The LA Rams are Super Bowl Bound: But How Has the NFL’s California Presence Faired?

Californian football fans have not had it easy when it comes to picking an NFL team to root for based on location. Currently, four NFL teams call the state home. The San Francisco Bay area is the current home to both the San Francisco 49ers (who have been there since incorporation) and the Oakland Raiders. Los Angeles houses both the Los Angeles Rams, as well the Los Angeles Chargers. Three of the four NFL teams in the state have moved cities or states since their absorption into the League. The Raiders, The Rams, and The Chargers have seen a consistent shuffling of locations over the past 30 years.

For being one of the top media markets and most populated cities in the United States, Los Angeles has had a hard time holding down a consistent NFL team. The area even went two decades without any NFL team and went so far as to put in a bid for an expansion team at one point.

Los Angeles Rams

The Los Angeles Rams are currently a buzzworthy and highly competitive NFL franchise. The Rams, quarterbacked by the 24 year old, Jared Goff, are heading to Atlanta to face off against the tenured New England Patriots for Super Bowl LIII.

Despite their win at the NFC championship and recent successes, they have called three different U.S. cities their home. Cleveland, St. Louis, and Los Angeles (twice) have all hosted the Rams. Shortly after beginning their franchise history in Cleveland, the Rams moved to Los Angeles. Following a long stint in Los Angeles, the Rams moved to St. Louis, Missouri following the 1994 season. Their request for relocation was originally rejected by NFL franchise owners, but the decision was later reversed.

The Rams move took them out of what was one of the top media markets in the country and into a lower-tier midwestern media market. However, a brand new stadium offering more seating awaited the team in Missouri.

The St. Louis Rams lasted only roughly ten years before making the decision to move back to Los Angeles. The return to the West Coast came recently, with the team starting the 2016 season back in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles Chargers

The next year, Los Angeles gained a second NFL team from just down south. The San Diego Chargers moved to Los Angeles to begin the 2017 season in a new home.

The Chargers were established in the early 1960s in Los Angeles as an American Football League (AFL) team and remained there for just one year before relocating to San Diego and joining the NFL ten years later.

The recent move to Los Angeles left San Diego fans disappointed. Their team did not move far away but many fans felt abandoned and in need of a new team to follow. The San Diego Chargers were the only NFL team to offer a family friendly alcohol free tailgate zone at their stadium, thus providing a unique experience for families that no other team was offering. Since their move to Los Angeles, this tailgate option has not been offered.

Oakland Raiders

The third team that has moved up and down the West Coast is the Oakland Raiders.

The Raiders began their franchise in Oakland, California. Their initial years in the early 1960s were met with defeat, financial struggles, lack of fan engagement, and organizational change. By the end of their first decade, the team finally began to see some improvement under new head coach Al Davis, who later became the team’s owner. Leadership under the Davis family continues on through today as Al Davis’s son, Mark, stands as team owner. The next few decades of the existence of the Raiders saw ups and downs, including a few Super Bowl wins and appearances, conference and divisional titles, and NFL Hall of Fame inductions.

The team did not stay in Oakland for the entirety of this period, however. For a little over a decade beginning in the early 1980s until the mid 90s, the Raiders were located in Los Angeles. After their time spent in Southern California, the Los Angeles Raiders ultimately moved back to Oakland, where they have remained since.

In the most recent seasons, under Mark Davis’s ownership, the Raiders have faced more defeat than success. Following the 2017 season, their request for relocation was approved by the NFL owners. The team declared their intentions to move from Oakland to Las Vegas, Nevada either for the 2019 or 2020 season. The exact date of their move is dependent on the completion of their new stadium in Nevada.

The relocation idea stems from the team’s current stadium. The Raiders are the secondary tenants in the baseball stadium used by MLB’s Oakland Athletics. Home games played at the historic Oakland Alameda Coliseum are played on a makeshift field featuring baseball diamond dirt and outfield grass that doubles as the gridiron. There have been a plethora of failed attempts to revitalize the stadium to fit their needs.

This stadium situation is not sustainable for a team in the NFL and there few viable relocation options within the Bay Area due to lack of real estate availability and pricing. Las Vegas serves as an option to combats this issue.

The Vegas Golden Knights serve as a positive case study on the Las Vegas Sports market. The NHL expansion team that recently established themselves as the Las Vegas area’s hockey team in 2017, has seen much success in the market. The Golden Knights had a playoff run during their inaugural season and have been able to tap into the sports betting market that is highly active in the Las Vegas area.

The Raiders are the third NFL team to relocate in this decade, following the Rams and the Chargers. All three teams have been from California originally and all three spent a stint of their franchise history in Los Angeles.

San Francisco 49ers

Of the four NFL teams that have spent time with their home base in California, the only team that has never relocated is the San Francisco 49ers.

The San Francisco 49ers (named after participants of the gold rush that flocked to the area in 1849) were established in the mid 1900s as a part of the All American Football League (AAFL). The AAFL was merged into the NFL just a few years after the 49ers became a team. Since then, they have remained in the Bay Area with the same name, location, and colors. The only thing that has changed for the 49ers is their home stadium, which is currently Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. Notable current and former players include Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Jimmy Garoppolo.

Why has the team stayed put when so many others move around? One notable fact is that the 49ers are known for being one of the top five most profitable NFL teams and the only team within that ranking that is located on the West Coast. With property values in the Bay Area being exponentially high, the 49ers play on one of the world’s most expensive pieces of real estate.
As the home of Silicon Valley, where so many of the world’s most advanced technology companies are headquartered, the San Francisco Bay Area is highly populated and considered a major media market in the United States. The 49ers have consistently remained in this market since their incorporation.

During the 2017 NFL season, the 49ers traded a second round draft pick for New England Patriots backup quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo then lead the team to finish out the last five games of the season undefeated. A team this profitable is able to sign talent for a high price. Garoppolo’s contract that was signed following the conclusion of the 2017 regular season made him the highest paid NFL player at the time. The record has since been broken by Kirk Cousins and Aaron Rodgers.

The team’s tenure in the Bay Area has lead them to have a loyal fan base. 49ers fans have endured the team’s ups and downs, recent ownership and leadership changes, and no Super Bowl wins in a quarter century since they defeated the San Diego Chargers in 1994. With a total of five Super Bowl Wins, the 49ers are tied for second most titles with the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys, only behind the Pittsburgh Steelers by one.

These top four teams are notably teams that have never moved locations.

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