The Rams are the new kings of L.A.

More L.A. residents say they support the Rams than any other NFL team.

The Rams are not only the defending Super Bowl champions, but they are the most popular NFL team in Los Angeles.

You can argue that it’s the Las Vegas Raiders, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys or another team whose fans chant, “Beat L.A.” when their team plays in L.A. They all have strong fan bases here, but no team right now is more popular in L.A. than the Rams.

If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. I get it. I can cite polls that show how the Rams are already the third most popular professional sports team in L.A. after the Lakers and Dodgers, maps that show how they dominate NFL ticket sales in Southern California and other random metrics that won’t have as much impact on you as the percentage of fans filling a sold out SoFi Stadium.

I’m not saying the Rams run L.A. I’m not saying they dominate L.A. I’m not even saying there’s a big gap between one and two. I’m just saying if you were to poll everyone who lives in L.A. and ask them what NFL team they support, you would get more L.A. residents saying they support the L.A. Rams than a team that plays in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Dallas or another city in another state.

This really shouldn’t be earth-shattering news, but it is when you’re talking about a melting pot like L.A. that didn’t have an NFL team for 21 years. You were always going to have fans from other cities here, but now you have an entire generation of fans in L.A. who grew up rooting for those teams in other cities. There’s no one under the age of 30 who grew up an L.A. Rams fan because the Rams were in St. Louis when they were growing up.

Now I’m going to say something that’s going to make no sense to sports fans, but will (hopefully) explain why SoFi Stadium was and usually will be a sea of red when the Rams play the 49ers.

While the Rams are the most popular NFL team in Los Angeles, they don’t have the most diehard fans. In fact, in that department, for obvious reasons, they’re probably in the bottom half of the league.

The problem we often make when judging a team’s overall fan base in a city is simply judging it based on diehard fans. We do that every time we base a team’s popularity in a city of 4 million by those lucky enough to be inside of a stadium that seats 70,000.

What’s a diehard fan?

It’s a fan that lives and dies with their team. They will pay just about any amount to see their team play. Whether it’s season tickets and parking passes for home games or airfare and hotel accommodations for road games, their annual budget includes a line for their team. It is as much a part of their life as paying for their home and car. If you’re not a diehard fan you will think that’s crazy. Diehard fans will think you’re crazy for not understanding. Their team is an extension of their family. Even if they have to take out a loan, they’re finding a way to keep a roof over their head, send their kids to college and pay for tickets to the championship game if their team makes it that far.

If you think that’s a joke, take a look at the ticket prices for the NFC Championship Game and the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium last season.

The cheapest ticket to the NFC Championship Game was more than $700 and the cheapest ticket to the Super Bowl was over $7,000.

Only true diehard fans are paying those kinds of steep prices.  

The question isn’t if there are Rams fans in Los Angeles. We saw them at the majority of Rams games last season and during the team’s blowout win over the Arizona Cardinals in their Wild Card game, and celebrating at sports bars around the city after they won the NFC Championship and won the franchise’s first Super Bowl in Los Angeles. You could fill up SoFi Stadium multiple times with the number of Rams fans that would have loved to have attended those games in-person.

No, the question is how many Rams fans would be willing to spend over $700 on a ticket to go to the NFC Championship Game and how many would be willing to spend over $7,000 on a ticket to the Super Bowl?

Does it make you a bad or nonexistent fan if you answer “no” to both of those questions?

We saw this firsthand three years ago when the Rams played the Saints in New Orleans in the NFC Championship Game, before traveling to Atlanta to play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LIII. Ticket prices were about the same for both games. No one expected there to be a Rams takeover at the Superdome, but Super Bowl LIII felt like a Patriots home game.

Again, the Rams had only been back in Los Angeles for three years before their Super Bowl run. They had fans who filled the Coliseum, but how many of those fans were willing to drop over $700 for an NFC Championship Game ticket and over $7,000 for a Super Bowl ticket?

Opposing fans can lob their ridiculous “poor” and “poverty” takes at that (as if you’re “poor” for not wanting to spend four figures to go to a football game), but it’s hard to imagine anyone who became a fan of a team a few years ago spending that much on a team they just started supporting.  

The 49ers have built one of the league’s most diehard fan bases over the past 76 years. The “49ers Faithful” have seen their team win five Super Bowls, and generations of fans have been there from Kezar Stadium to Candlestick Park to Levi’s Stadium to watch the likes of Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Steve Young and now Deebo Samuel.  

There’s a chance the Rams could have had that today. They came to Los Angeles in 1946 and were the city’s first professional sports franchise. They were arguably the most popular team in the city in 1980 after playing in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Rose Bowl, but left L.A. to move to Anaheim and ditched Southern California altogether 15 years later to move to St. Louis. They are effectively starting from scratch in Los Angeles and trying to win back a city and a generation of fans it lost.   

Judging a team’s fan base is an inexact science. The Raiders turned their back on L.A. nearly 30 years ago and haven’t won a playoff game in 20 years, but many of their fans in L.A. still cling to the team winning the city’s first Super Bowl two years after they moved to L.A. in 1984. That was the moment, they believe, Los Angeles became a Raiders town. The Raiders left the city a decade later, and L.A. is still viewed by many as a Raiders town.

The Rams’ fan base in Los Angeles will continue to increase in the city it plays in and represents with big playoff wins like they had last season. Championships are the only currency that matters in Los Angeles, and the Rams cashed the biggest check in franchise history when they won the Super Bowl in front of their home fans at SoFi Stadium. As they begin their journey to repeat as champions, it’s safe to say the champions of the NFL have also become the champions of Los Angeles.

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