Week 1 of the NFL season had plenty of important stories worth following, but maybe the most entertaining was the mostly empty stadiums in Los Angeles and Santa Clara. Both the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers had sparse crowds for their home openers, and that has not gone unnoticed by the NFL.
Ian Rapoport’s report (try and say that fast five times) above shows that the league is clearly worried about the optics of half-filled stadiums. And they should be. It’s embarrassing for the league.
This is what the 49ers crowd looked like at the start of the second half in Week 1:
And here’s what the Rams crowd looked like in the first quarter:
Here’s the thing, the NFL’s plans for relocating teams have been hilariously ham-fisted. Moving the 49ers to Santa Clara, 45 minutes from San Francisco was a moronic decision. Levi’s Stadium is also positioned so roughly 70 percent of the stadium bakes in the sun with no chance of shade.
Meanwhile, the Rams might actually have decent attendance once they move into their new stadium, but that’s a huge gamble. Until then, they’ll likely be dealing with sparse crowds at the Coliseum for the next three seasons. It’s terrible optics for the NFL to have empty stadiums and absolutely no atmosphere for games.
And we haven’t even gotten to the Los Angeles Chargers, who haven’t even been able to sellout a 27,000-seat stadium. No one wanted the Chargers in Los Angeles, and it has shown so far. Dean Spanos and his family have consistently claimed they are pleased with ticket sales and “excited” about what’s happened with the franchise in LA, but look at the following picture for the team’s first ever official game in Los Angeles:
That was taken just before publishing this piece. Everything in color there is a ticket on sale for the team’s Week 2 matchup with the Miami Dolphins. Many of them are “re-sale” tickets that were likely snagged up by brokers when season tickets went on sale. Those brokers will likely aim to sell those seats to opposing fans all season. That graphic is stunning because it comes from just one ticket selling website, and there are several others that each have hundreds of tickets available.
The fact that the Chargers can’t find 27,000 fans to fill their tiny soccer stadium home for their opener in a new city would be shocking if you hadn’t followed this move from the beginning. But, let’s be real: there is zero buzz around the team, fan outreach efforts have been widely mocked and San Diego fans have abandoned the franchise en masse after the way the team’s ownership treated its former city. No matter how much lipstick the NFL tries to put on that situation, it’s always going to look like a pig.
Empty stadiums are a huge deal to the NFL. Yes, the league makes its money off of TV contracts, but when fans aren’t at games it has a detrimental impact on the product. It sends the message that games are boring, uninteresting and that people don’t want to have anything to do with them in person. That kind of message hurts the product as a whole.
Not to mention, players don’t want to play in empty stadiums, so those franchises will suffer when it comes time to lure free agents. That could lead to some teams being buried at the bottom of the league year after year and creating a cycle that leaves fans even less incentive to show up.
This is a major problem for the NFL. Maybe owners around the league will finally realize that their big, bold stadium and relocation plans should actually have more thought attached to them.