On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council approved the construction of Farmers Field, a downtown stadium project at LA Live that is being built with hopes of luring an NFL team back to the city for the first time since 1994. If in fact the stadium becomes and a reality and the NFL invades the City of Angels, it would surely have an effect on USC football, but after looking at some data and analysis, it likely won’t be in terms of attendance.
Currently, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is synonymous with USC football, but that wasn’t always the case. The Rams moved to Los Angeles from Cleveland in 1946 and made themselves at home at Coliseum, but that was 18 years after UCLA had already decided to call the ‘Old Lady’ home, sharing it with the Trojans. In fact, since the Coliseum opened in 1923, this is only the 22nd football season that the Trojans have been the lone occupant .The Rams left in 1979, followed by UCLA’s exodus two years later, paving the way for the Oakland Raiders to come on down in 1982 and the XFL’s LA Xtreme playing one season in 2001.
Throughout the years that the Trojans’ shared the Coliseum, attendance has been a focal point, raising the question as to how USC would draw if the NFL returned. It’s hard to predict the exact impact of the NFL on USC or even UCLA, but looking at attendance patterns during the Raiders’ 13-year stint in Los Angeles is helpful.
The Raiders came to a Los Angeles that was a Rams town, especially after the success that the Rams had in the 1970s before moving to Anaheim. If the Chargers came to Los Angeles, they would do so in the same fashion, fleeing a California city refusing to build a stadium and opting for a relatively close metropolis with a pre-existing fan base.
For USC, the result was that the Raiders out-drew the Trojans on a per-game basis just three times in 13 years.
|LA Coliseum Attendance |
Avg. Att. (Record)
Avg. Att. (Record)
* – Pac-10 Champions
#- NFL Playoff Team
^- Super Bowl Champions
Much like you would expect in Los Angeles, attendance between USC and the Raiders was determined by who was winning. The Raiders’ brief reign over the Trojans came in the years surrounding their lone Super Bowl win in LA, while the Trojans dominated in terms of attendance while winning three-straight Pac-10 titles in the late eighties.
Despite playing in the largest NFL venue, the Raiders simply couldn’t draw on a consistent basis. They were dropped into a city that had already developed a relationship with the Rams, and despite building a strong sub-culture in Los Angeles, the Raiders were plagued with games like their October 4, 1987 game against Kansas City that drew just 10,708.
And even when the Raiders were drawing well, like the Trojans at the time, they were playing in a Coliseum that still needed to be tarped.
Plus, there’s variances within scheduling that created the peaks for the Raiders. In 1991, the Raiders had a star-studded home schedule that included the hometown Rams, the 49ers just a year removed from winning back-to-back Super Bowls, and the Buffalo Bills, who were the in the midst of their AFC dominance. The result was average attendances of over 87,000 for those three games, while the other five home dates averaged 49,220. Yet, USC still out-drew the Raiders despite winning just three games that season.
If the Raiders weren’t a factor in altering USC’s attendance while playing in the same building, it’s hard to see a new team impacting the Trojans, while playing down the street with games 24 hours later. USC had 82,765 people nearly fill the Coliseum in 2008 despite playing at the same time that the Dodgers swept the Cubs in the National League Divisional Series at Dodger Stadium, and the Trojans drew an average of over 75,000 fans per game during the recent two-year bowl ban, so circumstances aren’t affect the Trojans at the gate either.
In fact, the building of Farmers Field could start out by greatly helping USC, as a Coliseum commission in crisis could leave the university using a new stadium as leverage with the government to become a fast track towards gaining full ownership of the Coliseum.
On the surface, an NFL team playing down the street could be competition given a recession that seemingly limits the spending of Americans. But as long as the Trojans keep winning, the Lombardi Packers couldn’t out-draw USC, especially when Farmers Field will have a capacity of just 72,000 and provide a much higher price-point.