Better on the field — much better — and worse in television ratings.
That’s the story of Year 2 of the Rams’ return to Los Angeles after spending 21 of them in St. Louis.
Rams telecasts in LA this season, in which they rebounded from a 4-12 record last year to win the NFC West title and are a prime Super Bowl contender, were seen in just 8 percent of homes in that market after they drew a 9 rating in 2016. That’s according to Nielsen, which measures viewership, and is the average for all 16 of their games.
By contrast their worst-rated season in St. Louis during their stay was 15.8, which came in 1998. That was their fourth year in town and was for a 4-12 season that dropped the team’s record to 22-42 since moving to Missouri.
Even in 2009, when they were 1-15 to cap a miserable three-year stretch in which they went 6-42, their St. Louis rating was 16.2 — more than double what they did in Los Angeles this season for an 11-5 team.
Six Rams contests this season were shown on over-the-air television in St. Louis, the city they shunned, as well as in their coveted new home town. Almost astonishingly, the rating for those half-dozen telecasts was almost the same in St. Louis (9.3) as in LA (9.4).
And even more extraordinary is that one game, against Arizona on Dec. 3, drew a better figure in St. Louis (10.9) than it did in Los Angeles (7.8). That’s the second year in a row the team’s jilted city surpassed its new one in the ratings for a game.
The Rams’ home attendance averaged 63,392 for their eight games this season, 26th in the 32-team NFL. The other football team that plays its home games in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the University of Southern California, averaged 72,683 for its seven contests there.
In 1999, the Rams had a season in St. Louis very similar to the one they are having now in California. They burst out from a long string of malaise to not only win their division but also have a suddenly excitingly-potent attack, one that led the league in scoring.
Those St. Louis Rams drew an average of 65,116 fans.
Rams television ratings in LA, as horrendous as they have been, are lofty compared to those of the city’s newest NFL team.
The Chargers arrived this season and generated a minuscule 6.0 rating. Half their games — eight — had a rating less than 5. Other than their highly publicized opener and two matchups against the Raiders, Los Angels’ favorite NFL team, their 13 other games averaged a 5.2 rating.
The NFL used to release ratings for how each team performed in its market. But with recent negative developments in viewership levels, it has stopped doing so.
The numbers cited for the Rams and Chargers come from other sources. But to put things in perspective, these LA ratings could be historically low for NFL teams in their own city.
For instance from 2011 through 2014, the worst rating a team had in its market was 9.9, which the Raiders drew in Oakland in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Rams and Chargers’ combined LA rating this season, 14.0, is 29 percent below the 19.7 figure the Rams drew in St. Louis in 2015. That was their final season in the Gateway City, when animus was growing as many fans became convinced they were leaving.
It is true that the number of people watching the Rams on TV in Los Angeles is larger than it was in St. Louis, because LA has about 4½ times as many homes with a TV. But LA would be expected to sell more computers, milk, pencils and just about anything else than St. Louis.
So ratings measure market share in order to present a more reasonable comparison than simple raw numbers.
NFL TEAMS IN ST. LOUIS, LA
How the two NFL teams that have moved in recent seasons have fared in the televising ratings in their cities in the last three seasons:
STL LA LA
YEAR Rams Rams Chargers
2015 19.7 — —
2016 — 9.0 —
2017 — 8.0 6.0
Note • The rating is the percentage of homes with a TV tuned in.
Source • Nielsen
THE NATIONAL DECLINE
Overall, NFL viewership declined 9 percent nationally this season, Sports Business Daily reported, with the biggest drops for “Thursday Night Football” (12 percent) and a tie, at 11 percent, between NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and CBS’ Sunday afternoon games.
The publication added that Fox’s Sunday afternoon schedule declined 9 percent and ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” fell 6 percent.
Still, the NFL remains strong as a television entity in an era when TV viewership is declining across the board.
“Sunday Night Football” is on track to be the top-rated prime-time program for the seventh consecutive year, which would be a record.
And three of the top four-rated prime-time programs on television this fall involved the NFL.
“Sunday Night Football” was first (10.3), followed by the Thursday games on CBS (8.6). “The Big Bang Theory” entertainment show, on CBS, was third (8.4) and followed by Thursday NFL games on NBC (8.1).
Dick Vermeil had been out of coaching for a decade and a half before being lured out of broadcasting in 1997 to run the Rams’ on-field operations.
After a poor start, he won the Super Bowl in his third season in St. Louis.
Now Jon Gruden evidently is about to follow his path. It is expected that Gruden, who is to be the analyst for ESPN on its telecast of Saturday’s Tennessee-Kansas City playoff game, will be named coach of the Oakland Raiders next week.
Gruden hasn’t coached since 2008 and joined ESPN the next season.
So Vermeil, now 81, can relate.
“He’s got a talent that’s being wasted in the broadcast booth,” Vermeil told the San Jose Mercury News this week. “I’ve always felt that way about Jon.”
Vermeil told the paper that he was contacted about returning to coaching in all but one of his 14 years as a broadcaster. And he sounds as if he wishes he would have pursued one of those jobs sooner.
“I think I stayed out too long,” he said. “I’m not a guy that regrets. I don’t. But if I had to do it over again, I wouldn’t have stayed out as long as I did.”
He said Gruden should succeed.
“He’ll see, I think, the big picture better than he’s ever seen it,” Vermeil said. “And I feel Jon is a better football coach than I was.”
TIGERS ON CBS
Mizzou’s men’s basketball team on Saturday makes the first of two scheduled appearances nationally on CBS this season, with Spero Dedes (play-by-play) and Clark Kellogg (analysis) on the call.
The contest, at home against Florida, will be shown locally on KMOV (Channel 4) at noon,
The Tigers return to CBS on Feb. 3, when they entertain Kentucky at 1 p.m.