- Team using moment in spotlight to help fund construction of transformative new venue
- Key stakeholders will be invited to Atlanta; meetings with potential partners also arranged
- Long-term commercial strategy will not be changed to secure short-term partnerships
Ahead of the Los Angeles Rams’ trip to Atlanta for Super Bowl LIII on Sunday, the franchise held a send-off rally for fans outside its transformative new facility, the $5bn (€4.4bn) LA Stadium & Entertainment District in Inglewood, California.
The Rams are using their moment in the spotlight to showcase their new arena – which will become the world’s most expensive sports complex when it opens in 2020 – and drive commercial interest in the franchise.
“Being in the Super Bowl, we are going to be on television in front of 100 million Americans and tens of millions of others globally,” Jamie Reigle, the Rams’ executive vice-president of business operations, tells SportBusiness. “The level of recognition and validation over the next few weeks of the hard work that has happened here and will happen…money can’t buy that.”
The privately-funded LA Stadium development, dubbed LASED, represents the focal point of billionaire developer Stan Kroenke’s grand vision in relocating the St. Louis Rams, of which he took full control in 2010, to Los Angeles three years ago.
Three-and-a-half times the size of Disneyland, it includes a 70,000-seater stadium, a hotel, retail space, office space and a 6,000-seat entertainment venue. The stadium – which will also house NFL rival the LA Chargers – has already secured the rights to the 2022 Super Bowl, the 2023 college football title game, and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics. It is also a likely host venue for the 2026 Fifa World Cup.
The 300-acre mixed-use development site, which is co-owned by real estate investment firm Stockbridge Capital, will also include the 250,000-square-foot West Coast headquarters for NFL Media and the NFL Network from 2021.
The increased media coverage of the Rams in their run to the Super Bowl – where they will face the New England Patriots – has given the commercial team a golden opportunity to monetise the new facility, in particular the sale of stadium seat licenses (SSLs).
SSLs, which range from $1,000 to $100,000 each, are one-time fees for fans to have the right to own a seat at the stadium over 50 years. There is an additional obligation to buy season tickets for the length of the term.
SSLs are essentially interest-free loans to help fund the construction of the complex, which was originally projected to cost $2.6bn but has gone significantly over budget. After 50 years, deposits will be refunded to whoever owns the licenses at the time.
While SSL sales have been healthy since they were made available to the public last year – the team has reportedly sold all 500 of their most expensive licenses at $100,000 – the Rams’ play-off run has driven up interest.
“We’ve been selling [SSLs] since March 2018 and sales have been strong throughout but it’s fair to say the level of interest has upticked in the past six months as the team has really stood out,” says Reigle, a former senior executive at Manchester United.
“With the play-off run, and ultimately making the Super Bowl, those phones are ringing a little more regularly than they were before.”
The Chargers, who will be secondary tenants at the LA Stadium, are also charging SSLs to help pay for construction, albeit at cheaper prices than the Rams for the same seats. The most expensive are $75,000.
In addition to SSLs, the Rams are looking to sell hospitality boxes, sponsorship opportunities and naming rights deal worth at least $30m a year over 20 years – if successful, the $600m total fee would be a global sport record-breaker.
“The whole organisation is focused on: how can we leverage this moment for maximum impact for the Rams? When I say that I don’t mean maximum commercial impact in the next seven days, I mean the maximum impact for the brand over the long term,” Reigle says.
“The value to the Rams as a brand and the entertainment district comes from securing the best brands and the longest-term fan relationships in that environment.”
Super Bowl a ‘shared moment’ for team and partners
The Rams have specific commercial plans for Super Bowl Week, including sponsorship activations with their partners and inviting key stakeholders to the big game.
American Airlines, the team’s Official Airline Partner, held an event at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday ahead of the team’s trip to Atlanta on a branded plane. There will also be a branded content series about the journey to the Super Bowl in partnership with the airline.
On the plane, all players had special-edition headphones made by Bose – an Official NFL Partner – waiting on their seat before take-off, while branded Unify caps were created for all employees and members following the team’s partnership with the financial services company.
A number of private parties are being held in Atlanta for the team’s most-valued stakeholders, such as top-tier sponsors. Reigle says: “We’re inviting all our stakeholders – our staff members, partners, sponsors, as many of our season-ticket holders as we can – to Atlanta to be able to participate in this moment because it’s a shared moment for our club and our partners.
“We’re very appreciative of the support our sponsors and partners have given us throughout the year and we believe they buy into the ethos and the culture of the club and this is a reward for us – of course – and for our stakeholders, fans and partners.”
Time will also be made for discussions with potential commercial partners. “We’re trying to look after the existing partner base but clearly while we’re in Atlanta there will be a number of businesses with whom we’ll have ongoing conversations about various opportunities, be it merchandising, branding, sponsorship and opportunities,” Reigle says.
