Opinion: Rams have become experts at disaster response, are drawing on experience to face coronavirus crisis
This was supposed to be such a pivotal spring for the marketing of the Los Angeles Rams, ramping up to the opening of their $5 billion showplace, SoFi Stadium. It was all so meticulously planned. The usual draft events for fans and community service projects were to be accented by grand, public celebrations to unveil new logos and uniforms that mark a new era, coinciding with the obvious efforts to sell tickets along with Super Bowl hopes.
Yet as it has impacted all specters of society, the coronavirus pandemic changed those big plans. While construction continues on the stadium at a nearly 300-acre site in Inglewood — exempt from the “Stay Safe at Home” order in California that has shut down non-essential businesses — the Rams’ ability to adapt as an organization has again been put to a stress test.
Never mind (for now) the new logos that generated a torrent of heat on social media from Rams backers (including a prominent former running back, Eric Dickerson). Off the field, the Rams’ identity since moving back to L.A. from St. Louis in 2016 has been stamped by crisis response.
“You try to lay out the best plans,” Rams COO Kevin Demoff told USA TODAY Sports, “but right now the two best traits in the organization are the ability to be flexible and adaptable.”
Demoff was hardly beating his own chest. He was adding context to the franchise’s approach in dealing with crisis. On Tuesday — the day after unveiling new logos on the team’s website — the Rams collaborated with media partner KABC-TV for a telethon that raised more than $2 million to support local food bank efforts.
It was quick-thinking action to generate a positive outcome while staff members primarily worked from their homes to put together the digital events.
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“The spring of 2020 is going to be vastly different than we all thought it would be three months ago, three weeks ago, three days ago,” Demoff said earlier this week. “As we all learn to deal with this pandemic and keep each other safe, everything changes every 48 to 72 hours. I think you think in small increments. As an organization, you keep your long-term goals in mind…but in the short term, our thoughts and focus, everything, pivots to people most in need.”
Surely, after team owner Stan Kroenke moved the franchise under a cloud of disgust from St. Louis residents, the Rams have desired to reconnect with the Los Angeles community that the franchise abandoned 20 years earlier. Yet they could have hardly imagined the scenarios that have unfolded to put such commitment to a test.
In 2018, the Rams staged the first Monday night game in Los Angeles in 30 years on four days’ notice after the NFL pulled their game against the Chiefs out of Mexico City due to dangerous field conditions. At the same time, some players and others in the organization had been evacuated due to wildfires. The team’s training headquarters and business offices were in the evacuation zone, forcing staffers to work remotely. During the same month, a mass shooting occurred at a bar not far from the team’s training facility in Thousand Oaks.
The pandemic obviously affects significantly more people, and Demoff said the Rams have drawn on the previous crises in devising how they can respond.
Of course, the Rams, like other NFL teams, are knee-deep into contingency planning for the upcoming season. While the NFL will conduct its draft in late April with a revised format that could even involve teams making selections from locations other than team headquarters, the rest of the offseason calendar is up in the air.
Team headquarters are shut down. Offseason workout programs, held in April and May, are tabled until further notice. It’s questionable whether mini-camps will take place in June. And it’s way too early to predict whether the pandemic will disrupt NFL training camps that open in late July and attract thousands of fans.
The timeline for the stadium opening, however, remains intact. With construction deemed 85% complete in late January, it is on track to open on July 25 with a Taylor Swift concert, which conceivably would be followed a few weeks later with the Rams and Los Angeles Chargers hosting preseason games. That opening seemingly would depend more on whether large crowds are gathering again in public by late July.
Alluding to the Swift concert, Demoff said, “We’re hopeful that will remain the goal and then be open for the NFL season, which hopefully comes on time, the preseason and all of that. The hardest thing to do in this period of time and probably the one thing you’ll regret is to speak to anything with certainly.”
That’s a sign of the times. Demoff knows. The opening of a stadium and the NFL’s season — as popular as they are for entertainment — are post-pandemic matters.
“Lots of people in the world are dealing with their own disappointment, their own problems,” Demoff said. “Whenever the first game is played at SoFi Stadium, which we certainly hope will be as soon as possible, it’ll be a great celebration…
“The health and priority of the nation for everybody to stay safe comes first. And if that changes timetables, then we’ll adjust, as everybody has had to adjust to the disappointment that has come through some of the cancellations and closures. Lots of life moments have changed.”
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