Sequels are all the rage in Hollywood, and on Sunday, after a 22-year sidetrack in St. Louis, the Rams charged back into the script of LA’s sports scene with a resounding victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
Like a long-lost friend, Los Angeles’ latest franchise played to 91,046 loud and proud fans like they had never left in the first place.
It was the perfect re-acquaintance for what was once an estranged relationship.
The Rams officially returned to the nation’s second-largest market in January and have since been positioning the team in an all-out rebrand to repair the franchise’s fractured fan base by honoring its past—all while attracting a new generation of fans for the long run.
As an homage to their history, the Rams’ regalia on Sunday consisted of the original royal blue and yellow hues Hall of Fame players like Eric Dickerson, Jack Youngblood and Tom Mack donned decades earlier. The team made a strong statement to show they’re uniformly prepared to forever remain in the fabric of the city.
“It’s a two-fold process,” Kevin Demoff, the Rams’ executive vice president of football operations and chief operating officer, told [a]listdaily. “The first is activating the core fans we’ve had forever from our forty-nine years in LA. The second is putting a modern twist on the logo, the colors and the uniforms, and trying to create new fans for those who have lived in the city for the last 22 years without NFL football. We’re trying to make our traditions more modern by blending those two together.”
If there were ever a person who understood the sensitivity and severity of the arduous task at hand, it’s probably Demoff, a native Angelino and “40 under 40” exec who lived in the city through high school and went to Rams games as a kid. But he doesn’t want to be perpetually stuck in the past and lose sight of the future either.
“The biggest pain point we currently have is transitioning people to understand that while we respect our tradition and heritage, we’re moving into a modern, world-class stadium, and we want our brand to reflect that—what LA will be in three years, and not what it was decades ago. It’s telling our fans ‘we’re going to be very respectful with the past’ but also making sure that we adapt to a new generation. Our focus is on really growing the younger fan base that didn’t grow up with the Rams.”
A quick drive around the city’s busiest intersections further reflects they’re amplifying excitement by way of a billboard campaign that features iconic LA settings as the landscape for their current stars. The “We’re Home” series is the team’s most visible branding and features larger-than-life Rams like Todd Gurley hurdling over a beachfront pier, Tavon Austin catching balls between downtown buildings and Aaron Donald running over the Griffith Observatory.
However, a quick survey of the crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sunday yielded a sea of Dickerson jerseys, which mostly says fans are still very much stuck in a state of nostalgia from the “Ram It” days until the current roster fosters new fandom.
“I’m really excited—they never should have left in the first place.” Dickerson, the NFL’s all-time single-season rushing leader, told [a]listdaily. “It’s great for Los Angeles to have football back in the city, especially with the Rams, and not the Raiders or Chargers. It will bring in a lot of jobs and revenue. The most important thing though is they have to win. Forget all of the other stuff. If they go 4-12, people will be going to the beach instead. You have to win in this city.”
Prior to the Rams and Raiders jointly jettisoning Los Angeles and relocating for greener pastures in 1994, they were two teams toiling in the bottom of the standings and playing to half-empty stadiums.
There is no magic marketing spray on Earth that will alleviate the stench of a losing team and excite a fan base to care about them—just ask the pre-Steve Ballmer-led Clippers.
Jack Youngblood, one of the Rams’ most revered players and a member of the NFL 1970s All-Decade Team, is happy the only team he ever played for is back in the city’s fold.
“With the tradition we established, the Rams belong here,” Youngblood, the owner of 151.5 career sacks, told [a]listdaily. “There’s obstacles, and there’s opportunity, and both of them will make you better—not only as an individual, but as an operating franchise. Having a new stadium makes life a heck of a lot easier when the environment is a whole lot nicer. The boss [Stan Kroenke] understands that. He has the big picture.”
With a net worth of $7.4 billion, Kroenke is as shrewd an owner as they come in sports. After orchestrating the relocation by pulling every imaginable string, his vision now solely centers around ushering in the next wave of football-starved fans in a $2.6-billion palace.
Located in Inglewood, just four miles from Los Angeles International Airport, the new 80,000-seat stadium is slated to be the world’s most expensive complex once it opens its doors in 2019. The 300-acre development will be dressed with more than 1.5 million square feet of retail and office space, 2,500 homes, a 300-room hotel, 25 acres of parks and a 6,000-seat venue, making it a prime location to host future Super Bowls, which already includes the big game in 2021. They’ll also be bidding to host Final Fours, the 2024 Olympics, College Football Playoff Games, and a potential World Cup.
