Today at work, a couple co-workers and I got in to a kerfuffle with another fellow employee about the lack of attendance by fans of our current home team as the primary reason for the owner’s intent to move the team to Los Angeles. I was aghast that she, while a recent transplant to our area, was so naive as to the circumstances surrounding the team’s impending departure. But it also made me wonder whether that’s the predominant view outside our fine metro area.
It is true: the Rams’ home attendance has been dreadful this season. Last in the NFL whether you’re sorting by total, average, or percentage filled to capacity per game (Oh, look! The Raiders are #30 and the Chargers, #26! Rumors of relocation are great for attendance!). Of course, that last figure is misleading; if you watched any of the Rams/Niners regular season finale from the gorgeous 2-year old Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Cal., you know that what’s reported as a sell-out doesn’t always correlate to actual number of butts in seats. For the record, that stadium, capacity 68,500, reported 70,799 in attendance Sunday. Plenty of empty seats:
I also recall several occasions on which the Rams fans in attendance were quite vociferous in response to penalty decisions and the like.
“But,” you say, “the Niners were dreadful this year and had nothing to play for!”
Nonsense, hogwash, and poppycock!
First, that stadium isn’t even two years old, and it’s quite pimped out, even in comparison to Jerry Jones’ (inferiority) complex in Arlington, Tex.
Second, the 49ers have been competitive the past several seasons: four consecutive seasons at .500 or better; an average of 11 wins in each of those seasons; three straight appearances in the NFC championship game.
But if a franchise’s futility is legitimate cause for lack of attendance, then fans in St. Louis definitely have a more justifiable claim than those in the San Francisco Bay Area. Long-term, too: the Niners have had greater success–five Super Bowl titles is nothing to sniff at, after all. Sure, the Rams have one championship to their names during their 21 seasons here in St. Louis, but plenty of losing seasons. And don’t forget the abysmal Big Red, who called two iterations of Busch Stadium home for 28 years, from 1960-1987.
By now, you may have heard that the Rams’ most recent non-losing season was 2006, and that the most recent season was back in 2003, when they went 12-4 in the last prolific season for the Greatest Show on Turf. In the 21 years the Rams have called the Edward Jones (formerly Trans World) Dome (and Busch Stadium, for part of ’95) home, the franchise has posted four winning seasons, two .500 seasons, and fifteen losing seasons.
There’s also that league record-worst 15-65 stretch from 2007-2011. Since, they’ve posted a 27-36-1 record, which is significantly better, but still not good enough to extend the season beyond the first weekend of January.
Success by the Arizona Cardinals over the past decade seems to have warped the memories of some people, but when that franchise was located in St. Louis, they were between mediocre and bad more often than not. Twelve winning seasons, two .500 seasons, fourteen losing seasons, and 0-3 in the playoffs and Bill Bidwill relocated the team to Phoenix.
Perhaps more than anything, though, Rams fans are sick of tolerating a(nother; see Bidwill, Bill) bad owner. Stan Kroenke appearances at home games in St. Louis have been non-existent for several years now. If I was missing four fingers on one hand, I could still use that hand to count the number of appearances he’s made here: Jeff Fisher’s debut home game as the Rams head coach.
Also, despite underwhelming results in Fisher’s fourth season, Kroenke has stuck with his average head coach; whether or not it’s solely because of his experience in coaching a relocating franchise (the 1996 Houston Oilers) remains to be seen.
Given how much work the St. Louis Stadium Task Force has put in over the past year, especially relative to any possible developments in Oakland or San Diego, it’s obvious Kroenke’s intent all along has been to move the franchise to L.A. solely to increase its value and, therefore, his own net worth.
It seems that the two likely outcomes of the relocation discussion will result in still more disappointment for Rams fans: either Kroenke will take the team with him to southern California, or an owner, embittered by the rejection of his proposal, will continue to ignore the fans here until he can get out, whether by selling the Rams and buying the Broncos, getting an expansion franchise in Los Angeles, or changing tactics and threatening to move the team to London or Toronto or somewhere else until he gets his way and the money he covets.
One footnote, with a little help from a fan group seeking to return the Rams to L.A.:
- 1973-1989: 14 playoff appearances in 17 seasons, anywhere from 2nd among 26 teams to 18th of 28 in average attendance ranking
- 1980: 11-5; 8/28 in attendance; coming off Super Bowl appearance the previous season; 62,000 average attendance with a capacity of 69,000 → 10% empty!
- 1990: 5-11, 12/28
- 1991: 3-13, 22/28
- 1992: 6-10, 25/28
- 1993: 5-11, 25/28
- 1994: 4-12, 28/28
Dead last in the NFL. Makes you wonder how quickly fans in Los Angeles will disappear when things inevitably go south for a season or two. Hopefully, if Kroenke’s wildest relocation dreams come true, the team will continue to stink and fans will stop showing up midway through their inaugural season.
But, by all means, continue to blame football fans in St. Louis for the possible relocation of the team they’ve come to love.