ETFE ABOVE, WATER BELOW: SoFi Stadium’s ethylene tetrafluoroethylene cover extends beyond the bowl and is a signature piece of the design. (Courtesy SoFi Stadium)
LA’s NFL stadium saga finds a happy ending in a stunning new venue
What a difference seven months makes. Or 25 years, for that matter.
In January, when media tours first took place at SoFi Stadium, the $5 billion NFL venue was 85% complete. Seats were not installed. The ETFE roof panels started to take shape. The Oculus, a massive dual-sided Samsung videoboard that forms a field-length oval ring high above the playing field, had not been raised to where it could be seen from every seat in the house.
Fast forward to September, shortly before the first event, the Los Angeles Rams’ Sept. 13 home opener against the Dallas Cowboys. In the midst of a global pandemic, stadium officials led reporters on physically distanced tours of what now stands as one of the brightest stars in the NFL’s constellation of venues.
“I think it’s a great reminder that in the midst of so much heartbreak and despair and illness in 2020 that great things can still be done and come out of the ground and inspire people for the future,” said Rams Chief Operating Officer Kevin Demoff. “When I think about this building bringing the 2022 Super Bowl back to Los Angeles, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the L.A. Olympics in 2028, hopefully World Cups and College Football Playoffs and great concerts, all the great events that are going to come here, that gives me hope for the future. I know we all want this pandemic to go away, but we all have to do our part. This can be a beacon of hope for what awaits the world once we win this battle.”
Demoff, the son of Marvin Demoff, sports agent to NFL quarterbacks John Elway and Dan Marino, was a senior in high school in 1995 when the Rams departed Southern California for St. Louis and Raiders owner Al Davis returned to Oakland after spending 12 years playing in LA. Davis passed on moving the Raiders to a proposed stadium on the Hollywood Park parcel close to where SoFi Stadium sits today.
Like most people in L.A., Demoff figured it was a done deal.
“I remember thinking this saga is over and we’re going to have NFL football in Los Angeles for a long time to come,” he said. “That changed and you saw all the stops and starts. I remember Irwindale, the City of Industry and ‘The Hacienda’ in Carson and (the) downtown stadium and every other stadium project in between that failed. We’re going to kick off the first NFL stadium built in Los Angeles after decades of trying with some of the greatest minds and civic leaders Los Angeles has ever had working on this project. I am so grateful to (Rams Owner) Stan Kroenke for solving that riddle.”
Kroenke is privately financing the entire project, which extends to a mixed-use development adjacent to the stadium. The Los Angeles Chargers are a stadium tenant.
“It just seems right for the NFL, for us, for our fans who have been with us for generations, that it’s the Rams who returned and got this stadium built,” Demoff said. “It took amazing vision and fortitude and support of the other owners, the Inglewood community and legislatures to make this reality. I think we will all look back and say it was worth the wait.”
Lance Evans, principal and director of sports at HKS, the project architect, said from a design standpoint, two directives involved taking Kroenke’s vision and creating “a global destination for entertainment and doing so in a way that really embodied the spirit of Southern California.”
“Every decision that we made, from the way the architecture looks from the outside to the way light interacts with the building, were all about how to enhance those two things,” Evans said. “The idea that this building is open air and you’re connected with the environment. So much of why people come to LA is to be around this beautiful place in which we live.”
The ETFE panels, a clear plastic material, are now common in NFL stadium design. They let natural light in the building, and at SoFi Stadium, the roof cover provides a guarantee that regardless of the weather, most events can take place at the facility, he said.
A primary design challenge involved the air space above the project, which sits under a Los Angeles International Airport flight path. Over the past five years, hundreds of thousands of fliers looking out their windows have been able to observe construction of the 300-acre project spanning the stadium and mixed-use development.
The bird’s-eye view puts the vast project in the proper context, said Mark Williams, HKS principal and marketing director. Williams has taken many trips from Dallas-Fort Worth to LA and when he can, Williams upgrades to seat 6A in first class to get the ultimate view.
Evans said the seating bowl was designed so that every entry is connected to the Oculus.
