The Big Game For Infinity: SoFi Stadium’s Infinity Screen, featuring what Samsung describes as the most LEDs ever used in a sports or entertainment venue with nearly 80 million pixels, featuring the Super Bowl LVI’s graphics. (Jeff Lewis).
SoFi Stadium Managing Director Jason Gannon and his team have maneuvered through the pandemic in impressive fashion. When, if ever, has a new building landed not one, but two NFL teams, a Super Bowl, the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics (in 2028), the BCS National Championship (in 2023), and, potentially, the FIFA World Cup (in 2026)? Add in concerts by The Rolling Stones, BTS, Kaskade and Los Bukis, as well as the millionth fan walking through SoFi’s gates in November, with less than half a year of fan attendance under its belt, and you have a high bar that may never be surpassed.
Gannon credits Stan Kroenke, owner of Kroenke Sports & Entertainment and the developer of SoFi Stadium, as is deserved; but Gannon knows far too much not to have had a hand in it. Here, he discusses the impact the roughly $5 billion privately financed stadium has had on L.A., the preparations for Super Bowl LVI, the NFL stadium manager brain trust on its way to Inglewood, the future development of Hollywood Park and what, if anything, can be done about Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford’s interceptions.
VenuesNow: How much is your hair on fire right now?
Jason Gannon: I don’t know if it’s on fire. We’re certainly excited. This is what it’s all been about, right? Building a venue and being a part of building a venue like SoFi Stadium and to bring these types of events back to Southern California. It’s been almost 30 years since the Super Bowl was in Los Angeles. And here we are, only weeks away.
It’s unreal what you, SoFi and the Kroenke team accomplished in a short time and in the middle of a pandemic.
This is all Stan Kroenke. He’s the one that took the risk. He obviously assembled the land and put the project together, designed the project, and then went out and developed it. I mean, it’s incredible, obviously, Stan Kroenke’s leadership, but also the 17,000 workers we had who set foot on the site over the last four or five years to make this a reality.
We didn’t even mention the concerts, The Rolling Stones, BTS and selling your millionth ticket in November. Has it surpassed your wildest expectations of what a venue can do for a city and an entire region?
You look at Los Angeles and this marketplace, and really regionally, and this venue was built for these types of events. One of the things that’s interesting is we’ve gone through six or seven months of having people in the building and hosting a variety of events, whether it’s Los Bukis, Kaskade, the Vax Live concert, the Rams and Chargers, Rolling Stones or BTS, the diversity of the genres and, really, the outreach in the marketplace, it’s been significant. And it’s right here in Los Angeles, and unique to Los Angeles. You can do things here that are really special. It was really important for Stan Kroenke, his leadership and vision and demand for us all to build something special and something worthy of a city like Los Angeles.
Here’s a crazy story: SoFi Stadium’s first game with fans in the building was the Bears on Sept. 12, only four months ago, and you’re less than a month from hosting the biggest game on the planet. How steep a learning curve is it to go from four months with fans at NFL games to the Super Bowl on Feb. 13? There was also Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl, which I’m sure was a good use test; what have you learned along the way?
Whether it’s SoFi Stadium, YouTube Theater or a venue somewhere else, you design these buildings and they don’t always operate the way you intended with the design. Certain areas may operate a little bit differently. And that’s really important for us, obviously, to have fans in the building this year and really get a good grasp on how the building actually lives and breathes with fans inside. So that was important for us, not only in terms of the football games but also the concerts, the acoustics, how people spend their time. As we think about that it impacts our operations plan leading into the Super Bowl. Obviously having over a million fans come into SoFi Stadium in such a short period of time is certainly helping us to make sure the Super Bowl experience is unlike anything else.
How did the Jimmy Kimmel LA Bowl go? Were there any hiccups, challenges, or new opportunities discovered?
It far exceeded our expectations and went very well. Los Angeles is such a great college football town, with a lot of really strong fan bases of a lot of different schools and also just fans of college football. To be able to bring the Jimmy Kimmel L.A Bowl in partnership with Stifel to SoFi Stadium was really special for us. It was our first college football game and annual event at SoFi Stadium, partnering with Mountain West and the Pac-12. It’s going to be a reoccurring event and getting college football fans acquainted with SoFi Stadium was really important for us and obviously leading into the College Football National Championship game in a little under 12 months.
Can you speak on the indoor-outdoor nature of the stadium?
The roof canopy, indoor-outdoor nature of the building is unique in terms of what we’ve done here in Los Angeles. It was an opportunity for us, given the environment and climate here in Southern California, to embrace that and incorporate it into the design. Inglewood being in a really great microclimate close to the ocean, getting a lot of those ocean breezes throughout the year and bringing those in throughout the building, is something that’s really special about the location of SoFi Stadium.
For the Stones, the roof wasn’t open, but it felt like it was.
That’s right. Obviously, Southern California really embraces the sun. The ETFE material we used for the roof canopy allows some UV absorption but also allows the sunlight and the blue sky to be apparent whenever you’re sitting underneath. And so that was really important for us in terms of placemaking.
When the NFL puts on a Super Bowl, they bring in stadium managers who come from all over the country to form a sort of a command center. Is that the case here?
Yes, that will be the case. We’re also fortunate enough that we have a number of individuals on our staff who already participated in previous Super Bowls and other sorts of events. So just as we’ll have others come to us this year, the stadium’s team collectively has worked on every major sporting event and championship game in the country. The experience ranges from previous Super Bowl games, NHL, MLB, NBA Finals and All-Star games to world-renowned events such as FIFA World Cup and the Olympics.
