One or two teams in the market will limit the networks’ freedom to show doubleheaders each week. If a late Rams home game is on Fox, then the late doubleheader game from CBS, one that might be as good as New England-Denver, cannot be shown in the market. But that could change. In the resolution to repopulate Los Angeles with its teams, the league voted to relax some doubleheader rules.
Ratings will be one measure of the success of the return of the NFL to Los Angeles. But this might not be a positive story even if Los Angeles is the second-largest market in the country. As ratings and viewership presumably rise for Rams and Raiders/Chargers games, the audiences will likely shrink among aggrieved fans in St. Louis, Oakland or San Diego.
And assuming the presence of the Rams and another team creates a ratings spike, the question will be: How long will that last if they lose more than they win?
Mike Mulvihill, senior vice president for programming and research for Fox Sports, is optimistic that ratings will increase noticeably.
“We expect a meaningful improvement over what they’ve been,” he said. “We’re looking at it in terms of how Los Angeles compared with New York in 1994.”
That was the final season the Raiders and the Rams spent in Los Angeles. In that season, Fox’s local rating for Rams gams were a 14.0, a smidgen more the local NBC station averaged for New York Jets games.
This past season, CBS averaged almost an 8.0 rating for games in the Los Angeles market. For Jets games on CBS, the local rating was close to a 15.0.
David Hill, a former chairman of Fox Sports, said that the market is no more fertile for football now than it was 20 years ago.
“If anything, it’s become much more college football-centric,” he said. “I’ve watched the frenzy of two or three teams trying to get into L.A. and I say, ‘What’s changed?’ And the answer is nothing.”
Another measure of the effect of the league’s return to Los Angeles will be if it helps increase what the networks pay in future deals that will start in the early 2020s. NBC, Fox, CBS and ESPN are in the midst of contracts that pay the league an average of around $5 billion annually.
“I don’t think it will make a material difference,” said Ed Desser, a former NBA executive who runs a sports consulting firm in Los Angeles. But, he added, “The reality is that this market is kind of blasé about football, which is probably why the teams left in the first place.”
Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who is also a consultant, said that even a substantial boost in Los Angeles market ratings for football might not have a big enough effect on national ratings to be a major factor in the next contract. But he said the NFL will almost certainly argue that a league that has finally filled its gap in Los Angeles is a pricier commodity.
“It is a net positive nationally to have a team in L.A.,” Pilson said. “But it’s very difficult to ascertain the exact improvement generated by having a team there.”