The NFL's LA teams could bring empty stadium porn to a whole new level

Croak

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Authors: Rio Sports

In American sports there seems to be an obsession with empty stadiums during games. It’s as if some secret mandate exists requiring fans to spend hundreds of dollars for tickets, drop $15 for a beer and then spend two hours trying to exit a postgame parking lot.

Nonetheless, sports writers – including this one at times – feel compelled to snap photos of empty stadium seats and share them on social media. These pictures usually include some snarky observation about the home team or a swipe at fans who left early.

Undoubtedly, the smart phone and Twitter has helped grow empty stadium porn but the phenomenon can be traced back years. Because before social media there was the NFL in Los Angeles.

On Sunday afternoon several pictures circulated of the Los Angeles Coliseum during the hometown Rams’ 46-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The Rams listed the attendance in the 93,000-seat Coliseum as 60,128. Clearly there was maybe half of that in the stadium. And in a place that big, 30,000 looks like 2,000.

Still, even 30,000 is not a figure NFL teams are accustomed to drawing, especially in a league that has demanded, in the past, that each team sell out their home games or find their games blacked out in the local TV market. While no one expected massive crowds to flock for a team that won just four games last season, there was a thought the Rams return after two decades away would be more popular than it has proven. Now with the San Diego Chargers temporarily moving into a 27,000-seat soccer stadium several miles south, LA is left with two football teams it apparently doesn’t want.

Two years ago, I went searching for people who were happy the Rams would be returning to Los Angeles. I first went to the casino at Hollywood Park, the former racetrack that is going to be the home of the Rams’ new stadium. Though the Rams were playing at that moment none of the televisions in the casino’s sports bar were tuned to the game. “Look at it this way, everyone in the last 20 years who likes football … they’ve all found their own teams,” one fan, Jason Ramus, told me.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter how many people fill the Coliseum for a Rams game or the Stub Hub Center to see the Chargers. Both teams could play in front of empty stadiums and still be worth far more than they were in their previous homes of St Louis and San Diego. The fact they will be in the nation’s second-biggest city and Rams (and Arsenal as well as the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche) owner Stan Kroenke’s $2.6bn stadium is enough to fetch a fatter price on the open market. Plus, the Rams have bigger ambitions as the world’s NFL team, actively using their base in LA to attract fans from Asia and Europe.

“I think in Stan’s vision, Los Angeles and London are on par as world-class cities and you could link those cities with the Denver opportunities for an international platform,” Rams chief operating officer Kevin Demoff told me last year.

It seems Los Angeles has either grown weary or disgusted with the Rams after just one season in town. Their dissatisfaction comes just at a time when the Rams might be getting good. They nearly put up 400 yards of offense and held the Colts to just 10 first downs. Even the much derided Jared Goff, the No1 overall pick in 2016, looked solid. Though the Colts were without their quarterback Andrew Luck, they are still a team that could contend in a soft AFC South. Sunday’s win was a big one for the Rams.

Does anybody care?

Quote of the week

“He definitely should be in the NFL. If you’ve been around the NFL, the top 64 quarterbacks and he’s not one of them? Then I don’t know what game I’m watching” - NBA superstar Steph Curry on former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Not long before the San Francisco 49ers game against Carolina the following appeared on Curry’s Twitter feed.

Curry, who of course plays for the Golden State Warriors and has had a front seat for Kaepernick’s career in San Francisco, seemed as perplexed as many as to why the quarterback who took the 49ers to their last Super Bowl is out of work. While it is obvious Kaepernick’s refusal, last year, to stand for the national anthem has kept him out of the league this season it wasn’t hard in Week 1 to see several teams who could have used him.

When asked Sunday by the Charlotte Observer’s Scott Fowler why he thinks Kaepernick remains unsigned, Curry said: “Obviously his stance and his peaceful protest when he was playing here kind of shook up the world. And I think for the better. But hopefully he gets back in the league – because he deserves to be here and he deserves an opportunity to play. He is in his prime and can make a team better.”

Fantasy player of the week

Matt Stafford was sharp against the Cardinals
Matt Stafford was sharp against the Cardinals. Photograph: Raj Mehta/USA Today Sports

Matt Stafford. For so many years the Lions have dealt in heartbreak and the franchise quarterback they took with the first overall pick in 2009 has teased with potential, mixing promising games with agonizing mistakes. One week is just one week. But against the Arizona Cardinals who have one of the league’s better defenses, Stafford was refreshingly efficient in Detroit’s 35-23 victory. He completed 29 of 41 passes for 292 yards and had four touchdowns against one interception.

In those rankings of top NFL quarterbacks Stafford has always lingered in the second- or even third-tier. Sunday, he completed at least two passes to seven different receivers. A great sign that maybe at 29 he is reaching another level.

Stat of the week

28.4. Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton’s passer rating on Sunday. Folks have always been leery of Dalton who has thrown for 4,000 yards twice in his six NFL seasons. His reputation is one of a quarterback who puts up good numbers in the regular season and then disappears in the playoffs. But who could have foreseen this disaster Sunday against the Ravens? He completed just 16 passes for 170 yards, had no touchdowns and was intercepted four times. Baltimore generally win with defense first and they were aggressive in their 20-0 vanquishing of the Ravens. Still, this was a particularly dreadful performance for Dalton.

Video of the week

The good news about the Cleveland Browns is they should win some games this year. After a series of recent disasters they finally have a defense capable of big stops and a promising rookie quarterback in DeShone Kizer who might finally last a few years. But their stadium might have the best-prepared security team when it comes to chasing down fans who run on the field.

Hours before Cleveland’s season-opening 21-18 loss to division-favorite Pittsburgh, Browns tackle Joe Thomas captured yellow-jacketed security officers practicing their pursuits of fans who jump out of the stands and onto the grass. From the look of the video the guards actually seem to have a coverage scheme in addition to excellent tackling technique. The Jets might do well to watch this tape and maybe sign one of these guards. He might be an improvement over their current linebackers.

Elsewhere around the league

The Jets: bad but not that bad
The Jets: bad but not that bad. Photograph: Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

-- For all but five games this century Sebastian Janikowski has been the Raiders place kicker. It’s a run as extraordinary as the fact Oakland used a first round pick to draft him in 2000. But a back injury will keep him out for at least two months. His replacement, rookie Giorgio Tavecchio made sure Janikowski was not missed. Tavecchio hit all four of his field goal attempts, including two from 52 yards in the Raiders 28-16 victory at Tennessee.

-- Disturbing news for the Jets: they weren’t absolutely awful. The team have got rid of their best players this season in a bid (even if they won’t admit it) to snag the No1 overall pick next year. Against the Buffalo Bills they were bad, of course, but no worse than teams like the 49ers or Bengals were on Sunday. That No1 pick isn’t safe just yet.

-- Former defensive player of the year JJ Watt was not the most dominant Watt on the field on Sunday. His younger brother TJ made his regular season debut for the Steelers and wasn’t too bad at all: he had two sacks and an interception. “We felt like we were in the backfield all of the time, but we have to finish plays,” TJ said after the game. “We had a few sacks left on the table, from my point of view.”

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