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From the couch: L.A. doesn’t need NFL

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Brian Lowry

A media columnist and critic for Variety since 2003, Brian Lowry spent seven years at the L.A. Times and has contributed to both NPR and TV Guide Network. He writes weekly for FOX Sports. A UCLA alum, Lowry proudly attended the '95 title game. MORE>>
 
   
 

Fifteen years after the Raiders fled back to Oakland, Los Angeles is again making a push to lure the NFL here, triggering a “hands off our team” response from Jacksonville, one of the rumored franchises to be poached.

To which many L.A. sports aficionados would say, paraphrasing from the classic movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” “NFL? We don't need no stinkin’ NFL.”

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Now, having a football team is obviously good for revenue in the city and the owner, whoever that might be. But it’s not clear having a home team to root for — especially if it’s some Jaguar-come-lately carpetbagger — is really beneficial to the average fan, especially those who lack the corporate underwriting to afford sweet (or suite) seats in some luxury box.

Indeed, Southern Californians north of San Diego have learned what everyone except residents of 32 anointed U.S. cities knows: That having an NFL team isn’t always that great in terms of TV coverage.

Be honest, Lions fans: Weren’t there weeks last year when Detroit was on the road and you were force-fed the latest loss by your hometown heroes, when you could have been watching New Orleans or Dallas? Similarly, if I was only a modest Jaguars fan, why wouldn’t I want to watch the Patriots instead?

It’s no secret why the NFL and networks keep flirting with L.A., and it’s not about proximity to Disneyland. L.A. is the second-largest TV market, behind New York, reaching almost 5.7 million households. That’s more than Detroit, St. Louis, Kansas City, Jacksonville and Buffalo (five franchises which, not incidentally, put up a 20-60 total record in 2009) combined.

Presumably, having more fans invested in a home team would boost ratings. Back in January, an L.A. investor group specifically mentioned Jacksonville and Buffalo as targets because they “play in small markets that tamp down their earning potential,” as the AP reported.

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ESPN's news magazine "E:60" returns July 20 for a five-week run, with a piece about 13-year-old Chelsea Baker, a knuckleball-throwing girl who might be the best Little League pitcher in America. Geena Davis — who starred in "A League of Their Own" — narrates the segment.

 

The inescapability of this math manifested itself on the current season of HBO’s “Entourage,” where Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones played himself in a subplot about the NFL considering the show’s fictional Hollywood agent, Ari Gold, potentially overseeing an L.A.-based franchise.

OK, L.A. is conspicuously the only TV market among the top 17 without an NFL presence. Still, there are more than 200 individually rated markets in the U.S. — the tiniest being Glendive, Mont. — and the vast majority survive without a local NFL connection. If they want, they’re free to adopt any winner they choose — ignoring arbitrary geography and watching the week’s best games in the process, without having to ante up for DirecTV’s “Sunday Ticket” package.

Admittedly, football fortunes can turn quickly. The Saints, after all, were once the Aints. Even the Rams — often an exercise in frustration during their California years — won a Super Bowl after moving to St. Louis. And I get it, people develop emotional attachments to teams that have been around for decades.

Nevertheless, franchises do move occasionally, and there’s nothing wrong with fans being pragmatic and doing what’s best for their Sunday-afternoon channel surfing.

So not to worry, Jacksonville. Save the money on those “No Way L.A.” bumper stickers you’ve been peddling, because many of us (I dare say, most of us) Angelenos have no interest in pilfering your precious Jaguars.

 

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In fact, when we’re not on the beach or hobnobbing with movie stars like the stereotypes we’re perceived to be, you can find us on the couch most Sundays, watching Indianapolis, San Diego or some other genuine playoff contender. (The only real irritant is because of Raider holdovers, we still get shown plenty of their games.)

Having lived through the Raiders of the lost mojo, there’s little incentive to become a raider of another losing team.

If by some miracle you do lose your team to environs near the Happiest Place on Earth, though, you might actually find yourselves in a happier place — at home with a cold one, watching a good football team. Just the way the TV gods (if not necessarily the NFL) intended.

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