June 30, 2008

Why the NFL Cannot Survive in L.A.

Having just returned from an 8-day road swing through California (6 days in L.A., 2 in San Diego), having explored large parts of L.A. from the coast through to the valley (convienently leaving aside Compton, Crenshaw, South Central L.A., and a few other Wire-ific spots), and having seen what makes L.A. tick from the perspective of somebody with an East Coast Bias, I now present to you the reasons that lead to what I now understand - that the NFL just won't survive in Los Angeles. It's not for any one of these reasons alone. All of them have some play in it:


Long before the NFL ever arrived, there was college football in L.A.. The college sports scene is as actively followed in L.A. as it is in Columbus, Lincoln, or Tuscaloosa. USC stories lead the sports section, with the Dodgers and Angels a close second. USC players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart are celebs in the town. UCLA has thousands of alums in the L.A. basin who follow Bruins athletics religiously. The two teams each routinely play in front of sold-out crowds in 100,000+ seat stadiums (Bruins in Rose Bowl, Trojans in Coliseum). The season is shorter (three months as opposed to four months) and there are generally only six home games instead of ten (including the preseason), which appeals to the shorter attention span of L.A. sports fans. The combined support for these two teams strongly eclipses and draws away from the potential support for any future pro team.

Too bad Los Angelians only saw Dan Fouts' Merlin Olsen's beard on TV and not in person at this L.A. Raiders game vs. Kansas City.

2) Traffic

The only way that L.A. could support an NFL team is to build a new stadium. The land is there. Apparently some 600 acres 20 miles east of L.A. form the site for a proposed stadium. But what people not from L.A. don't necessarily realize is that there is really no such thing as a centralized downtown L.A. The metropolitan area has millions of people spread out over large neighborhoods. L.A. is separated by the hills and there are the parts of L.A. west and south of the hills (downtown, Sunset Strip, Venice), and there are the parts of it east and north of the hills (Studio City, Burbank, Pasadena, Calabasas). For those east and north of the hills, there would at least possibly be some back roads to take to the stadium. For those west and south of the hills, crossing the hills and avoiding the roads through the canyons that are one lane in each direction necessarily involves taking one of L.A.'s notorious freeways. There are no plans to extend public transportation to the proposed site of the stadium which wouldn't matter anyway because nobody would take it (see #3 below).

Granted, hundreds of thousands make it to the college games, but the tailgate culture is engrained already so you don't have those thousands descending on the stadium 60-90 minutes before kickoff. Anyone familiar with L.A. need only imagine about 90,000 cars on the 405 or the 101 at the same time. Not so much fun.

3) The culture

The one thing that I took away from my trip to L.A. is that the most important thing to gain status in L.A. is not just to have money - but it's just as important to show people that you have that money to spend. That's one reason why BMW's, Acuras, Mercedes, Lexi, Escalades, Hummers, and other brands of luxury cars seem to flood the L.A. roads at a way higher per capita rate than any other place I've ever visited in the country. That's one reason why public transportation just isn't an option for Los Angelians despite gas being near $4.75/gallon - they want to be seen driving.

Now let's compare football to basketball and baseball. In basketball and baseball, there are a limited number of premium seats. And in those courtside seats or in those seats in the front row behind home plate, you are visible to everyone else in the venue. You're guaranteed to be on the Jumbotron. The folks at US Weekly, People, and TMZ have an easy time snapping your picture to show you out relaxing the week your movie is set to premiere.

Let's think football for a moment... the most premium seats are either skyboxes where you are hidden from sight, or about halfway up the lower deck at the 50 yard-line, where you'd just blend into the crowd. No celeb wants to blend into the crowd. That's why despite the fact that all of the L.A. hotspots have dedicated back entrances for celebs to avoid the paparazzi (yes, I plunked down a lot of money at Koi and The Ivy among other places), on most occasions, celebs opt to go in and out the front door, knowing full well they are going to be crushed by a blinding array of flash bulbs popping.

Simply put, the demand won't be there for the premium seats because while they might be nice for an exec or an agent to be able to wield to talent, what the talent really wants is to be part of the scene. And you can't really be part of the scene at an NFL game because the scene at an NFL game is what's going on on the field during the game and in the parking lots before the game. It's very seldomly who's in the stands. So in other words, those who will be spending money on the premium seats won't necessarily stand out doing so. And that defeats the very notion of what is most important to many Los Angelians, particularly those in the entertainment industry.

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L.A. Blows
Other Random Advice for East Coasters in L.A.:

1) Don't bring dress slacks or socks. Nobody in L.A. wears these, even to a place like Koi where dinner will set you back way more than you ever want to spend. The look is "shabby sheik." [J-Red's note: I'm leaving this in. Obviously he meant shabby chic, but his way is funnier.] I'm not kidding you. At many exclusive restaurants (Koi), you'll blend in way more in $400 tapered jeans, a fitted t-shirt and flip flops than you will in khakis and a polo shirt. Don't try to wear shorts out though to a club or nice restaurant. Gotta be jeans.

2) Hit Barney's Beanery just off Sunset. There's a reason why it's Adam Sandler's favorite bar and the favorite bar of just about every transplanted East Coaster out there. Cheap pitchers of beer, an awesome jukebox, tons of TVs showing every sports game, and air hockey, foosball, and old school video games.

