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The Morning Column: November 3, 2021
Los Angeles is a great sports town because fans hold teams accountable. They won't blindly support a bad product to prove their loyalty. This isn't a prearranged marriage they're obligated to support.
We’ve all heard the national criticisms of L.A. sports fans.
They only support a winner.
They’re attracted to big names and celebrities.
They don’t just want to watch a game; they want to be entertained.
I always laugh when these are rattled off as reasons why Los Angeles isn’t a great sports town.
It’s exactly why I think it’s the best sports town if you care about winning and holding teams accountable.
Most of Los Angeles views sports for what it is – a form of entertainment. It’s not some prearranged marriage we are obligated to live through and support regardless of current circumstances.
That’s blasphemy in other cities when it comes to sports. No matter how bad the product is and no matter how little the front office is doing to produce a championship contender, you’re supposedly not a real fan unless you fork over your hard-earned money on tickets and the newest jersey of the latest bust signing or draft pick.
How does that make sense?
Apply that logic to anything else in life. Say, for example, you were a longtime costumer at a local diner. You absolutely loved it there. You went there regularly growing up with your family but suddenly the service started slipping, the prices went up, the food didn’t taste so good and the previously affable owner started taking your loyalty for granted and ignoring you and your constructive criticism.
Who would fault you for not going there anymore? Who would question your loyalty for choosing to spend your time and money elsewhere until things changed?
Take a look at the current state of the USC football program. When USC football is rolling, they are the third most popular team in Los Angeles behind the Lakers and Dodgers. But USC fans have had enough. They called for a new head coach two years ago after Clay Helton had gone 13-13 over his previous 26 games but new athletic director Mike Bohn and new school president Carol Folt ignored their pleas. Both of them were apparently fine with a .500 coach who had lost his last two bowl games.
They were finally forced to fire Helton when the Coliseum was nearly empty as 17-point underdog Stanford led USC, 42-13, with less than six minutes left in just the second game of the season. While Helton is gone, his players, coaching staff and embarrassing on-field product remain. After Helton’s departure, USC lost to Oregon State, 45-27, which was the Beavers’ first win at the Coliseum since 1960, and lost to Utah, 42-26, which was the Utes’ first win over USC in Los Angeles since 1916. After three of the worst home performances in recent school history, it’s no wonder the Coliseum was nearly empty last Saturday against winless Arizona for homecoming.
People can point fingers at USC fans for abandoning their team but at what point should fans hold players and coaches accountable for showing up if they’re going to be asked to show up every week? Other schools and cities can call L.A. fans fair-weather fans but they’re simply smart fans who know how to force change. Do you think Helton would have been fired two games into the season if the Coliseum was packed with fans staying and supporting the home team until the bitter end of a blowout? Do you think USC would be targeting the big-name coaches they currently are if the $315 million renovated Coliseum wasn’t empty? USC fans haven’t quit on the team, they will be back, but they refuse to spend their time and money on a product that isn’t worth either at the moment.
When the Rams moved back to Los Angeles after being in St. Louis for 21 years, they knew just showing up wasn’t going to be enough to win over the L.A. market. The NFL may be the most popular sports league in the U.S. but an entire generation of fans in Los Angeles grew up on the Lakers and Dodgers and watching the best NFL teams on television every week. They weren’t going to now spend money on an inferior product just because it was in their backyard. The Rams, just like every other team in town, had to prove that they were committed to winning.
To their credit, the Rams have done that with their blockbuster trades for Jalen Ramsey, Matthew Stafford and Von Miller since advancing to the Super Bowl in 2019. The 7-1 Rams are atop the NFC West and currently favored in most sportsbooks to become just the second team to play in the Super Bowl in their home stadium. Some outside of Los Angeles criticized the Rams for trading future draft picks and going all-in on a championship this season but they are doing exactly what they have to do to if they hope to win over a city where championships are the only currency that matters.