The NFL is returning to Los Angeles, as the Rams were approved to return to the region they spurned 20 years earlier on Tuesday by the NFL. They could be joined by the Chargers either this year or in the future, too. But at the moment, there is an NFL team coming back to LA.
If you watched the local news last night, you saw groups of Rams fans marching through the streets and celebrating the return. Certainly, the NFL is celebrating, since with all due respect to St. Louis (and believe me, it's terrible that you are losing a team you thought would be around for the long haul) Los Angeles has more people willing to pay a truckload of money and having a team in the second largest media market is a no-brainer from a league perspective.
I mean, that's why literally every other pro sports league has two teams in the Los Angeles region.
The Rams coming back is going to make some locals angry, no doubt, but there will be more fans lining up to get tickets. In my own household, a person who is not a fan of the Rams was excitedly looking up ticket possibilities last night after the announcement was made. Multiply that by about a million and the new team will have plenty of demand.
So what does this mean for the MLS teams in the area, especially LAFC, which will now be starting play after the NFL returns?
No question, this is the first time, believe it or not, that the MLS and NFL will co-exist in Los Angeles. For all that we can project, there is no actual history to point to in this case. That means it's going to be interesting to see how it shakes out.
On one hand, it's going to hurt. The precious space on local newscasts and newspapers devoted to sports, jam-packed full of nearly a dozen teams as it is and rarely commenting on MLS matters or match results, is going to be taken over by the NFL influence to an even greater extent. Boring NFL practice interviews will be covered in minute detail, while the LA Galaxy and LAFC will almost certainly exist on the margins, brought up only when an enormous star is signed or a championship is won. Overall, that's not a good thing.
But I think it's clear that the NFL, while not having a team or two in town to actually play games, has continued to exist in Southern California even without a team in the LA area since 1995. Since most people watch football games on their TVs anyway, the experience is scarcely any different for the vast majority of fans.
And in that space, there's been plenty of room for soccer to carve out a niche. Will there be fans who will now have to choose between NFL season tickets and MLS season tickets? Maybe a few, but I'd venture to guess the price points and fact that those who buy (or would buy) MLS season tickets probably aren't going to be the most avid of NFL fans anyway. The crossover probably won't be that great.
And there's the elephant in the room: While there are no guarantees, of course, it appears that the NFL is at or approaching its apex and probably won't grow much more in the coming years proportionally, with the brutal violence of the sport itself turning fans away slowly at the moment. In contrast, soccer, while not a violence-free sport (concussions are, admittedly, a big problem in both sports) does not appear to put players through the same debilitating wringer as football, and as it slowly gains in popularity, will continue to chip away at football's popularity. Make no mistake, football will remain king for some time, and MLS will still have a long way to go to even enter the conversation of the "big" sports leagues in North America, but it seems like they are on a course to meet in the middle, someday.
Above all, I think the point is that while there are a lot of football and soccer fans around, most folks already support one at least a little more than the other, and not too many soccer fans will suddenly drop their fandom to become football diehards.
But it would be foolish for a team trying to build its presence in the area, like LAFC, to ignore the Rams and possibly the Chargers if they also relocate. The fact is they are competing against not only the Galaxy but also the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Angels, Kings, Ducks, USC and UCLA for market share. Having one or two more teams, from the biggest league in the country, is going to make the task that much harder. Here's hoping they have what it takes to elbow their way into the local consciousness on a consistent basis.
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