LA Rams Home Day at Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena.

Substantial changes to gameday operations at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for L.A. Rams National Football League games have had a major impact. Joe Furin, coliseum general manager, described improvements, like finding storage for restocking in or near the aged concession stands and adding medical personnel, as solving the pain point that reared its ugly head on social media when fans complained loudly after the first home game.

On that first Sunday, Sept. 18, water was scarce. Fans desperate to get out of the heat blocked the corridors making it nearly impossible for concession stands to be restocked. There were long wait lines at the concessions stands that did not have product to sell. In general, the antiquated 93-year-old stadium was hardly ready for the 91,000 fans that jammed into it on that steamy Sunday when temperatures reached 90 degrees. About 160 people were treated for heat-related issues and 14 had to be hospitalized.

This was not the way Coliseum managers hoped to kick off the celebrated return of the Rams to Los Angeles after 22 years in St. Louis. LA Coliseum operators knew they needed a reset.

“Because it was so hot, the fans drank a lot of water earlier in the game than normal,” said Furin. “We normally restock after halftime, but we started getting calls before the end of the first quarter. On top of which, because of the extreme heat, fans were getting out of their seats to find some shade. They fled to the concourse level just to beat the heat. So we were trying to move the product from the storage areas on that level, but trying to move it through a crowd that was not moving. It compounded itself, and once you get behind that eight-ball, it’s very difficult to recover.”

“We completely understand the frustration of a customer who waits in a long line only to be told we were out of water and it would be coming in 10 minutes,” he said. “No one is going to wait around and we can appreciate the bloodbath we took on social media because of it.”

The concession stands were built a long time ago — some in the 1940’s, some in the 1950’s, some in the 1960’s — and they have little storage built in. A vast majority of the concession products are held in a single storage facility in the west end of the stadium. Wreaking even more havoc was the low number of workers who walk through the stadium hawking products.

“We figured out how to maneuver the goods through the crowd by the fourth quarter, but by then it was already too late,” said Furin. “The customer service experience was not anything we were happy with. So our analysis after the game was to tackle those main three things that were working against us — capacity, heat, and movement.”

“We were really pleased with the changes,” said Furin. “Everything went much smoother, we didn’t run out of anything and the fans seemed to appreciate the changes. We strive to deliver a great customer service experience, and we’re glad we had the opportunity to address the issues and make the changes.”

Los Angeles Rams enter the field at Los Angeles Coliseum and Sports Arena

“Part of the problem was the capacity crowd,” said Furin. “It was a hot day and temperatures were in the 90’s. Our concession stands are ancient. As we ran low on product in the concession stands, namely water; we had to restock. This isn’t unusual; we usually have to restock every single stand at every game because the facility is old and inadequate. All these issues alone we could have handled. It was the combination of all three during the home opener that side-lined us.”

Furin and his team came up with a plan. This wasn’t going to be happening again on their watch. “We wanted new procedures in place for the next game against the Buffalo Bills Oct. 9,” explained Furin. “We were expecting a capacity crowd; temperatures were expected to be high and we weren’t going to allow the same mistakes to be repeated.”

First on Furin’s agenda was making sure he had the ability to restock the concession stations. “We cleaned out all the concession stands and if there was equipment or something old that was not used, we got rid of it so we could create more storage inside the stand,” he said. “Distance and proximity to the stands had to be cut down so we put up satellite locations behind buildings and around corners where we could stock pallets and pallets of additional product, so it was much closer to the stands than previously.” 

Step two was to increase the number of points of sale. “We doubled the number of hawkers we had, going from 125 to over 300,” said Furin. “Unfortunately in California we can’t hawk alcoholic beverages or we would have had even more. All the hawkers had water and another product like a hot dog. We hoped this would alleviate congestion at the stands by bringing the points of sale closer to the consumer.”

Next, the Coliseum added misting fans throughout the venue so fans could quickly cool down and then go back to their seat and not stand around clogging the hallways.

The fourth change, and according to Furin, the most important, was making sure they had enough medical personnel. “We added medical staff just in case of a repeat of game one.”

All the changes clearly worked. Medical emergencies plummeted on that second home game day, dropping from 160 down to 12. “We were down to about a dozen people needing medical services and that included calls from outside the stadium,” said Furin. “Considering the huge numbers of people we hosted that day, this was a clear indication our changes were effective and a major step in the right direction.”

“There were a number of challenges in that first game that we set out to rectify,” said Nicole Jeter West, chief marketing officer, Legends, the concessionaire at Los Angeles Coliseum. “It’s quite challenging being in the Coliseum. We want to give 21st century service to our fans, who are used to that kind of care, knowing we are working in a facility that is a little bit outdated. We’ve been working closely with the Coliseum and the Rams to make sure we address the problems and deliver the type of service Legends is known for.”

“We were very proactive about rectifying the issues,” said Jeter West. “It was just a matter of making sure that everything was able to be replaced in a timely manner. It really was the extreme heat issues that needed to be addressed. We’re in a great position to move forward for Rams fans and the Coliseum.”

Interviewed for this story: Joe Furin, (213) 765-6342; Nicole Jeter West, (212) 482-3714