3) Bring money for valet. Since everybody drives their cars, most parking lots after 8pm, even a parking lot at a simple strip mall, become valet so that more jobs are created seemingly. This is about the only rationale I can have for it. Some places I get. The shopping center parking lot where Katsu-ya is? Yes, it's Justin Timberlake's sushi go-to spot. Have valet available if I want it. Don't make me pay $5 so you can park my car for me.
dick in a box

4) Don't take a picture of celebs when you cross their paths. Better to observe them in their natural habitats. And it's way harder to spot a celeb in person in their natural habitat than you might think because damn near everybody in L.A. dresses glam. At various times on my trip I saw Nancy O'Dell, Nas, Billy Walsh from Entourage, the youngest kid from Home Improvement, and Goldie Hawn. Only Goldie Hawn stuck out and that's because she happened to be wearing a big white hat on the beach in Malibu so that our attention was drawn to look at the woman wearing the funny hat. The funny thing is I'm certain that at The Ivy, Koi, Barney's, and in Malibu, along the Sunset Strip, and at various other times I was in the presence of celebs. Really, they just sort of blend in. They don't all have giant flocks of paparazzi around them.

5) Watch the late Sportscenter as you're going to sleep and appreciate that there are no games that are just getting underway as you're going to sleep. All the scores are in, all the news of the day is wrapped. Turn on the TV just once for a live event like the NBA Draft and realize how funny it is that it's nighttime where the event is taking place and you just got back from the afternoon at the beach.

6) Get iced coffee from The Coffee Bean. Starbucks better pray that The Coffee Bean doesn't spread to the East Coast. Their monopoly already got crushed in the Northeast by Dunkin' Donuts.

8 Responses:

J-Red said...

What, no pictures of you and the missus in lame tourist SoCal gear?

And should we re-open the wounds of how much you spent on trendy-today forgotten-tomorrow restaurants, when that money could have been used for Dodgers tix now or Cubs tix later?

Does her whip still sting, or has your back scarred over by now?

J-Red said...

And let me beat everyone to the joke:

According to the NCAA violations, L.A. already has a professional football team - USC.

Anonymous said...

The fellow in the picture is Merlin Olsen, not Dan Fouts. Otherwise, great post.

J-Red said...

Corrected. I thought Fouts looked a little old for the late 1980s.

michael said...

Good post. I agree completely about the pro football. LA doesnt need it and doesnt want it. And besides, now all of us in SoCal get to see the feature games of the weeks on TV instead of being forced to watch a crappy home team. The new stadium would be near Diamond Bar (near the interchange of the 60 and 57 freeways), which is convenient to Orange County and inland areas, buut a living hell to get to from the beaches or west LA. And with Orange County largely being Charger fans and with LA being mostly Raider fans, an NFL team here is definitely not needed.

The valet thing is a bit of a coup. There is almost no parking in LA. Even residential areas require you to have a permit (that you live in an apartment in the neighborhood) to park on the side streets. So there is no side street parking and no free parking...and often the lots there are are far too small for the number of cars there, so they valet and box them in. Common practice...and like Jeremy said, just something you need to accept.

I love that Jeremy mentioned the time zone...one of my favorite things about living out here (in addition to it being 75 degrees 330 days a year, of course). The 10pm (PT) SportsCenter is gods gift to the sports fan: all highlights and the major stories right before bed. All hail the west coast!

Anonymous said...

Good post. I'm glad you had a nice trip to Hollywood. Moving here a little over a year ago, the beach and weather pretty much cancel out anything bad about the area (traffic, the expenses, etc.)

However, I do disagree on some of the things you said. First off, there are a lot of people in L.A. that want a football team. The Los Angeles times did a survey back a few months ago and found 78% of the people in L.A. want the NFL again. Sure there might be a big population that doesn't want the NFL, but then there is a huge population that wants it. In a metro area of over 13 million, you are going to find both sides.

Secondly, as much as I love college football, I really don't have any special connection to UCLA or USC. Being a Nebraska native, I cheer on the Huskers, but that brings me to another point: much of L.A.'s population comes from outside of L.A. Most of them could care less about the Trojans or Bruins. However, if L.A. got a team, they could watch New York, Chicago, or Denver, etc.

The reason the other two teams didn't work was terrible ownership. When the Rams were competitive in the 70's and early 80's, they got crowds of over 100,000.

People here are used to bad traffic, so that's a poor excuse.

People forget that local feeds are already played on broadcast TV here. Chargers or Raiders games will always get preference on CBS and 49ers games will always get first dips on FOX, so that excuse doesn't hold much weight either.

Conclusion: the NFL will return to L.A. The new stadium will be built and a team will move up there. My money says it'll be the Chargers, Jaguars or Vikings that make the move. There might be a lot of people who could care less or don't want it, but it'll come sooner or later.

J-Red said...

Please. If a majority of the people not wanting a team was a bar to having a franchise, Washington never would have gotten the Nats.

You just need a very vocal, wealthy minority of white people to foist the whole thing on the city.

GW South said...

"The college sports scene is as actively followed in L.A. as it is in Columbus, Lincoln, or Tuscaloosa. USC stories lead the sports section, with the Dodgers and Angels a close second."

Your second sentence nulled your first. I'm from Tuscaloosa, and I know it's the same in Lincoln, Knoxville, Auburn, etc - nothing is a close second in the sports section. Nothing is a close second in the entire newspaper, the Sunday front page will always be about the football game.

But I'll take your point, college athletics is followed heavily there. Just pointing out that equating it to some other places is misguided, since we have absolutely nothing else to put in the sports section aside from box scores.

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