The Los Angeles Rams, newly arrived from Cleveland, first began playing their home games at the L.A. Memorial Coliseum in 1946.
They played 34 seasons at the Coliseum before moving, first to Anaheim and then to St. Louis. But in 2016, the Rams returned to L.A., with the Coliseum’s gates open to welcome them once more.
At the end of the current NFL season, on December 29, the L.A. Coliseum will bid farewell once more to the Rams, who will move into SoFi Stadium in Inglewood next year.
It was known from the time they returned to Los Angeles that the Coliseum would only be a temporary home until the Inglewood stadium was ready for play. In fact, the original plan had the Rams scheduled for only three seasons at the Coliseum — but record rainfall cost the project 40 work days, keeping the Rams at the Coliseum for 2019 and bumping SoFi Stadium’s scheduled Super Bowl hosting duties from Super Bowl LV (2021) to Super Bowl LVI (2022).
It was far from a quality Rams team that relocated to Los Angeles in 2016. The Rams had not finished above .500 since 2003, a rapid fall for a franchise that reached two Super Bowls in a three-year span at the turn of the 21st century. But on September 18, 2016, a Week 2 kickoff against the eventual NFC West champion Seattle Seahawks, a crowd of 91,046 showed up to officially welcome the NFL back to town. “Hollywood-style entertainment abounded Sunday at the Coliseum,” wrote Gary Klein for the LA Times. “The Red Hot Chili Peppers rocked the crowd before kickoff. Singer CeeLo Green delivered an inspired national anthem. And television host James Corden danced with cheerleaders, presumably before taking off to attend the Emmy Awards up the street.” Clad in bold blue and gold once again, the L.A. Rams triumphed over former USC head coach Pete Carroll’s Seahawks, 9-3, notching a home victory at the Coliseum, as Klein noted, “for the first time since 1979.”
It was the Rams’ only home win of the year. They won at Tampa Bay in Week 3 and in Arizona during Week 4, raising their record to 3-1, before cratering with 12 losses in their final 13 games. Head coach Jeff Fisher was fired after a Week 14, 42-14 loss to Atlanta at the Coliseum, replaced by John Fassel for the final three contests. The Rams finished the season on January 1, 2017, at the Coliseum, losing 44-6 to the same Cardinals team they had beaten earlier in the season.
Still, the gate numbers were impressive: with over 70,000 season ticket holders providing the foundation, the Rams set single-season NFL records for first-year expansion/relocated teams since 1993 in single-game attendance (the 91,046 drawn for the opener), average attendance per game (84,457), and total attendance (591,197).
The Rams adjusted their selling strategy entering year two in the Coliseum, however. Rams vice president of ticket sales Jake Bye told the Orange County Register, “The environment in the building was spectacular. But what we learned was that the tradeoff at times came in ways that sometimes compromised the fan experience. The ability to purchase concessions in a quick orderly manner. Or the challenge of parking around the building, which was strained by putting that many people in the building.” Rather than crowds of 80,000-90,000, the Rams set their new sights toward crowds of around 70,000. Complicating matters in Year 2 was the arrival of the Chargers in Los Angeles, moving up from San Diego starting with the 2017 season. It all added up to the greatest drop in team attendance in one year for an NFL franchise since 1993.
The Los Angeles Rams drew 60,128 to the Coliseum for Week 1 against Indianapolis, a 46-9 victory, and then 56,612 to a Week 2 loss against Washington. By the end of the season, L.A.’s total attendance had dipped to 433,400 and the average attendance rested at 61,914, below what the team had been shooting for. While the box office struggled, the team did not. The Rams reversed their on-the-field fortunes behind new head coach Sean McVay, finishing 11-5 and winning the NFC West title. On January 6, 2018, the Rams hosted Atlanta in Wild Card round action. It was the franchise’s first home playoff game at the Coliseum since January 7, 1979, when Ray Malavasi’s Rams lost to Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys, 28-0, behind a 101-yard day on the ground from Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett. Tickets sold out in less than a week’s time, with a roaring crowd of 74,300 backing their Rams. On this night it was L.A.’s Todd Gurley who rushed for 101 yards, but the Rams came up short, 26-13.
Coming off such a surprisingly sparkling campaign, the L.A. Rams entered 2018 with hopes of taking another leap upward. They soon met these expectations, winning their first eight games. Attendance steadily increased, from a crowd of 66,515 for the Week 2 home opener to a peak of 77,002 for a memorable, record-setting Week 11 Monday night showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs.
