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Spectator Sport

With No Team to Call Their Own, NFL Fans in Los Angeles Watch From a Distance--and Tend to Change Their Loyalties With the Season

August 26, 2000|J.A. ADANDE

Walk into The Sports Section, on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood, and it's clear who the No. 1 baseball team is.

Three Dodger jerseys -- the home whites, road grays and those blasphemous alternate blues -- hang off to the right.

Behind them is an entire wall lined with Lakers caps -- obviously the preferred NBA team.

Trying to figure out the NFL team of choice is a little tougher.

The first jersey you see bears the name and number of Jevon Kearse, in the colors of the Tennessee Titans.

It's flanked by jerseys belonging to the Rams and the Raiders. On the other side is a Jacksonville Jaguars jersey.

So that's what's become of the Raiders and Rams in their former city. They don't merit any more special treatment than teams whose franchises or nicknames didn't even exist a few years ago.

The highest rated game on the local Fox affiliate last season was a December matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Carolina Panthers.

The jerseys hanging along the back wall at The Sports Section testify more to the persuasion of favorite players than unconditional love from a city to a team. There"s the No. 32 Indianapolis Colts jersey of Edgerrin James. The No. 99 Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey of Warren Sapp. The No. 54 Dolphins jersey of Zach Thomas. The No. 80 San Francisco 49ers jersey of Jerry Rice. Terrell Davis' No. 30 jersey for the Denver Broncos. The No. 27 Eddie George jersey for Tennessee. And the new Rams gold and blue, featuring Marshall Faulk's No. 28.

Pick a team, any team. And that's what Los Angeles fans generally do.

The Titans and Rams have joined the Raiders and Dallas Cowboys as the best sellers, according to Fabiola Manjarrez, the store manager.

Hmmm, what game did Tennessee and St. Louis play in at the end of January?

"The fans' choice, basically, almost changes weekly by whoever's doing well," said Jason Rotgun, owner of Sportscard Kingdom, a sports memorabilia shop in Brentwood. "There was a time last year when everyone was coming in and looking for Peyton Manning and Edgerrin James and that crew [from the Indianapolis Colts].

"When the Packers had that two-year run of Super Bowls, we were selling cheeseheads in the store."

In 1998, when the Denver Broncos were galloping toward their second consecutive Super Bowl, their games drew an average rating of 12.1 in the Los Angeles market for KCBS. That was 34% higher than the overall ratings average of 9.0 for the 25 games shown on Channel 2. (The 16 non-Broncos games pulled an average rating of 7.4).

Last season, with Elway retired, Terrell Davis injured and the Broncos going nowhere, it was the Raiders who emerged as the fans' favorites, even though they only had an 8-8 record. They played in six of the 10 highest-rated Sunday regular-season games on Channel 2, including the top three.

On Fox's KTTV, which televises the NFC, the Rams played in five of the 10 highest rated Sunday games, peaking with a 12.7 rating and 34 share (the percentage of television sets in use) for a Dec. 26 game against the Carolina Panthers.

In 1998, when the Rams were in the midst of another one of their mediocre seasons, they made only three total television appearances in this market.

So do Los Angeles fans just go with the flavor of the month?

"I would say, absolutely, yes, in a winning season," said Rozanne Englehart, director of programming and research for KCBS-TV.

When it comes to L.A.'s preferred team, "There's not an emerging winner," Englehart said. "I don't think there's a team that L.A. latches on to as their adopted team.

"Because of performance, because of a myriad of issues, there are loyalties. It's...the transplanted people coming with loyalties, people coming here and not wanting to give up their alliance with Dallas or New York."

There are four teams within a 400-mile radius of Los Angeles: the Raiders and San Francisco 49ers in the Bay Area, the Arizona Cardinals in Phoenix and the Chargers in San Diego. Of the four, San Diego is the closest, yet the Chargers haven't been able to capture the attention of the L.A. market.

Last year, for example, they made only three appearances on KCBS and never did better than a 6.3 rating (which ranked 22nd out of the 30 games broadcast by Channel 2).

When the 49ers still contended for Super Bowls, our neighbors to the North were a popular draw. Their 1997 showdown against Dallas was KTTV's highest-rated game of the season, with an 18.4.

"At first when both [the Raiders and Rams] left, it seemed like there was a lot of pull for 'Frisco," Rotgun, the Sportscard Kingdom owner, said. "After they sort of weren't going anywhere, people got on the Green Bay bandwagon, if you will."

The Rams took a step away from Los Angeles when they moved to Anaheim, and by leaving the state to St. Louis they slipped out of the consciousness of all but their most dedicated fans -- who can still fill up some sports bars on Sundays.

By returning to Oakland, the Raiders did not detach themselves completely from their L.A. fan base.

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