Trying To Win Fans After Relocating

The Los Angeles Rams are trying to establish themselves to a new fan base, just as the Tennessee Titans tried to a generation ago. But have the Titans really caught on in all of Tennessee?

Marky Billson, Tri-Cities based sports talk show host

It’s been 20 years since the Tennessee Titans have made the Super Bowl.

With 16 teams in the American Football Conference the Titans are way overdue. In many ways the Titans in 1999 are like the Rams now; transplanted teams enjoying immediate success in their new home but to an indifferent fan base.

One of the reasons I’ve never felt the Titans were the true NFL team of the Tri-Cities, in addition to being 300 miles away and playing in another time zone, was remembering how indifferent the locals were when the Titans went to the Super Bowl in 1999–2000.

In the entire two week period leading to the game, ironically against the St. Louis Rams, I remember seeing only one piece of Titans gear locally being worn or on a car. And while you’d see more than that now, there isn’t the feeling of agony from a fan base that has never seen their team win the Super Bowl, or even return to it.

There’s no “how did Anthony Dorsett get beat so bad by Issac Bruce?” There’s no “Kevin Dyson couldn’t have got one more yard?”

Jackie Smith, 40 years later, is still talked about more for his drop that probably kept him out of the Hall of Fame than Dorsett or Dyson 20 years later.

Frankly, there isn’t the feel of “long suffering Titans fans” around their fan base the way there was to, say, the Atlanta Braves fan base before they started to win in the 1990s.

Perhaps that’s a sign of a less-than-critical fan base and media. After all, fans around here think the Tennessee Volunteers football program is only a quick turn around the corner from being elite when the Vols haven’t won the conference in 21 years.

Or perhaps it’s a sign that the Titans can call themselves “Tennessee” all they want; there are still three grand divisions in the state and rooting for Nashville in the Tri-Cities is like asking Buffalo to root for New York City.

We’ll do it, but only if there are no alternatives.

And for many years there WERE alternatives for local fans. The Washington Redskins were famously televised to the Tri-Cities on a “home team” basis until the Carolina Panthers started play. After the Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee, they became the team of choice to watch.

There are a few exceptions. A late season showdown for American Football Conference supremacy between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers was shown locally instead of a meaningless Titans game in 2017.

Facebook did a study on what the most popular team is in every county in America. They found Washington County, Virginia predominantly rooted for the Steelers, Unicoi, Carter, and Johnson County liked the Dallas Cowboys, and all of western North Carolina rooted for the Panthers.

Compiled in 2016

The Rams, and especially the Chargers, figure to go through the same in Los Angeles. While, yes, naturally there were fans of middle age and above that embraced the return of the Rams to Los Angeles, the Rams still have an unlikeable quality to them that goes beyond the distaste people have for the Patriots for Bill Belichick’s surliness or Tom Brady’s “too-perfect” persona.

Nothing says “we don’t care about our fans” like a franchise relocating. You’ve got to figure there is a significant portion of the Los Angeles fan base that views the Rams like an ex-wife asking to be taken back after a fling.

Furthermore, it’s not coincidence the NFL ratings decline of 2016 occurred after two franchises left their homes and a third announced they’d do the same. Sure there were other factors; Kaepernick, a Presidential election. But firing fans for indifferent ones isn’t good business.

With Jared Goff, Todd Gurley, and Aaron Donald the Rams figure to be the NFL’s next dynasty. Winning breeds fans, so the franchise’s popularity will increase, but I wonder if the Rams and Chargers will ever really be thought of as a community asset in Los Angeles or just the flavor of the month when they are on top of the standings.

Kind of like the Titans are here.

Marky Billson is on the air 12–2 p.m. ET weekdays. Watch him live or archived here.

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