That game was originally intended to be played in Mexico City, but field conditions at Azteca Stadium caused the NFL to reschedule it for the Coliseum a week prior to kickoff. “[T]hey played before a crowd that included thousands of first responders and others affected by the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks and deadly wildfires that destroyed homes and forced the evacuations of thousands, including Rams players, coaches and staff,” wrote Gary Klein in the L.A. Times.
It was likely the most anticipated regular season game of 2018. Both the Rams and the Chiefs entered with 9-1 records, boasting explosive offenses. Kansas City, led by second-year sensation Patrick Mahomes, had not scored fewer than 26 points all season; the Rams’ lowest total was 23. At the half, the score was already tied 23-23, and the Rams added 17 more points in the third quarter, grabbing a 40-30 lead on a Samson Ebukam 25-yard interception return. The Chiefs answered with two touchdowns within a sixty-second span in the fourth quarter, jumping ahead 44-40 on an Allen Bailey two-yard fumble return. The Rams’ Jared Goff found Gerald Everett for a seven-yard touchdown, and Los Angeles led 47-44 with 9:38 to play. Mahomes struck back with 2:47 left on a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Conley, and the Chiefs leapfrogged in front, 51-47. But Goff calmly connected on four straight throws, the last a 40-yard touchdown to Everett for a 54-51 lead. Two interceptions of Mahomes later, and the Rams prevailed in the highest scoring Monday Night Football game ever, as well as the first NFL game in which both teams scored over 50 points. The two teams combined for 1,001 yards of offense. “Until those final seconds ticked off, you weren’t able to breathe,” said L.A. head coach McVay after the game. He added later, “I feel like I might need a couple beverages to relax tonight.” Los Angeles linebacker Mark Barron reacted differently. “As a defensive player with a lot of pride, I hate to see that many points on the board,” he told the media. “But it was an amazing atmosphere.”
The Rams finished with a 13-3 record and the No. 2 seed in the NFC, with attendance up a good 14% from the disappointment of 2017.
They drew 579,439 total, an average of 72,430 a game, exactly what they had been aiming for. Then they enjoyed a first-round bye before hosting their old playoff rival, the Dallas Cowboys, in the divisional round. A reported 77,187 fans showed up on January 12, 2019, and watched the Rams deliver their first home playoff victory at the Coliseum in decades. C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley each rushed for over 100 yards while the Rams’ defense held Ezekiel Elliott to 47 yards in a 30-22 win. A week later, the Rams won at New Orleans in overtime, 26-23, to advance to Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where they fell 13-3 to the New England Patriots.
Coming off a Super Bowl trip and not yet able to move in to SoFi Stadium, the 2019 season dawned with the Rams enjoying the benefits of a fully renovated Coliseum, thanks to a $315 million USC-spearheaded upgrade that enhanced the seating bowl and added premium viewing areas, in addition to a great deal more. It was the Coliseum’s first renovation with fan amenities in mind since 1993.
The Rams’ attendances continued to hover around their 70,000-target this year — 71,460 at their Week 2 home opener, 75,695 against the 49ers on Week 6, and onward — but it is important to mention that a significant proportion of the Coliseum crowd each Sunday arrives to support the opposition. In a Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta, Jr. ESPN.com piece last month on the tenuous business relationship between the Rams and Chargers’ ownership groups, the writers observed, “…at any given game, roughly 40,000 fans are [the Rams’], 30,000 root for the visiting team — as was the case when the Chargers played the Rams at the Coliseum in 2018 — and the rest seem to be wearing Tony Romo or Bo Jackson jerseys. It’s a leaguewide problem in the age of the secondary ticket market but an acute problem in L.A.”
This in the end sums up the Rams’ second stay at the Coliseum. The crowds were first too large and then too small. They supported the Rams at their worst, and then attendance dropped (and was overtaken by visiting fans) when the team began to excel.
The Rams’ final home night game at the Coliseum came on November 25, a Monday Night Football showdown against the NFL’s newest upstart team, the Baltimore Ravens. A crowd of 72,409 watched L.A. lose badly, 45-6.
The L.A. Rams are currently 8-6, with a slim chance to make the postseason: they must defeat both San Francisco and Arizona to end the year, while rooting for Minnesota to lose to both Green Bay and Chicago. Even so, this would only guarantee the Rams a playoff berth, not a home game, leaving one last game at the Coliseum remaining before the official move to SoFi Stadium next year: December 29 vs. the Arizona Cardinals.
And then USC will have its historic stadium on South Figueroa Street all to itself once again.
Image courtesy Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
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