USC shows the NFL L.A. is a football town

LOS ANGELES -- One week after USC announced its home football games against Oregon and Notre Dame in November were sold out, the school announced Thursday that the season opener against unranked Hawaii on Sept. 1 at the 93,607-seat Coliseum was sold out as well.

A limited number of tickets remain for USC’s other home games against California, Colorado and Arizona State but those games, according to a school official, are expected to sell out at some point next month.

Normally news of ticket sales and sellouts in college football don’t register much of a blip with NFL executives but these numbers should.

With a final vote on the approval of Farmers Field’s environmental impact report coming next month and a site for a competing stadium in the City of Industry already shovel ready, the NFL is beginning to look more closely at Los Angeles as an NFL city.

If there were any lingering notions that Los Angeles wasn’t a football town or that there was too much to do in the fall to waste a day at the stadium or that this city couldn’t support an NFL team, well, those sellouts at the Coliseum this season should put those concerns to rest.

I know what you’re thinking. You can’t compare USC football to the NFL. USC football has tradition and history and a loyal fan base in Los Angeles that has always been there to support them through thick and thin.

It was impossible to write above sentence with a straight face. Anyone who lives in Los Angeles knows nothing could be further than the truth. Pete Caroll coached his first game at USC in front of a crowd of about 45,000. There were plenty of empty seats during Lane Kiffin’s first season as the head coach. USC finally attracted sellout crowds of 93,607 to the Coliseum at the end of last season when they were moving up the polls and playing Stanford and UCLA. They hadn’t hit that mark at the Coliseum since Sept. 13, 2008 when No. 1 USC played No. 5 Ohio State.

Now, USC is going to hit that mark for a season-opening game against Hawaii, a team that went 6-7 last season and is expected to finish last or second to last in the Mountain West Conference this season.

What does that mean? It means Los Angeles is hungry for football, but not just any kind of football, good football with big names. As long as USC is a top-ranked team, they don’t necessarily need to face top-ranked opponents to sell out games.

Look at the Los Angeles Clippers. After years of playing to a half-empty arena and marketing the opposition to sell tickets, they sold out every game last season for the first time in team history when they paired Chris Paul with Blake Griffin and introduced us to “Lob City.”

USC isn’t marketing their heritage and selling out games based on what they did in the past. They’ve plastered the faces of Matt Barkley, T.J. McDonald, Robert Woods, Marqise Lee and Kiffin around town and have allowed those images to speak for themselves. USC will sell out the 93,607-seat Coliseum six (and potentially seven times if they host the Pac-12 championship game) this season based on the merits of this year’s team and the excitement that this year’s roster is generating.

The threshold for selling out games won’t be as high for whatever NFL team moves to Los Angeles compared to USC games as the proposed stadiums in either in downtown or Industry will be configured to seat less than 79,000 (only two stadiums in the league seat more than that number). Plus, whatever team moves to Los Angeles won’t just be catering to USC fans, it will cater to the entire city.

Also, the NFL is far more popular than it ever was the last time it was in Los Angeles nearly 20 years ago. You know, before little things like fantasy football, satellite television and the internet changed how we consume the sport daily.

For years the NFL has stated it wants to come back to Los Angeles but only if the conditions are perfect for the league to succeed.

USC’s sellout streak at the Coliseum this season will be a simple, indirect message to the NFL and their conditions. This isn’t a hard city to figure out. If you put a good product on the field and recognizable faces on the marquee they will show up in droves. If you don’t, well, I guess there’s always Jacksonville.