Traffic and parking are a nightmare in LA. Do you feel like it’s getting better or is it just always a fluid process?
As I said earlier, whenever you open these venues, you learn a lot. Obviously having different parking and transportation experiences, whether it’s a football game or a concert, and having fans coming back week after week helps out in terms of knowing where to go and how best to get there. That is always improving. From our perspective, understanding the traffic patterns throughout Los Angeles and getting the experience and understanding and actually taking the information is informing us to continually improve the experience.
I keep hearing about California state laws around COVID and not being able to operate at full capacity and having to move the Super Bowl to AT&T Stadium in Texas as a contingency plan – I think it’s been debunked. Is that an issue or are we good?
We continue to move forward to put the Super Bowl on as planned and as expected and on schedule. Any contingency plans that may be made are normal and ordinary in terms of events like this. We’re moving forward expecting a full house coming on Feb. 13.
There have been challenges this year beyond COVID with workforce shortages and supply chain issues. Is any of that impacting you? Are you fully staffed for the Super Bowl?
It’s not unique to our industry. Everybody has felt the pressures, whether it be the supply chain or the workforce. It’s important for us to continue to refine that, communicate, have job fairs, and get out in front of those sorts of things and we continue to do that. Going into the Super Bowl, that’ll be a unique set of circumstances in terms of hiring and being fully staffed.
Your first event was Vax Live, which was important for a number of reasons: Venues are not just for sports and entertainment, but sometimes there’s a real public service, as venues can be a town square for health, voting, food drives and more. The event raised $300 million with Jennifer Lopez, Foo Fighters, Selena Gomez, Eddie Vedder and J. Balvin. Is that part of your mandate to serve the L.A. community?
Whenever you look at Hollywood Park, you look at its central location within the L.A. Basin. It was formerly Hollywood Park Race Track and was a place where communities, specifically in Inglewood, came on a daily or weekly basis to gather and use the site and the infield race track for community events. It was really important as we thought about Hollywood Park going forward that we embraced that opportunity to gather those types of community spaces and have the overall positive public impact it could have, and ultimately has had and will continue to have, not only in the Inglewood community in Los Angeles but also the greater region here in Southern California. It is really important. So as we thought about the vast live opportunity in partnership with Global Citizen, it was important for us to be a part of that, host it at SoFi Stadium to help partner and raise awareness for the cause.
So, you still have a lot of property there to develop. How is that going? What’s down the road?
It’s really exciting. The NFL has moved their offices and studio space to Hollywood Park. So we have the first phase of that open. We’ll continue to announce tenants in the NFL offices over the next few months and are working on retail spaces that will be opening later this year in 2022, as well as over 300 for-rent residential units at Hollywood Park, all within our phase one of the project. Then, we’ll continue to design and build other phases in the coming years as well.
So no end date? Is it just continuously developing?
We will continue to develop. I think there’s an incredible demand in Los Angeles for Hollywood Park in terms of it being so special in terms of the amenities and the uses that exist at Hollywood Park and then its location within L.A. Basin, its central location proximity to the airport, west side, downtown. It’s really an attractive place to live, to work and to spend free time.
What’s the economic impact of Hollywood Park?
During the construction we generated $58 million in local resident wages and contracted for $555 million in certified construction contracts, which included over 80 minority and disadvantaged businesses and our staff completed 1,200 hours of volunteering. During the construction period we had over 17,000 workers. And then on game day we have over 6,000 workers at SoFi Stadium with a preference for local hire and an opportunity to have a positive impact on the community.
The NFL Honors is coming to YouTube Theater. What’s that going to be like and how does ticketing work?
Yes, that’ll be at YouTube Theater on Feb. 10. It’s a primetime awards special that recognizes the NFL’s best players, performances and plays from the 2021 season. There will be a variety of ticketing opportunities generally controlled by the NFL.
The Rams have galvanized the town and my kids cry every time they lose. To be 12-5, and win their division and in the playoffs, as well the Lakers and Dodgers winning the 2020 NBA Finals and World Series, L.A.’s become Sports City USA, and it’s a rare thing just to get one team in championship contention. The timing with the Super Bowl almost seems like it’s from above. What’s going on?
Los Angeles is a great sports city. There’s no question. Twelve professional sports teams, great venues here and obviously, having the NFL brand and two really exciting football teams. You’ve got the Rams (who started) their playoff push at SoFi (on Jan. 17 with a Wild Card round victory over the Cardinals), but also the Chargers have a really young and exciting team, a quarterback that’s exciting. So to be able to have all that at SoFi Stadium every weekend is so exciting for us. And very fortunate not only as a venue but also as a city to have two exciting football teams.
Can you do anything about Stafford’s interceptions?
That’s outside of my lane.
What’s been your favorite event to date at SoFi and where will you be watching the Super Bowl?
My favorite event so far was the Vax Live special because of the underlying cause that it supported and the awareness. But, seeing spectators in SoFi Stadium for the first time for entertainment was incredibly meaningful for all of us at SoFi Stadium. For the Super Bowl, I hope I’m going to be somewhere within vision of the field of play, but obviously, it’s going to be a pretty busy day for us. So, I hope wherever I am, I’ll at least have a line of sight to the field of play.