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An astounding turn: After Rams arrived, fewer people watched the NFL in LA

An astounding turn: After Rams arrived, fewer people watched the NFL in LA

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It will be a year ago next week that NFL owners voted to allow the Rams to leave St. Louis and return to the Los Angeles area, where they had been based before spending 21 seasons in Missouri. The team’s market value immediately soared, and there was a huge glow among the team’s old Southern California fans for a happy homecoming.

But after a 3-1 start this season, the Rams rapidly returned to their St. Louis form of the previous decade. They became a disaster on the field in familiar fashion for those who had watched them when they were in the Midwest, losing their last seven games while being incompetent offensively.

The Rams also became a well-documented side show of epic proportions off the field, with antics surfacing that even outdid their bumbling days in St. Louis.

The honeymoon in LA was over about as fast as it takes a 4 a.m. wedding in Las Vegas to be annulled. Fans began not only avoiding the stadium, but also bypassing the Rams on television.

Most of their games were shown in LA by Fox, as was the case in St. Louis when they were here. And according to Nielsen, which tracks viewership, Fox’s rating for NFL games declined in Los Angeles this season over last season’s figure. That is astounding, as fans usually flock to the local team’s telecasts and provide a big boost to local ratings.

Nielsen reports that 8 percent of homes in the LA market tuned in to Fox’s NFL telecasts this season — down from 8.3 percent in 2015, when the Rams were in St. Louis. These figures are for all NFL games shown on Fox, not just those of the Rams. Officials of that network were not available for comment.

Fox carried 12 Rams games this season in LA, and those averaged an 8.3 rating. In St. Louis the previous season, where the team still was playing, Fox affiliate KTVI (Channel 2) averaged a 19.7 rating for its 12 Rams telecasts.

CBS has one Rams telecast in Los Angeles this season and its rating for the season there was down 4 percent over 2015.

Perhaps the most telling statistic: Not only were there numerous times this season that the Rams’ contest wasn’t even the top-rated NFL game of the week in LA, the Rams were last in the ratings the final two weeks of the season. They were beaten by the three other games shown on Christmas weekend and by the four other contests on New Year’s Day. Included in that group are three matchups that began at 10 a.m. local time — the Rams began in the more attractive 1:25 p.m. slot in both instances.

The team’s last three games while doing business in Missouri averaged a 22.0 rating. The Rams’ last three games this season had a combined rating of 20.7 in Los Angeles (6.9 average).

LOCAL LINE

As expected, NFL ratings on Fox in St. Louis slipped this year — from 13.4 to 8.8. But that figure for 2015 includes the 12 Rams telecasts. A more apples-to-apples comparison: Last season, games in which the Rams were not participating drew a 9.2 rating on KTVI. This season, the figure was 8.8 — the same as KTVI’s overall NFL rating.

The latter number isn’t bad for a couple reasons. First, there has been much animosity locally toward the NFL for its treatment of the area, with many St. Louisans thinking that they at best were misled or at worst outright lied to by Rams and league management about the market’s chances to keep the team. Another factor was that KTVI no longer had the luxury of a large carry-over Rams audience to lead into late-afternoon NFL telecasts, as often was the case last season.

“We’re happy with those numbers, quite frankly,” KTVI general manager Spencer Koch said. “We hung in there pretty well.”

Across all networks, seven Rams games were shown this season in St. Louis and they averaged a 7.8 rating (including a game in London that began at 8:30 a.m. locally).

THE BIG PICTURE

Including games shown on networks other than Fox, the Rams drew a 9.0 rating in Southern California for their “honeymoon” return season (9.1 if that London game, which began at 6:30 a.m. in LA, is thrown out). In contrast, their worst-rated season in St. Louis was 16.2 — in 2009, when they were 1-15 to complete a three-year run at 6-42. For the Rams final season in St. Louis, 2015, the rating here for the season was 17.2.

