LOS ANGELES — The future of the NFL is, at present, nothing more than a vast expanse of dirt, a large parking lot and a few construction vehicles barely visible to passersby driving around the old Southern California neighborhood of Inglewood.
For many, the eyesore most see when flying into Los Angeles International Airport has been nothing but a symbol of decay. But now, like a phoenix arising from the ashes of the dead (or in this case, a dilapidated old horse track), the plot of land owned by billionaire developer Stan Kroenke has been transformed into a symbol that the NFL is finally back in Los Angeles.
After over two decades away, professional football has returned to the nation's second-largest media market. The Rams are set to begin the 2016 season in Los Angeles and are already accepting deposits for season tickets. A decision on if the San Diego Chargers are going to make the move up I-5 and join them awaits.
Regardless, the NFL is back in L.A. to stay.
The focus right now is rightfully on that fact. We'll see just how much the absence of the NFL makes Angelenos' hearts grow fonder for the most popular sport in the country soon enough. What has flown under the radar, however, is what kind of impact the NFL's return to Los Angeles will have on the city's other football teams: the Southern California Trojans and UCLA Bruins.
USC athletic director and former Rams quarterback Pat Haden discussed the issue at a Jan. 13 press conference:
I'd like to think UCLA football and USC football have filled the gap pretty well. ... There's room in this market of Los Angeles. We have a couple of professional basketball teams, some good college basketball teams as well. It's a very, very large market with a real appetite for athletic events. It's going to be real nice to call them the Los Angeles Rams again. We are particularly pleased to say they're coached by an ex-Trojan.
The Trojans' fortunes are directly tied with the NFL more so than the Bruins' for a multitude of reasons, starting with the fact the USC-managed L.A. Memorial Coliseum will serve as the cardinal and gold's home on Saturdays before being transformed into the blue and gold's home on Sundays this fall.
The opportunity to play landlord for the Rams will provide yet another revenue stream for the Trojans to help update the Coliseum into a more modern venue. The school has already announced some $270 million worth of upgrades to the historic landmark for work that would be completed by the 2019 season, perhaps not coincidentally the same year when the shiny new stadium in Inglewood will open for the city's pro football team(s).
While having one or two NFL teams in the backyard on Sundays may be a hassle for those who live around downtown, it will provide the side benefit of bringing pro football fans (and their disposable incomes) near the USC campus and provide the Trojans a wealth of cross-branding opportunities to capitalize on the fervor of the Rams' return to the city.
For all the positives—read, money—though, there will be little doubt that if the Rams start to win and can be consistently in the NFL playoffs, USC figures to suffer from a decline in interest. Back when Pete Carroll was winning titles and getting to BCS bowls, the Trojans felt and acted like the city's professional football team. Now, they'll have to share the stage with others, even if Pac-12 titles and College Football Playoff appearances are in store for Clay Helton's squad at some point in the near future.
Then there's UCLA, which even in good times typically has to play second fiddle to its crosstown rival when it comes to coverage and attention. Add in the fact they play in a stadium far from campus and much too large for what they need, and it's quite possible that if any team will suffer from the NFL's return, it's the Bruins.
Keep in mind that the Rose Bowl (and, by extension, UCLA) has far more premium seats and luxury boxes to push on corporate sponsors and wealthy donors than USC does at the Coliseum. If a company that holds rights to an expensive box in Pasadena wants to shift to the new Inglewood stadium in a few years, that could result in some lost revenue. UCLA fans are still a fervent bunch, though, so the school and the powder blues will be just fine long term; it simply may take a few years to adjust to a new reality beyond kickoff on Saturday.
Of course, no matter what, the old adage that winning cures all certainly applies to all of the teams that will call Los Angeles home. It's a city full of millions of sports fans but one where folks will generally only turn out in droves for a winner. Whether that's at the college or pro level, it's pretty simple to say if you win it, they will come. Corporate dollars and media attention will likewise shift depending on which way the wind is blowing.
If the Rams and/or the Chargers aren't cutting it on Sundays, USC and UCLA on Saturday will get the attention they deserve and vice versa. In this market, that's as true a fact as any.
Life will still go on for both college football teams no matter what happens. The same atmosphere and pageantry that are present at the tailgates on the Rose Bowl golf course and by the Tommy Trojan statue for UCLA and USC home games will continue, as lifelong fans and alumni gather to celebrate their teams.
But things will certainly shift in Los Angeles with a new, yet familiar, face in town. The NFL certainly looks like it's here to stay judging by that slowly transforming lot in the ground in Inglewood, and the college football teams who have called the city home will simply have to adjust.
Bryan Fischer is a national college football columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @BryanDFischer.