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L.A.'s NFL Fans Boost TV Ratings

Eight years after Raiders and Rams left, pro football outdraws Lakers and Dodgers.

January 26, 2003|Mike Penner and Larry Stewart | Times Staff Writers

The team formerly known as the Los Angeles Raiders is in San Diego, home of the team formerly known as the Los Angeles Chargers, readying to participate in the Super Bowl, a game that last year featured the team formerly known as the Los Angeles Rams.

It is the grand finale to a pro football season that witnessed the debut of the Houston Texans, who could have been the Los Angeles Californians before Houston rallied to outbid L.A. for the NFL's 32nd -- and last? -- expansion franchise.

So here Los Angeles sits, its Coliseum and Rose Bowl empty on autumn Sundays for eight years running, the city the NFL forgot.

Snubbed again and again, residents have responded by pulling up a chair, cracking open a few cold ones and drowning their sorrows in a fog of televised images of what used to be theirs. Eight years after the Rams and Raiders raced one another to see whose moving vans could squeal out of town first, Los Angeles remains obsessed with the NFL. It's a national condition, of course; the NFL rules the airwaves from coast to coast, and has for years. But in a region that currently boasts the reigning World Series and NBA champions, the average NFL telecast in Los Angeles in 2002 drew more viewers than the average Angel and Laker telecasts ... combined.

During the 2002 regular season, NFL games on ABC, CBS and Fox drew a 9.5 rating in the Los Angeles market. Since each rating point represents 53,542 households, that means games were seen in an average of more than 500,000 homes locally. Laker games drew a 6.0 rating and Angel telecasts 2.4.

This is Dodger territory, or so the stereotype has held for the last 40 years. Yet in 2002, Dodger telecasts garnered a local rating of 3.3 -- barely a third of the NFL figure.

Hockey? The hometown Kings and Mighty Ducks pulled in local ratings of 1.1 and 0.4. A sky-cam slow-motion replay of "Monday Night Football" personality John Madden riding a Zamboni would draw better numbers than that -- and might be a ratings booster the Kings and Ducks should seriously consider.

To its advantage, nearly all of the NFL's games are on weekends. And compared to baseball, basketball and hockey, there are limited opportunities for viewing since each team plays only 16 regular-season games in a span of 17 weeks.

But what about NASCAR, which, by most accounts, is wildly popular? While it earns ratings of 13 or 14 in such places as Greensboro and Charlotte, N.C., it averaged a 3.0 this year in L.A.

Neither NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue nor the league's head of broadcasting, Dennis Lewin, said they are surprised by Los Angeles' numbers.

"L.A. has a great tradition of football from years when they had two teams there," Tagliabue said Friday during a news conference in San Diego. "There has always been great interest in football in Los Angeles."

Added Lewin: "Look at the tradition of [L.A.'s] college teams. And this season they had the Heisman Trophy winner."

Yet even Carson Palmer couldn't beat the NFL in Los Angeles. When Palmer led USC to victory over Iowa in the Jan. 2 Orange Bowl, the game, a major event in Los Angeles, drew a local rating of 14.2. However, three of the four NFL wild-card games the following weekend fared better. San Francisco's controversial victory over the Giants on Fox earned a 19.9 rating, followed by a 15.1 for Atlanta's lopsided win over Green Bay on ABC.

The Atlanta-Green Bay game, considered a prime-time telecast because it aired after 8 p.m. in the East, drew a higher rating than any prime-time show in Los Angeles that week.

Sports consultant David Carter, former advisor to the L.A. City Council's Community Redevelopment Agency, cited two reasons for the NFL's popularity in L.A.

"One is the overall brilliance of the NFL as a business model," he said. "They've got a great product, they know how to market it and they realize what it takes to generate interest.

"During the final two weeks of the season, what did we have, a dozen teams with a chance of making the playoffs?"

The other reason, Carter said, is the demographics of the Los Angeles market.

"We have transplants who tune in to watch the teams from the cities they came from," he said.

Never mind that millions of Southland kids, now pushing into their teenage years, have never seen an NFL game in person. The last games played locally were held in December 1994. The Rams were quarterbacked by Chris Miller, the Raiders by Jeff Hostetler. Current Raider quarterback Rich Gannon, then a pup of 29, was out of football, having been released by the Washington Redskins -- and not picked up by anyone -- early in the year.

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