(Reuters) - Los Angeles celebrated the return of the National Football League and the Rams, who had called the City of Angels their home for 49 years, but some experts say there is much work to be done to re-establish a fan base.
The country’s most popular professional sports league, it has been 21 years since the United States’ second-largest media market had a team in the NFL.
Still, a number of pumped up fans were elated that the NFL on Tuesday approved the shift of the St. Louis Rams back to Los Angeles starting next season.
Dressed in Rams gear, members of the “Bring Back the Los Angeles Rams” Facebook group rallied in the Hollywood Park parking lot, site of the future stadium, and rejoiced after the NFL decision.
“It’s surreal that this is finally a reality,” Tom Bateman, 44, told the Los Angeles Times.
“It’s pretty amazing. It’s a dream come true.”
But having gone more than two decades since the Rams and Raiders left Los Angeles following the 1994 season, the returning Rams will require a strong marketing campaign to mark out their territory in a crowded entertainment marketplace.
“It’s certainly going to be a challenge, since football has skipped a generation there,” Bob Dorfman, executive creative director and sports marketing expert at Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco told Reuters in a telephone interview.
”What helps is that it’s the Rams, an original Los Angeles franchise. There’s a little bit of a nostalgia approach that can work - ‘your Rams are coming back to LA’.
“The way Jack Nicholson is to the LA Lakers, maybe you want to get some celebrities on the bandwagon to build some excitement. And then there’s the coolness factor, obviously something that is really important to LA,” he said.
The Rams are slated to have a splashy, state of the art stadium in place for 2019 but in the meantime will play in the massive Los Angeles Coliseum.
Quality football, or a lack of it, could be a factor once the honeymoon period is over.
The Rams have posted nine straight losing seasons with just four winning campaigns in 21 years in St. Louis and a cumulative 64-127-1 record.
“The return of the NFL ... will be significant provided the team is competitive on the field, well run off it, and has a strong understanding of the Southern California marketplace,” David Carter, head of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California, told Reuters.
“If this were to be the case, the team could certainly attract the corporate and fan dollar over time and become a strong presence in this crowded entertainment market.”
Neal Pilson, a sports media consultant and former president of CBS sports, also thought gridiron success was a key.
“There is still a residual affection in Los Angeles for professional football, but LA was never a great football town like Chicago, Philadelphia or New York, and they do have work to do to rebuild their fan base.”
Sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said Rams owner Stan Kroenke viewed a bigger picture.
”Kroenke is making a real estate play here,“ Smith college economics professor and author Zimbalist told Reuters. ”Three hundred acres, mixed use development. Retail, residential, commercial-themed activities plus the parking and the stadium.
”The NFL is going to do combines there, do Super Bowls there, do other NFL activities there and he’s also going to be able to have college games there, a Final Four there.
“A state of the art, hyper-modern stadium. This is a comprehensive macro project. Not just a football stadium and the Rams.”
Additional reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles. Editing by Steve Keating.