Banc of California Stadium has become a major concert venue in Los Angeles. (Courtesy LAFC)

Team upbeat on prospect of new partner before 2021 season

The active naming rights market in Major League Soccer extends to LAFC, which is in search of a new brand to put its name on Banc of California Stadium, considered to be the gold standard for design among newer MLS venues.

In May, the financial institution announced it would opt out of its naming rights agreement at the end of 2020.

Legends, which brokered the original deal, has been working on behalf of LAFC to sign a new partner.

“We’re currently working with them,” said Larry Freedman, LAFC’s co-president and chief business officer. “As far as what the term is, when it ends, whether we would continue with them, go it alone, or with somebody else, that’s not something we’re open to talking about.”

Legends officials did not return an email for comment.

Despite playing nine home games at the end of the 2020 season in an empty building due to the pandemic, LAFC officials remain optimistic they will find a new naming rights partner prior to the 2021 campaign.

Over the past few months, the 22,000-seat stadium has received valuable media exposure. 

It served as a regional voting center in California and booked community-focused events such as a Red Cross blood drive and distribution of food to needy families, including Thanksgiving turkeys.

All those activities have brought attention to the venue, which puts the facility on the radar for potential sponsors, Freedman said.

“We were on the NBC Nightly News (on Dec. 7) as part of a feature story with our technology partners at Clear about the use of their HealthPass app as one solution to get fans back into stadiums after vaccines are rolled out broadly in 2021,” he said.

“All of that is pretty positive which leads brands to be interested in the building,” Freedman said. “We don’t have anything locked up yet, but we are hopeful that before we kick a ball to start the next MLS season, whenever that starts, we’ll be talking about a new naming rights partner.”

The market is busy at the highest level of U.S. soccer. Apart from LAFC, eight MLS teams, including expansion clubs and the San Jose Earthquakes, are searching for naming rights for new buildings and current stadiums.

The pandemic has added another dimension to those marketing efforts and made it difficult in some cases to gain traction as teams, consultants and brands keep the lines of communication flowing over the past nine months.

And that’s why venues converting to voting centers and hosting food drives to boost the community are important to teams as they keep their venues relevant during the extended shutdown of sports and entertainment.

“We’ve all found ways to adapt and stay relevant and stay engaged with our fan base,” Freedman said. “Even though there weren’t fans in the stands, we were still playing games at Banc of California Stadium this year and a good number of those were on national television. There was a lot of exposure leading up to the election.”

In Los Angeles, the 2-year-old stadium has become a major concert venue, which adds to the value for naming rights.

Several shows on tap for 2020 have been rescheduled for 2021 such as Santana with Earth, Wind & Fire, Maroon 5, Guns ‘N Roses  and System of a Down, a local band from Glendale, Calif. with two sold-out dates.

GNR was initially booked at SoFi Stadium but that show has shifted to Banc of California Stadium for Aug. 19, 2021.

“This year was going to be the first installment of a long-term relationship with Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Music for Virgin Fest,” Freedman said. “If vaccines and the government will allow us, we’ll start that next year.” 

Lizzo was scheduled to headline Virgin Fest in early June. A new date for 2021 has not been confirmed.

The logistics of stadium concerts could shift dramatically considering post-COVID and whether social distancing will be enforced for mass gatherings revolving around crowds of thousands of people. 

Regardless, LAFC plans to be a significant player in the concert space and being an outdoor venue is a major asset at this point, according to Freedman.

“Outdoor venues will come back online with crowds sooner than indoor venues,” Freedman said. “The music business has changed a lot over the last few decades. Bands can’t sell albums anymore really and make their money touring. Other than top-tier acts that can afford not to get out on the road to play, other bands need to work.”

He said, “We’re all going to see adjusted expectations. Maybe we’re making less money from hosting and promoters are making less money from promoting and bands are making less for performing because crowds are smaller. When we can get back with any kind of a crowd, you’ll see live music coming back here.”