Long-term commercial strategy
The Rams’ commercial strategy, though, remains fully-focused on the long term, as they look to transform a team that has been in its home city for just three seasons into one of the world’s leading sports brands.
The Rams played in LA from 1946 until 1994 before moving to St. Louis, where they were based until 2015, and returned to southern California a year later.
The opportunities for the Rams – and indeed the NFL – are enormous, playing in the United States’ second-largest media market with a metropolitan population of 13 million to draw on. But there are significant challenges too.
LA is an incredibly crowded sports market. The city has two sports teams in every major competition: the Lakers and the Clippers (NBA), the Dodgers and the Angels (MLB), the Kings and the Ducks (NHL), UCLA and USC (college football), LA Galaxy and LAFC (MLS), and a rival NFL team in the Chargers.
According to an annual study of NFL fandom, taken by Dr Michael Lewis of Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, the Rams ranked 31st out of 32 teams in a statistical model that tracks the depth and breadth of team support.
Local TV ratings have also been sluggish. Fewer people in LA watched the local Rams beat the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game (2.1 million viewers) than watched the Patriots’ victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game (2.5 million).
In order to grow its fanbase, the strategy is to win back older fans who supported the team when the Rams were still in LA; try to turn local fans of other NFL teams into Rams supporters; and engage with younger residents who are looking for a team to support.
“First and foremost, the goal is to develop the brand of the Rams,” says Reigle. “The NFL did not have a team in LA, so if you were in LA then you had the choice of any team [to support]. Our number one challenge over the last two years – and for the next three or four – is to develop that affinity for the Rams as the number-one NFL team in LA.
“Los Angeles is an incredibly competitive market for entertainment: you have the option to go to Disney, Universal Studios, the beach, outdoor restaurants – so for a sports team or an entertainment platform to cut through generally in LA you really have to have a compelling value proposition to draw people to your games or to your event.
“Clearly the success we’ve had over the past few years has been beneficial for our ability to win over those fans who were undecided and were choosing a team to associate with. We also came in with a leg up because the Rams were in LA for the better part of 50 years. There was a history here, an association – admittedly with an older generation – so we had that as a base.
“So what we are trying to do now is appeal to people who are fans of other NFL teams so have an affinity for football but perhaps supported other teams because LA didn’t have a home team. LA is also a city of transplants: usually people are from somewhere else in the United States or they have moved here for their own career or educational opportunities so we’re really trying to really appeal to them.”
To resonate with millennials, the Rams have looked to leverage their charismatic young coach Sean McVay, who was just 30 when he took over the team.
“The thing we are most excited about is how we appeal to a younger generation who don’t have an NFL team or are not even significant NFL fans,” Reigle says. “We have a coach who just turned 33, we have one of the youngest squads in the league, we play a very exciting brand of [American] football and we lead very much with our digital forms with how we communicate; and we try to be very innovative on that front. It’s all designed to appeal to a younger demographic.”
In this spirit, the Rams booked musicians the Chainsmokers and French Montana the at half-time shows of two games this season to “try to infuse an LA vibe” to their games. “We’re really trying to present the brand which is reflective of Los Angeles, which has a heavy entertainment element,” Reigle says.
While the run to the Super Bowl has inevitably helped build awareness, Reigle is keen to ensure that the team’s commercial success is not dependent on on-field results.
Despite a disappointing first campaign on the field in LA – the team finished the regular season with four wins and 12 losses, resulting in then-head coach Jeff Fisher losing his job – the Rams proved a draw for fans in their return to the city in 2016.
Playing at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, their home until 2020, the Rams drew 83,164 fans on average per game. However, crowds plunged to 63,392 in 2017 following that poor first season and a declining novelty factor.
This season’s on-field success – inspired by McVay and star quarterback Jared Goff – has led to average crowds of 72,429 as the team surged to the play-offs and ultimately the Super Bowl.
“There is no doubt there is a correlation with the success you have on the pitch and the success you’re able to drive with fans and commercially. But I do believe that the very best sports organisations are able to decouple that link,” Reigle says.
“The key thing is to put a competitive product on the field, and I believe we have that. Of course, metrics such as social media following, the engagement levels, tickets sales and so on do follow, but our goal and ambition is to make sure that is lasting and not as dependent as some sports teams are on success on the field.”
This is why the Rams aren’t changing their long-term strategy for short-term benefits on the back of their Super Bowl appearance. “We have a simple thing with staff internally which is: we want to behave like champions before we are champions,” Reigle says. “We try to instill that in the football side and also on the business side.
“We believe that we have been preparing for this moment and it’s really important not to change your behaviour just because you are in the Super Bowl. Whether we win or not doesn’t really change how we operate.
“The vision for the Rams is where we are in 2025 and only then will we know whether we’ve achieved those aims of establishing a global sports franchise in this unique market.”