Pete Rozelle was correct years ago: Stylish LA can't handle two teams F

May 06, 1994|By Bill Plaschke | Bill Plaschke,Los Angeles Times

It is Sunday in early October. We are on our way to watch the Los Angeles Rams play the first-place New Orleans Saints, and we are worried.

We aren't going to arrive until 90 minutes before the game. This being the NFL, we know what that means.

We arrived an hour before a game in Kansas City and were stuck in traffic that stretched across state lines.

We arrived an hour before a game at Cleveland Stadium, then spent the next 30 minutes in the parking lot, navigating through flaming hibachis and bellowing fans.

The NFL no longer does games, but rather events. As we approach Anaheim Stadium at 11:30 a.m., we know we are in trouble.

But then we hear the strangest sound one can hear while attending the most popular spectator sport in America. We hear nothing.

There is no traffic. There are a few hundred cars in the lot, there are people standing outside those cars, but there is no sound.

No music, no cheering, no laughter, no arguing. A New Orleans fan yodels an insult. It goes unanswered.

We stop our car within 50 yards of the gate. We walk inside, thinking the excitement must be in there. We are wrong again.

Checkered with empty seats, the stadium whispers. Fans watch this game as if they are watching it on TV. By the fourth quarter, those still here have changed channels.

And you wonder what the NFL thinks about the announcement Tuesday that the Rams are officially thinking of leaving Anaheim in 15 months? The NFL thinks the NFL has already left Anaheim.

The NFL thinks the NFL never should have had two teams in the Los Angeles area in the first place.

Although league officials will not make substantive comments on the issue, the feeling at 410 Park Ave. in New York is clear:

They will not attempt to block any Rams attempts to move.

They have scant legal precedent for holding up a move -- see Al Davis vs. Pete Rozelle, 1982. But legal precedent has never stopped their lawyers -- see the owners vs. the union, almost any year.

The reason the league will not attempt to grab Georgia Frontiere's jersey has more to do with common sense.

Based on the teachings of former commissioner Pete Rozelle, an area native, officials have believed that two pro football teams would never enjoy long-term success in this town.

One team, certainly. Two, never.

They wonder if fans here, many of them transplanted from other areas, are loyal enough for the game. More than any other sport, football survives best where it is considered not a sport, but a religion.

The league knows the fans here want to see stars, and football players wear helmets. They know the fans here are impatient with anything other than good times, whereas football is about sticking together through hard times.

"This is not Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Buffalo. . . because the fans there see themselves as part of the team," said Marc Shatz, a Beverly Hills clinical psychologist who formerly worked with UCLA sports teams. "It's a group mentality that is missing here.

"The fans go to the Lakers and Dodgers because they consider that entertainment. Pro football, unless you are winning, is not viewed like that."

Believing that two teams here will never succeed at the gate, officials believe two teams are not worth the damage that a two-team town can cause to a TV contract.

The television issue revolves around that lucrative advertising vehicle, the network Sunday doubleheader. What, you are unfamiliar with that? That's because Southern California viewers rarely see that doubleheader.

As part of the NFL's billion-dollar broadcasting contract, doubleheaders can only be shown in two-team towns when both teams are on the road, or one of them plays sometime other than Sunday afternoon.

In the 17 weeks of the next regular season, Los Angeles-area TV sets will receive three doubleheaders.

During the same span in Minneapolis, an average NFL one-team

community, fans will be offered 12 doubleheaders.

So the 5.7 million television homes in Los Angeles will miss at least 27 hours of games simply because we have two teams.

How much more money would advertisers pay a network for 27 extra hours of telecasts to the nation's second-largest TV market? How much more money would the networks pay the league for that prime time?

To further understand the league officials' feelings about this area, look no further than its handling of the marquee Monday night games.

Since the beginning of the 1986 season, a span of eight years, the Raiders have not played a Monday night game at home. The Rams have played only five. In that same span, the San Francisco 49ers have been the host team in 12 Monday night games.

The league is not afraid of gangs outside our stadiums. It is afraid of the empty seats inside.

For NFL officials, having their most-watched game of the week blacked out in a market this large because the game was not a sellout would be unthinkable.

Not that this skepticism is anything new.

After the Rams moved from the Coliseum to Anaheim in 1980, Los Angeles City Council members approached then-commissioner Rozelle about getting an expansion team.

Rozelle told them he would think about it. But being a native, he had already thought about it. He never gave expansion here a second thought.

Two years later, Rozelle was doing much more than protecting the integrity of the league when he tried to stop Davis' move here from Oakland. He was trying to keep one of his teams from making what he thought was a huge marketing mistake.

The Raiders must know this now. That is why any talk of Al Davis moving anywhere before knowing what the Rams are doing is naive.

On the verge of finally owning this town -- and the Raiders would own this town -- why would Davis want to leave?

He won't. The Rams will. The NFL will turn its head, the better to hide its smile.

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