The State of SoCal Sports, 2022 – Press Enterprise

The original premise was simple: rank Southern California’s teams top-down using a combination of competitive success, importance, interest, and passion. This is, as we’ve said many times, the most diverse and sometimes volatile sports market in North America…and by far the most competitive, not just for wins, but for attention and the entertainment dollar.

Dating to our first attempt to rank her The press company In 2005, the list was an attempt to separate those who are thriving in this market from those who honestly need to work harder. (The other premise was that this was going to be one of the easiest columns of the year. That concept only lasted until I started putting the first one together.)

Anyway, for the first time since COVID-19 upended everyone’s routine, we’re back with the State of SoCal Sports leaderboard. The identities of the teams at the top shouldn’t come as a surprise, but if you have an issue with your favorite team’s placement, you know whose fault it is.

The current list, with the last previous ranking in 2019 in brackets:

1. Aries (3): The NFL doesn’t dominate the LA market like it does elsewhere, in large part because the league’s 21-year absence has balkanized the fan base. But winning a Super Bowl, the latest act of five years of excellence, positions the Rams well in the market with this team, this stadium, and an operating philosophy that’s perfect for LA—that is, do whatever it takes to win.

2nd Dodger* (2): The asterisk should be self-explanatory while the lockdown lasts. My suspicion is that the Dodgers’ well-funded ownership group is not at all one of those looking for tougher spending penalties. What the Dodgers have done over the past decade — as one of the few teams in their sport to have stayed in contention every year — should earn them some leniency when the lockout finally ends.

3. Lakers (1): This is obviously not due to the team’s current performance on the pitch. Laker fans are the most passionate (and occasionally short-sighted) out there, and they’ve been lashed out in recent years: rebuild with lottery tips that dump young people for a big swing at a title, win that title, wrap up the protracted pandemic season, then relapse through injuries and poor personnel decisions. The fanbase still believes the 18th championship is within reach, but if Jeanie Buss leaves early, as she did during the recent New Orleans debacle, it should be a wake-up call.

4. UCLA Men’s Basketball (10): Mick Cronin got this program working again. The big-game buzz has also returned at the Pauley Pavilion (9,268 average attendances since COVID restrictions on attendance were lifted, playing against USC on Saturday night). It helps that Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr. and most of the others who guided the Bruins to the Final Four last year are still in the program.

5. Clipper (4): Carving out your share of the SoCal audience is a long-term game, and the building under construction across from SoFi Stadium in Inglewood will help. And they’ve established themselves as the region’s more likable NBA teams, as the brave underdogs while they wait for their stars to get well. There’s immense potential here, even if Laker Nation refuses to acknowledge it after seven straight losses to the Clips.

6. Chargers (6): It’s at least a more balanced crowd when the Chargers play at SoFi than when they’re in Carson (unless the Raiders are in town). Justin Herbert should make them an offensive terror for years to come — but GM Tom Telesco has yet to prove he can build a sustainable contender around his franchise quarterback. (And it will help if Brandon Staley is more selective on the fourth down.)

7. USC Soccer (9): I didn’t rank them higher because they haven’t played a game for Lincoln Riley yet. But there already seems to be a different feel to a competitive program. This is what Trojan fans have been craving for the last four seasons of the Clay Helton administration.

8. Kings (13): Year after year, the most loyal fanbase in LA esports is finally being rewarded for their patience with a five-year plan. Will GM Rob Blake now take the steps necessary to return to the elite status of the Stanley Cup years?

9th (tie) LAFC (5): Under coach Bob Bradley, LAFC was one of the best expansion stories in sport, let alone football, until things started going south in 2021. It’s now up to Steve Cherundolo to restore some of that energy, but a lot could depend on what happens to Carlos Vela in this summer’s transfer window.

9. (Draw) Galaxy (7): With four non-playoff seasons in the last five, it’s easy to forget that the Galaxy were once the MLS gold standard. They’re banking on a revitalized Chicharito and if they and their El Trafico rival are both relevant, it’s good for the rivalry, for the region and for the MLS.

11. Ducks (12): They’re young, they’re skilled, and in Trevor Zegras they’ve got a guy to watch out for because you don’t know what crazy game he’s going to play next. Despite a recent slide, the Ducks are overall on an uptrend and it will be interesting to see how new GM Pat Verbeek nears the close.

12. *Angel (8): The Angels have the best player in the game in Mike Trout and the most electrifying player in the game in Shohei Ohtani. But hasn’t it been really hard to be an Angel fan in recent years? Revelations from the recent trial of Tyler Skaggs’ death cast even more shadows on the team.

13. USC Men’s Basketball (15): There’s always a chance that the contract extension Andy Enfield signed in December may need further sweetening if other programs come after him. And maybe the USC community is finally starting to get it. The home attendance average this season was a sickly 3,860, but last Tuesday night’s sell-off against Arizona was a great atmosphere for a big game as it gets, at least until the Wildcats turned it into a loss.

14. Spark (11): They missed the playoffs a year ago and decided to do something about it in true LA fashion, with a series of moves highlighted by the signing of free-agent center Liz Cambage. You have a solid and devoted following – and those of you who say “no one cares” should speak up.


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