Home-field advantage on the road? 49ers fans turning Rams' Los Angeles stadium into 'Levi's South'

·6 min read

Stan Kroenke, owner of the Los Angeles Rams, paid $5 billion to build SoFi Stadium and recently learned something about the investment.

It does not include home-field advantage.

When the Rams and the San Francisco 49ers play Sunday at SoFi Stadium in the NFC championship game, the 49ers faithful is expected to make themselves at home inside SoFi.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Vivid Seats, a major ticket exchange and resale company, has estimated 65% of fans in attendance at the game will be 49ers fans.

StubHub data shows it'll "certainly be close'' to 65% 49ers fans, said Jessica Finn, a spokesperson for the ticket exchange and resale company.

So with a spot in the Super Bowl at stake, here’s the question: Can 49ers fans help propel their team to victory and keep the Rams out of the Super Bowl, which will be played on Feb. 13 at SoFi Stadium, also known as “Levi’s South”?

“Levi’s South’’ is what many 49ers fans now call SoFi Stadium, in reference to the 49ers’ home, Levi’s Stadium.

Another favorite 49ers meme: “You can’t spell SoFi without SF.’’

The 49ers faithful earned the right to taunt in Week 18, when during the regular-season finale between 49ers and the Rams they appeared to comprise more than half the crowd at 70,000-seat SoFi Stadium. The fans were so loud, they forced the Rams’ offense to go to a silent count and provided a clear advantage as the 49ers rallied for a 27-24 overtime victory to clinch a playoff berth.

Rams head coach Sean McVay said the team was caught off guard by the number of 49ers fans in attendance. Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford acknowledged it was hard for the offense to operate with all the noise.

George Kittle celebrates after the 49ers' Week 18 win at SoFi Stadium.
George Kittle celebrates after the 49ers' Week 18 win at SoFi Stadium.

Attempts to prevent it from happening began Sunday after the Rams beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 30-27 and found themselves in a rematch with the 49ers, who beat the Green Bay Packers 13-10 in a divisional playoff game.

First move: The Rams instructed Ticketmaster to block the sale of ticket to people outside of the Los Angeles area.

That same day, Melissa Whitworth, wife of Rams offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth, issued a Twitter plea.

“If you @RamsNFL fans want to sell your tickets – I’ll buy them. Just DO NOT sell them to the other team PLEASE!”

Then Kelly Stafford, wife of Matthew Stafford, announced she was buying a “good amount’’ of tickets for Rams fans after previously pleading with them not to re-sell their tickets.

But the strategy was flawed, according to a 49ers executive, a ticket broker and fans.

The 49ers fans found ways to circumvent the Ticketmaster restrictions, according to Alex Chang, 49ers chief marketing officer.

While reading fan chatter online, he said he discovered some were using a third-party payment such as PayPal, which does not include billing information, or single-use credit cards, which also does not include billing information.

“Where there’s a will there’s a way, right?” said Chang, who also noted that 49ers fans in the Los Angeles area were not restricted from buying tickets.

On Monday, Ticketmaster’s allotment had sold out. Buyers turned their attention to the secondary market, and as Chang pointed out, “They can’t restrict who can buy a resold ticket. Anyone can buy those.’’

Thus, the wives of Stafford and Whitworth have pleaded with Rams ticket holders not to resell their tickets. The tickets would be especially lucrative when 49ers fans are clamoring to get to the NFC championship game.

But Tom Bateman, who led an organization called "Bring the Rams Back" before the Rams finally returned to Los Angeles in 2016, said Rams fans are being unjustly blamed.

“I think it’s a big misnomer when they say Ram fans are selling their tickets, because no self-respecting Rams fans would sell their tickets for such a big game.’’

Bateman said the issue took root before the stadium was completed with the sale of personal seat licenses (PSLs), purchased for the right to buy season tickets for a specific seat. The Rams were set to charge as much as $175,000 to $225,000 per seat, according to a Times report.

The Rams never announced any restrictions on who could buy the PSLs, meaning not just Rams fans but fans of any team could buy PSLs and season tickets to Rams games.

Allen Lewis Jr., president of the 49ers F8thfuls fan club in Los Angeles, said he has season tickets to the Rams games. He knows at least 100 people from his club and other non-Rams clubs that have season tickets to Rams.

“It’s just mainly for profit,’’ Lewis said, explaining that he and other people resell tickets for many of the games.

49ers fans at SoFi Stadium during the Week 18 game against the Rams.
49ers fans at SoFi Stadium during the Week 18 game against the Rams.

StubHub has found no evidence showing Rams fans “are offloading their tickets’’ for the NFC championship game, said Finn, a spokesperson for the company.

Since returning to Los Angeles, the Rams are 1-5 in home games against the 49ers.

“Torture,’’ Bateman said of being among thousands of 49ers fans at Rams games.

Of course the problem goes beyond recent history.

The Rams left Los Angeles for St. Louis in 1995 and did not return to Los Angeles until 2016. The Raiders also left Los Angeles in 1995, leaving this city without an NFL team for 21 years.

Although the Raiders maintained a loyal following in the Los Angeles area, the vacuum also was filled by the 49ers. After all, the club from San Francisco had won Super Bowl title in 1982, 1985, 1989, 1990 and 1995 thanks in part to the heroics of players such as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and Ronnie Lott.

“That naturally will drive a lot of fandom,’’ said Chang, the 49ers chief marketing officer.

In fact, Lewis, president of the 49ers F8thfuls, said he grew up in Los Angeles but rooted for the 49ers because he loved Montana, Rice and the team’s color scheme.

Though the 49ers fan base is strong, the team said it’s clear fans also are traveling from the Bay Area, about an eight-hour drive or one-hour flight to Los Angeles.

On Saturday in L.A., the 49ers will be holding an “invasion,’’ a pep rally hosted by the 49ers fan engagement team for fans attending a road game. Usually the invasions draw about 450 people, said Jacob Fill, who works in corporate communications for the 49ers.

But this Saturday, the team is expecting 1,000 people, according to Fill.

Then there’s Eileen Solis, another Southern California resident who became a 49ers fan after falling for Montana and Rice, and said she will help run a tailgate for 49ers fans that in the past has drawn more than 300 people at SoFi Stadium.

She said it’s easy to spot them with their big posters that read: “Levi’s South.’’

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NFC championship game: 49ers fans taking over LA Rams' stadium