Only twice in LA this season did the Rams surpass the worst single-game rating they had in St. Louis during their stay, and that was for their first two contests of the season. And the St. Louis low point, 10.9, came in 2013 when the Rams were playing at the same time the Cardinals were in a World Series game.

There were a lot of people in St. Louis who took glee in watching the Rams struggle this season. How many of their games KTVI carries in 2017 remains to be seen.

“I don’t think the venom will be as strong next season as it is now,” Koch said, noting that one of the key St. Louis “villains” — coach Jeff Fisher — has been fired. “But I still think there will be some passing interest, both ‘we like them’ and ‘we don’t like them.’ We went with the flow” this season and probably will do so next season.

The key is finding a balance between the Rams and the “best game available,” which is vastly different in the minds of many viewers.

“There’s still interest in the NFL,” Koch said. “Fox was very, very cooperative with us in terms of looking for the best possible game.”

FINAL FOCUS

It is true that in raw numbers more people watched Rams telecasts overall in LA this season than St. Louisans did in 2015 because of the massive population difference. There are slightly more than four times as many TV homes in LA as in St. Louis.

But the rating measures market share in order to present a more equitable comparison. Think of it this way: Starbucks would be expected to sell a lot more coffee in Los Angeles than St. Louis, as would Apple with electronics. But each would love to have a big market share in the Gateway City.

The final word on this: Nielsen’s numbers say approximately 274,000 homes in Los Angeles tuned in to the Rams’ finale this season. Their last outing as the “St. Louis” Rams was seen in about 268,400 homes here.

It was nearly a dead heat despite LA’s huge population advantage and the honeymoon vs. the soon-to-be scorned scenario.

RAMS, BY THE NUMBERS

TV ratings for Rams games this season in Los Angeles and St. Louis, as well as the rating last season in St. Louis for the corresponding game:

Rams TV Ratings

TV ratings for Rams games this season in Los Angeles and St. Louis, as well as the rating last season in St. Louis for the corresponding game. Source: Nielsen

Game LA: 2016 STL: 2016 STL: 2015
1 16.1 8.0 17.1
2 12.0 6.8 17.9
3 6.1 - 18.1
4 10.6 9.4 22.5
5 9.8 - 19.6
6 10.0 7.9 18.3
7 5.5 3.9 22.0
8 7.4 - 21.2
9 9.1 - 18.9
10 8.7 - 21.1
11 8.4 - 16.0
12 9.7 8.4 17.7
13 8.2 - 18.3
14 10.2 10.6 21.6
15 5.5 - 22.5
16 5.0 - 22.0
Avg. 9.0 7.8 17.2

Notes • Average for 2016 includes game in London that began at 6:30 a.m. in Los Angeles and 8:30 a.m. in St. Louis. If that isn’t counted, LA season rating is 9.1, St. Louis is 8.4.

Source • Nielsen.

NFL IN LA

NFL ratings in Los Angeles for the final two weekends of the season:

WEEK 16

Broncos-Chiefs (NBC): 9.2

Vikings-Packers (Fox): 7.8

Colts-Raiders (CBS): 7.7

49ers-Rams (Fox): 5.5

WEEK 17

Packers-Lions (NBC): 12.9

Raiders-Broncos (CBS): 10.2

Cowboys-Eagles (Fox): 7.8

Patriots-Dolphins (CBS): 5.04

Cardinals-Rams (Fox): 5.00

Source • Nielsen.

BERMAN CUTS BACK

Chris Berman, perhaps ESPN’s most high-profile sportscaster, isn’t leaving the network but will be out of his signature roles — hosting the network’s NFL coverage, including the draft, and announcing baseball’s Home Run Derby. The moves are effective after the Super Bowl.

Berman, 61, will have a reduced role at ESPN, where he is to conduct taped interviews and do pieces about the history of football for NFL programming. He also will do play-by-play on ESPN Radio for some baseball division series games.

A replacement for his key assignments has not been announced.

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