By Mark Lamport-Stokes
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – While there is palpable excitement for NFL fans in Los Angeles as they celebrate the return of the Rams to the city after two decades away in St. Louis, there is also a strong sense of “Let’s wait and see.”
The Rams are not expected to set the league alight with the quality of their play, having posted nine straight losing seasons with just four winning campaigns during their 21 years in St. Louis and a cumulative 64-127-1 record.
In addition, Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest media market and its sports fans have been spoilt for choice over the years, given the many championships won by some of the city’s other professional teams.
What is certain, though, is that the Rams will be able to enjoy something of a honeymoon period as their fans flock in big numbers to the iconic Coliseum for the first few home games of the upcoming season.
When the Rams beat the visiting Dallas Cowboys in an exhibition last month, the reported attendance was 89,140 – a preseason record for a game played in the United States – so fan attendance is unlikely to be a problem in the early going.
And while there will be some pressure on head coach Jeff Fisher to produce a winning formula in Los Angeles, most Rams fans will acknowledge he faces a tough task in the ultra-competitive NFC West, arguably the league’s toughest division.
Fisher will also be playing something of a waiting game with his quarterback, as he plans to start the season with Case Keenum, who backed up Nick Foles for the Rams last year and is now a placeholder for the No. 1 draft pick Jared Goff.
“He’s not ready, but he’s really, really made significant progress,” Fisher said of Goff before adding that second-year pro Sean Mannion would initially be the likely back-up to Keenum. “I think it’s going to take a little bit more time
“That isn’t to say he (Goff) can’t be a (No. 2 quarterback])when we start. But if you were starting right now, I’d probably have Sean as the 2.”
Overall, Fisher was pleased with how the Rams are shaping up after completing more than 20 practice sessions at University of California, Irvine, and four preseason games with a win-loss record of 2-2.
“From a health standpoint, we’re in good shape,” Fisher said of the Rams, who are back in the city where they played from 1946 to 1994. “Mentally and emotionally, we’re ready to compete. Everybody improves from Day One through the end of camp, so I think we’ve done that.
“The guys understand the preseason games and they understand that there’s a lot of things that go on out here from a football-scheme standpoint that we don’t do in preseason games, so they have that realistic picture about them.”
As far as the ‘big picture’ is concerned, the return of the Rams to Los Angeles could be successful well beyond the team’s ‘honeymoon period’ if certain factors coincide, according to sports business expert David Carter.
“The return … will be significant provided the team is competitive on the field, well run off it, and has a strong understanding of the Southern California marketplace,” Carter told Reuters.
“If this were to be the case, the team could certainly attract the corporate and fan dollar over time and become a strong presence in this crowded entertainment market,” said Carter, who is executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.
(Editing by Frank Pingue)