State lawmakers held a hearing last week to consider plans for bringing a new National Football League team to Los Angeles, but in the hearts of many L.A. football fans, the city already has a pro team:
Two years after the men in silver and black returned to Oakland after 14 years in L.A. a return that angered many local football fans the Raiders are gaining popularity in Los Angeles once more.
Burbank-based all-sports radio station KXTA-AM 1150 has added play-by-play coverage of Raiders games for the 1997-98 football season, and advertising time for the entire season sold out by the third pre-season game just weeks after the station decided to add Raiders games to its programming.
Tom Boman, executive producer with KXTA, which bills itself as "Sportsradio L.A.," said that ad sales as well as the attitude of those who call into the station's sports talk shows indicate a large Raiders following remains in the city.
"It just never really left Los Angeles," Boman said. "You just cruise around town and you're bound to see something with a Raiders logo on it. You see Raiders jackets, Raiders shirts."
Part of the presence in L.A. can be attributed to the team itself. The Raiders' marketing division has placed ads on the sides of buses and on billboards throughout the city. The ads display the Raiders logo with the slogan "Commitment to Excellence."
Al LoCasale, executive assistant for the Raiders, said the ads are meant to promote the team's games when they're broadcast on television locally.
"The L.A. market, which I think was a hotbed of interest for the Raiders, needs to be maintained as an NFL prime city," LoCasale said.
And L.A., in fact, remains a hotbed of interest for Raiders fans in terms of television ratings.
On Aug. 31, an Oakland Raiders-Tennessee Oilers game on KNBC-TV Channel 4 was viewed by 8.8 percent of all L.A. households, while a Dallas Cowboys-Pittsburgh Steelers game on KTTV-TV Channel 11 that same day was seen by only 7.9 percent of L.A. households.
On Sept. 8, a Monday Night Football game of the Raiders against the Kansas City Chiefs was viewed by 18 percent of all L.A. households with televisions the highest football rating of the weekend.
Steve Webster, director of public relations for Fox Sports West, said the reason Angelenos watched these games may not be because they're Raiders fans.
He said that when he attended a Dodgers game on Sept. 8, and a clip was shown on the stadium's video screen of the Chiefs making a last-second touchdown to win the game, the crowd cheered.
"There's a lot of hatred out there for the Raiders," Webster said.
But there also appears to be a lot of love judging by the numbers of L.A. fans who trek up north for Raiders home games.
Tom Thornton, an ad salesman at KXTA and a Raiders season ticket holder, said that every time he flew last season to Oakland from Burbank, he was typically joined by other Raiders fans.
"About 50 percent of those planes are filled by fans going to the game," Thornton said. "It's like tailgating in an airport without tailgates."
According to Raiders officials, 5 percent of the approximately 37,000 season tickets sold this year about 1,850 tickets are held by people living in Los Angeles area codes.
Frank Deford, a national sports columnist for Newsweek and commentator for National Public Radio, is not surprised by continued interest in the Raiders by Angelenos.
"I guess since Los Angeles has all these millions of people with no football team, it follows that a few of them would still care," Deford said. "If you haven't got a team, I guess you go looking for one."
Deford says that when a team leaves a city, large numbers of fans often remain. In fact, a Baltimore Colts marching band remained for a decade after that team left the city, he said.
"I think there's plenty of precedent for this kind of affection when a team is taken away," Deford said.
Local lawmakers are hoping to cash in on that lingering affection by transferring it to a new NFL team. Last week, state Sens. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, and Richard Polanco, D-Los Angeles, held a hearing in L.A. to hear three plans for bringing football back to the city.
South Park Sports Inc. wants to build a stadium near the Los Angeles Convention Center; Hollywood Park Inc. wants to build a stadium near its horse racing track in Inglewood; and Ed Roski Jr. and Philip Anschutz, who own the L.A. Kings hockey team, want to rebuild the inside of the Memorial Coliseum and buy an expansion team to play there.
Most city officials including Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes the Coliseum, and Mayor Richard Riordan have come out in support of the Roski-Anschutz plan.
Steve Soboroff, a senior adviser to Riordan and a backer of a plan to bring a new team to the Memorial Coliseum, where the Raiders played in L.A., said he's surprised by local interest in the team.
"There's got to be a larger concentration per capita of Raiders fans here than in any other city, other than Oakland, because they were here," Soboroff said. "So if there's ever any place to advertise and merchandise while it lasts, it's here."
But Soboroff added that interest in the Raiders will likely wane once the city has a new football team.
"I think when we get a new NFL team, that momentum will carry over," Soboroff said. "And I don't think there will be any greater per capita number of Raiders fans than anywhere else."
Deford agreed that once L.A. gets a new football team, fan interest will be transferred from the Raiders to the new, expansion team.
"I think (interest in the Raiders) means there is a hard-core group of people who want a new team, and I think they probably will redirect their affections to whatever new team comes," he said.
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