When Forbes released its annual list of the NFL’s most valuable teams last week, they estimated the Rams at $2.9 billion, an increase of 100% from one year ago. They jumped from the 28th most valuable franchise in 2015 to number six this year. With the NFL generating close to $10 billion in revenue per year, the Rams are now in prime position to build off their buzz and add a boatload more to their bottom line.
“People are excited about the opportunities and the transformative power the stadium will create from a retail and entertainment perspective,” Demoff explains. “We also then have to get them excited about the team. We have to play entertaining football and win games. The goal is to have people equally excited about the Rams and the entertainment complex it will eventually become.”
Tom Mack, an 11-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman who enjoyed a .720 winning percentage over 13 seasons for the LA Rams, says being a marketable brand all comes down to winning on the field and not on social media.
“The Dodgers have always pulled the city together, so the Rams need to be that rallying point, too,” Mack told [a]listdaily. “We always had a winning team when I played. It’s an interesting town, because if you’re a winner, they love you. If you’re a loser, they have other things they can do. Most places are not like that. Back East, all you have in the fall is football. Here, you can go to the mountains, the deserts or beaches all year long. The demand is to have a good football product.”
The fans have already spoken—even if it’s mixed. For their Monday Night Football season opener last week, the TV ratings in LA were lower than the ones from St. Louis for their opening game from 2015. Then again, the LA Rams sold out their allotment of 70,000 season tickets in just six hours earlier this summer and fans are already paying upward of $200 for parking.
The Rams brand is steadfastly evolving in the marketplace and demand will grow in due time. The HBO series Hard Knocks introduced the team to a national audience and further helped on that front.
“We’ll be in a different place next year this time. As we roll out our marketing campaigns for 2017 and 2018 and into the new stadium, we’re going to tap into our fans by listening and hearing what they have to say,” says Demoff, who compares the franchise as a year-round content production company that blends sports and entertainment into one.
Those opportunities naturally extend to their current crop of players, who are already in prime position to capitalize on endorsements.
Todd Gurley is by far the team’s most marketable star and commands corporate courtship from the likes of Nike, Gatorade, Carl’s Jr., Bose and Campbell’s Chunky Soup. Jared Goff, the team’s No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft, is next in line as soon as he takes his first NFL snap. We can already envision fans sporting “Gurleywood” and “Goffham City” shirts whenever an apparel brand is inclined to make them.
If you want your portfolio to expand, Los Angeles is where it’s at. Just ask Dickerson, who’s still in serious demand despite retiring in 1993. “Man, are you kidding me. You want to play in LA,” Dickerson says while hosting a Citibank-sponsored Rams watch party organized by ProCamps. “I used to tease the guys when I was playing them like, ‘you want to play in Green Bay or LA?’ It’s great for the players’ star-power, which LA is great for feeding into.”
Even largely overlooked offensive linemen are in the limelight now. Starting left guard Rodger Saffold is one of the stars on Hollywood and Football, the E! reality docu-series which shows him and his Rams teammates adjusting to playing football in LA.
“There’s definitely a bunch of opportunities, to branch out and show myself a little bit more, which we really didn’t get to do in St. Louis.” Saffold told [a]listdaily. “They’re all great, but I just want to make sure I don’t change and become too Hollywood, and keep my family grounded, too. It’s a give-and-take battle, and it’s a constant one . . . It’s extremely tricky. When I’m doing stuff off the field, you don’t want to do too much. You want to have that balance. You always have to remember that the check to do a commercial is good, but you’re not making anywhere near what you are as an athlete.”
With their recent history of losing, the Rams can’t be in full-blown “Hollywood” mode until they start winning meaningful games. The team has been a dud in standings and has not made the playoffs since 2004.
The Rams don’t have the current makeup to be an immediate winner—they still haven’t scored a touchdown in the season’s first two games—but the foundation is surely in place, and the bond between the team and greater Los Angeles is evident and growing each day. The best part? They’re not going to say goodbye this time.
The big-budget blockbuster the Rams plan on being one day is still in production. Whether or not displaced fans stick around to make it the box office boon they’re envisioning will be the narrative of the sequel.
Follow Manouk Akopyan on Twitter @Manouk_Akopyan