The NFL will return to London for the second time in two seasons this Sunday when the New Orleans Saints will be giving up a home at the Super Dome in favor of Wembley Stadium to play the San Diego Chargers.
While I couldn't be happier for our friends across the pond, excuse me if I'm a little bitter that another major city beginning with the letter 'L' has been completely ignored by the NFL.
You see, I live in Los Angeles, a city that (if you include Anaheim, as the geographically impaired Angels do and the Rams did) houses two NBA teams, two NHL teams, two MLB teams and two major college sports programs in USC and UCLA. We even have two Major League Soccer teams. Why exactly is another question for another day.
Yet, the NFL, the most popular sports league in America, hasn't had a team in Los Angeles, the second-biggest media market in America, since 1994 when both the Raiders and Rams left town.
Let's forget the absurdity of that for a moment. Let's forget how Cleveland and Houston lost teams after Los Angeles and within five years had a new one in place. Let's forget that L.A. is on the verge of going 15 years without a team while the league expanded to Jacksonville and Charlotte. Just push that to the corner for now.
The issue I have is that the NFL doesn't even have a presence in Los Angeles. Sure you'll here that the ratings for NFL games are great in the city, better than they were when they had a team and fans were forced to watch Rams and Raiders games. But I'm sure the ratings are up for the league across the board in every major city. I'm not talking about ratings and merchandise sales. I'm talking about an actual tangible presence in the second biggest city in America.
Not one preseason game, not one regular-season game, not even one scrimmage has taken place in Los Angeles since 1994. For a league that prides itself on marketing and expanding its brand, that's an absolute embarrassment.
Last year, NFL owners voted to play up to two games outside the United States every season for the next five years. Last year, the Giants played the Dolphins in London. Three years ago, the Cardinals played the 49ers in Mexico, and in December, the Bills will play the Dolphins in Toronto. The league also wants to play future games in Germany and Asia and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said, "there's a great deal of interest in holding a Super Bowl in London."
While you have to commend the NFL for trying to globalize a sport that is distinctly American and rarely played anywhere else outside of North America, staging regular-season games, let alone possibly the Super Bowl, outside the country while Los Angeles has been ignored is a joke. Even if they can't place a team in the city you would think the league would at least want to host some games in Los Angeles. I'm fairly certain few owners would be opposed to having a Super Bowl in Los Angeles compared to Detroit or Indianapolis.
Now I know anyone reading this outside of Los Angeles couldn't care less about the NFL having a presence in Los Angeles but imagine for a moment that the NFL was a business, let's say a restaurant chain that you owned, and I was your advisor. If I suggested that you open up shop in every city the NFL was in (Green Bay, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Charlotte, etc.) and then began to suggest that you expand to Europe, I would fully expect you to stop me at some point and say, "Wait a minute, what about Los Angeles?" And if I answered with anything besides, "Oh, I forgot, I'm sorry" I would fully expect to be fired.
It's not a matter of the NFL not needing Los Angeles or Los Angeles not needing the NFL. They're like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Sure they would do just fine without each other, but that's certainly not a reason why they shouldn't be together.
I'm not holding my breath for an NFL team in Los Angeles anytime soon. In fact, the length of the league's absence in the city didn't fully hit me until my cousin, who will be graduating from high school next year, told me he totally forgot that Los Angeles once had an NFL team. He was two years old when the Raiders and Rams left town. That's right, Roger Goodell, there is an entire generation of sports fans in Los Angeles that have no recollection of NFL football in this city. Simply amazing and simply sad.