LA: A City of Just Two Sports?

Photo by RODNAE Productions: https://www.pexels.com/photo/chrome-trophy-beside-championship-rings-7005031/

Unlike North Hollywood, which isn’t known for its sports teams, the wider US has quite a notable “big five” set of popular sports. Of course, these are baseball, football, basketball, soccer, and ice hockey, all of which range in popularity from a historic favorite (baseball) to a modern upstart (soccer). What all this means is that we have quite an uneven sporting landscape, where the public interest varies according to lots of different variables. 

For instance, baseball has been with us since the 1850s but its longevity doesn’t mean that it’s actually our number-one pastime anymore. That accolade goes to football, which is beloved by 74.5% of the population. Just to drive that point home, according to SportsMediaWatch, 18 of the top 20 most-viewed sporting occasions in 2022 were provided by the NFL, with Super Bowl LVI finding almost 100m viewers. 

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While baseball is represented in NoHo by the Huskies, baseball didn’t even make it into the top 50 pieces of entertainment on TV. In fact, it was beaten by golf, The Olympics, and a horse race. Once again, sports are quite a fluid thing in the US as a whole, especially given that franchises can just up and move away, potentially destroying any individual city’s claim to sporting glory. Fans from LA will be all too aware of this possibility, after the Rams and Chargers moved out in 1995, only to move back in again in 2016 and 2017.

A Resurgence

Oddly enough, despite this brief betrayal, the two NFL teams are well-known as the most popular franchises in Los Angeles. In the case of the Chargers, the franchise is currently riding an attendance high. The NFL’s resumption in 2021 saw an average of 70,240 people visit the SoFi Stadium per game. This marked a significant upgrade from 2017-2019 when an average of about 25,000 people came out to watch the Chargers play. 

Local fans will remember the reason for that low figure though. Seemingly bewildered by their move back from San Diego in 2017, where the Guardian newspaper claims they could have become an “international franchise”, the Chargers ended up stuck playing on a soccer field with just 30,000 seats. This stadium, the Dignity Health Sports Park, is obviously better known as the home of the LA Galaxy. 

The SoFi Stadium, which is actually capable of seating more than 100,000 fans, despite being rated for 70,000, was finally completed in 2020 in Inglewood. As mentioned, this ended up being the catalyst for a resurgence in the Chargers’ popularity, although, it didn’t always translate to results on the field. In the 2022 Wild Card round, LA’s premier NFL franchise famously blew a 27-point lead – the biggest in their history – versus the Jaguars to lose 31-30.

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As for the Rams, San Diego’s estranged football team has actually been fairly consistent with the number of fans they can attract, often stuffed to the maximum capacity at whatever stadium they happen to be in. However, after posting similar figures to the Chargers in 2021, they’re nevertheless down from a peak of 83,164 visitors per game in 2016. The team had otherwise been locked at a consistent 55,000 every year since 2008. Notably, they didn’t suffer the same post-2017 slump as the Chargers. 

Opportunities

Sadly, despite having 12 other teams in our midst, only one other professional sport does well in terms of viewership. Baseball. Franchises representing MLS, NWSL, NBA, WNMA, and NHL usually attract sub-20,000 attendances. LA’s brand new women’s soccer team, Angel City FC, gets more visitors than the Lakers. However, as with the Chargers, this is actually more of a capacity issue than evidence of runaway fame. 

NoHo itself does have its own soccer team, albeit the small-time Los Angeles Soccer Club on Chandler Boulevard. With this in mind, it wouldn’t be unfair to state that some of LA’s sporting infrastructure is underdeveloped.

For instance, large swathes of the country have access to sports wagering but that isn’t currently possible in California, which limits just how involved in local teams and leagues fans they can get. At the minimum, the Golden State is unlikely to get any sportsbooks until after 2024, if a fresh referendum is run in 2023. 

Parts of the northeast in particular have embraced sports betting as a way to increase revenue and sponsorship opportunities for professional teams. However, the process is still ongoing. In Maryland, online sportsbooks didn’t appear until November 2022, meaning that Baltimore Ravens vs. New York Jets was the first game that it was possible for fans to wager on (followed by games over Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl, etc.). 

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Since then, six Maryland online sportsbooks have appeared, including BetRivers and Caesars, and a pair of daily fantasy sites, namely, DraftKings and FanDuel. These sites generally allow betting on all of the “big five”, as well as boxing, golf, horse racing, and motorsports, among other sports. What, if anything, they can do for California is still a hotly-debated topic in the state. 

LA Dodgers

Of course, LA and NoHo’s long-standing baseball tradition deserves another mention. Purely based on attendance figures, the Los Angeles Dodgers and their younger city-mates, the Angels, are LA’s third and fourth teams, highlighting the fact that LA is a place of just two major sports. While this takes nothing away from other franchises in the area, it does emphasize just how much football has taken over over the past century. 

The Dodgers are one of the oldest sports clubs in the world, founded in 1883, during a time when a baseball craze held fans. An article from CNN notes that baseball simply isn’t “America’s game” anymore though, something that has likely had an effect on the Dodgers’ and Angels’ fanbase too. In the former case, ticket sales in 2021 were the lowest in a decade.

CNN cites a Washington Post poll that claims that just 11% of Americans enjoy baseball. This number brings it perilously close to losing position to soccer and eSports, otherwise known as competitive video gaming. Even just a few years ago, this kind of battle for sports fans’ affection would have seemed impossible. World Soccer Talk claims that interest in soccer grew 32% in the 2010s. Interest in baseball grew by 6%.

2026 World Cup

So, what does all this mean for the local area? Things look good. The City of Angels is due to host the 2028 Summer Olympics, seemingly guiding the city back into a boom period similar to that of 1984 to 1994, when the world of sports descended on California. The Los Angeles Times notes that two Super Bowls, a World Cup, and another Summer Olympics arrived in LA during that decade. 

As the United States, Canada, and Mexico are destined to host the 2026 World Cup, California will see soccer fans in both LA (at the Chargers’ new arena) and the San Francisco Bay Area. This will likely continue America’s growing fondness for soccer at the cost of other, declining sports, like baseball. Also, the coming 2028 Olympics will be the third time that LA has received the eternal flame from the international community.

North Hollywood should see some residual if not major effects from all the above, largely to its arts and recreation infrastructure. Whether there will be further investment in local sports in the future is debatable, especially as our previous claims to fame seem rather ancient now. 

Overall, LA might be one of the States’ capitals of sports but it’s definitely an uneven one. Our hometown sports of football and baseball seem to be facing a nationwide crisis that could reshape the way that sport is consumed by fans. While it’s unlikely that some of the more niche games, like cricket and rugby, will put up much of a challenge in the coming decade, expect much to change in other ways. 

It’s an exciting time for Los Angeles’ many franchises.