It’s an Angeleno thing: How LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC co-exist in Hollywood

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 26: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of LA Galaxy during the MLS match between LAFC and LA Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium on July 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 26: Zlatan Ibrahimovic of LA Galaxy during the MLS match between LAFC and LA Galaxy at Banc of California Stadium on July 26, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images) /

How is Los Angeles equally supporting two teams that share a league, a sport and a city? I delve into the story of soccer in Hollywood to find out.

There’s the Yankees, and then there’s the Mets. There’s the Rangers, and then there’s the Islanders. Even in our own league, there’s New York City FC, and then there’s the Red Bulls (don’t believe me? Check attendance and league valuations). Even in Los Angeles itself, there are two such examples of what I like to call playing second dribble; there’s the immortal Lakers and the scrappy Clippers, and the flashy Rams and transplanted Chargers.

However, two clubs have bucked the theory that there has to be a big brother and a little brother between teams that share a city, a sport and a league. Newcomers Los Angeles FC and incumbents LA Galaxy have shown, at least thus far, that they can not only co-exist, but together thrive.

Introducing an expansion team into an already occupied market in any sport is a game of catch-up. More often than not, the new team will have a shinier building than most, a more comprehensive marketing strategy and a plan to either compete immediately (i.e. Atlanta United) or promise to provide an exciting future (i.e. FC Cincinnati). The introduction of LAFC to the SoCal sports landscape was no exception.

While LA Galaxy toiled away in the same building for the better part of the 21st century, the Black and Gold slid on into their new digs in the shadow of the iconic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Immediately, the unquantifiable “coolness” pendulum swung towards LAFC. The sleek black, gold and white colour, a sponsorship from and the embracing of new stadium trends such as open-air beer gardens and safe standing for supporters did even more to ensnare the younger crowd. Before LAFC had even played a match, there were rumblings, either subconsciously or not, that when the time came to play some soccer, LAFC would usurp LA Galaxy as the top dogs in Hollywood. Then Zlatan arrived.

Seeing the momentum that LAFC had gathered before a ball was kicked or a boot was laced had to be troubling to those in camp Galaxy. They correctly realized that to keep their market share, they had to make a splash. Luckily, there is a formula for this, and the Galaxy have made use of it many times before.

If your club is expecting a big change, sign a big name. D.C. United employed this theory with great success before opening Audi Field, bringing Wayne Rooney over from Everton. NYCFC and Orlando City, two clubs that will forever be linked as expansion partners, did the same with David Villa and Kaka respectively. In a move that conjured back names like Landon Donovan, Robbie Keane and David Beckham, LA Galaxy brought in Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

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There is a slight difference in the Zlatan signing to that of Rooney to D.C. or Villa to New York. This move was defensive in nature. Whereas bringing in Rooney was to galvanize a fanbase in a new building and acquiring Villa was to attack the New York market, Ibrahimovic to LA was all about saving the five-time MLS Cup champions from becoming an afterthought. The Galaxy saw their grip on tinseltown slipping and they had to rectify it. It is still early, but for now, this move can be seen as what saved the Galaxy from becoming the equivalent of what Chivas USA was to the Galaxy for most of its failed existence.

For now, at least, LAFC and LA Galaxy find themselves in uncharted territory. No two major teams that share a city, a sport and a league have even come close to being as equal as these two clubs are. The Galaxy average 22,187 fans per home match. LAFC averages 22,159. The Galaxy are valued at $320 million by Forbes, good for second in the league (behind Atlanta United). LAFC are valued at $305 million, which is fourth behind Seattle. The clubs are even neck and neck in the  Western Conference, with LAFC sitting atop on 37 points, six points ahead of the second place Galaxy.

The point I’m trying to make here is that, somehow, some way, Los Angeles is equally supporting two teams in the same sport, a feat that no other city has been able to accomplish in North America. And while the NFL’s Chargers flounder in fandom failure in the very stadium that the Galaxy call home, the Galaxy keep putting along just fine, even with their undesired tenants souring the image of Dignity Health Sports Park. While LAFC’s moves have been expansionary and innovative, the Galaxy’s have been more reactionary and defensive.

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The two sides seem to have cancelled each other out for now, but will the Galaxy be able to hold the city’s attention after the Zlatan era concludes? Will LAFC be able to hold on to Carlos Vela after the MVP-calibre season he is having and exit the honeymoon phase on its feet? Time will tell. But for now, Los Angeles is a bicycle built for two.