at SoFi Stadium on Sunday will be supporting the 49ers, according to Vivid Seats’ initial projection. That forecast caught even Spiewak by surprise since Vivid Seats estimates that the average NFL crowd is roughly 85 to 90 percent in favor of the home team.

Spiewak cautioned that the Rams could gain ground in Sunday’s crowd projection as kickoff approaches. “Maybe their fans live a little closer and it’s easier for them to make a last-minute decision to attend the game,” he told Yahoo Sports, “but regardless of what the final projection ends up looking like, there’s no doubt there will be a lot of red jerseys in the stands.”

The fear of SoFi Stadium awash in red and gold is exactly what spurred the Rams to implement ticket sale restrictions for Sunday’s game and to beg fans not to sell their seats. The team didn’t want a repeat of its regular-season finale three weeks ago when by many counts 49ers fans outnumbered Rams supporters.

Energy from those fans helped the 49ers rally from a 17-point deficit that day, salvaging a spot in the playoffs and extending their win streak over the Rams to six. After the game, Matthew Stafford admitted his offense had trouble communicating at times because of the crowd noise. Kelly Stafford, the wife of the Rams quarterback, said her husband resorted to using a silent count in his home stadium.

"I'm not going to lie. I've never seen so many of the opposing team's fans at a game,” Kelly Stafford said.

The memory of that embarrassment was still fresh for the Rams when they beat Tampa Bay on Sunday to earn another shot at the 49ers. Soon after that game, Rams coach Sean McVay urged Rams fans to “hold onto those tickets” and the wife of Rams left tackle Andrew Whitworth pleaded for fan loyalty.

“If you @RamsNFL fans want to sell your tickets — I’ll buy them,” Melissa Whitworth wrote. “Just DO NOT sell them to the other team PLEASE!”

The Rams have certainly earned some loyalty since their 2016 return to Los Angeles. They hired a highly respected young coach. They built a stunning stadium. They made it to one Super Bowl. And, in an effort to make it back to another, they’ve gone all-in on this season, jettisoning draft picks and stockpiling proven superstars.

And yet even with the Rams a single win from hosting the Super Bowl, Sunday’s ticket holders have to be tempted to sell. The average ticket price on StubHub is $1,187 per seat. The worst nose-bleed seats in the stadium are still going for more than $600 apiece.

Barry Rudin, founder of Los Angeles-based Barry’s Tickets, says he thinks more Rams fans will keep their tickets to Sunday’s game than did for the team’s January 9 regular-season finale. That game, Rudin points out, was only win-or-go-home for San Francisco. This one, he says, the stakes are sky-high for both teams.

“Unless they can get a huge amount of money for their tickets, I think a lot of Rams season ticket holders are going to be excited to go,” Rudin said.

That would be unwelcome news to the 49ers. Many 49ers players have already urged their fans to make their presence known on Sunday or trolled the Rams renaming SoFi Stadium as “Levi’s South.”

Jose Diaz, president of Niner Empire’s Los Angeles chapter, intends to try to help the 49ers get their wish. Diaz is hosting a massive tailgate party in the SoFi Stadium parking lot before Sunday’s game. He said that he has gotten “numerous, numerous texts, emails and messages on Instagram” from 49ers fans from as far as London or Germany asking if they can attend.

“They haven’t all bought tickets yet, but they’re going to be looking once they get here,” Diaz said. “So I have a strong feeling that outside the stadium it’s going to be all red and inside we’re going to be able to take over again.”