“We’re 100 feet in the ground to meet the FAA height lines imposed on us,” he said. “This was different than the other NFL venues we have designed (in Minneapolis, Arlington, Texas and Indianapolis). The challenge was how to bring the masses into this building and make it feel like we’re not going into a dark tunnel.”
SoFi Stadium takes the premium seat experience to a higher level with multiple options tied to the 276 suites and 10,000 club seats. For HKS, the trend started at AT&T Stadium. In LA, there are premium products across every level of the eight-story building, including field-level suites along both sidelines and in the end zones. Most come with all-inclusive food and drink packages.
“We really elevated the diversity of the premium product, from top to bottom,” Williams said.
The teams have been tight-lipped about sales totals. Most of the high-end inventory is sold among the premium seats Legends Global Sales sells for both teams. Virtually every seat carries a seat license, with fees running as high as $100,000 for the Rams and $75,000 for the Chargers.
Two years ago, the Chargers reduced those fees to $100 covering about 26,000 seats for their home games. Ticket sales remain fluid and Chargers’ season-ticket holders are allowed to move their deposits to next year, said A.J. Spanos, the team’s president of business operations.
The Rams, meanwhile, asked their sales representatives to stop calling prospective customers after COVID hit, to be respectful of all the challenges they were going through, Demoff said.
“We were seeing unbelievable pacing and progress as we got into January and February of 2020,” he said. “Now that the world has changed, people aren’t rushing to go buy tickets. We’ve changed our messaging and are confident that we’re going to hit our original projections.”
The pandemic affected the final stages of construction, prompting changes to safety protocols on site as COVID-19 affected dozens of the 17,000 workers. The original plans called for a workforce increase from March through June.
“Certainly, we wound up decreasing the workflow,” Demoff said. “We were supposed to open with Taylor Swift at the end of July, then it was Kenny Chesney and then it was preseason games. The timetable kept moving back, so we wound up with extra time to complete the building to meet COVID timelines. By the time the pandemic struck, the building was essentially 97% done. It’s great credit to our partners, the workers and all of the residents who helped make this a reality.”
Demoff said the project, which includes a 6,000-seat performance space and a building to house the NFL’s media operations come summer of 2021, makes the stadium footprint adaptable to many of the requirements that have emerged in the COVID era.
“One of the great things having the largest stadium in the world at 3.2 million square feet is you have the space that everybody now covets in a COVID world, in a contactless world,” he said. “The open breezes help provide air flow. It’s a technologically advanced building, so ordering concessions from your phone and the huge plazas to enter the stadium, 25 acres of lakes and park to give people the chance to spread out — all of those things gave us an advantage as we went into the COVID world.”
No specific timeline is in place for getting fans into the stadium’s 70,240 seats.
“The timetable will be determined by the virus, but the most important thing we can do is to create a safe environment here so when fans come back, they feel safe in the building,” Demoff said.
Chris Hibbs, the stadium’s chief commercial officer and president of Legends Global Partnerships, said the Cisco Vision 4K signage network linking Samsung’s PrismView monitors through Cisco’s 6G WiFi network, optimizes sponsorship activation across the entire development.
“It’s really important for a fundamental reason,” Hibbs said. “Although we plan on using the building every day for events and meetings, like a convention center, the reality is, you only put 70,000 people in here for a big event. You put people outside shopping, dining, living, working every day. Because of the ‘city’ we’ve built, that was a big fundamental difference we could offer.”
The networked nature of the signage provides flexibility, Hibbs said.
“That’s the cool part,” he said. “It’s sophisticated. It can be tied into everything you see inside SoFi Stadium. You can target certain people with ads on a Tuesday afternoon when people are out shopping and dining, or syncing those messages during a concert or a game.”
Jason Gannon, managing director of SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, said the stadium will employ 6,000 people on game days after fans are allowed in the facility.
“It’s not just necessarily whenever an event is taking place,” Gannon said. “It’s set up. It’s take down. It’s other times during the week that we are required to have people in here working.”
The project’s impact on the community should grow as the performance venue and 25 acres of parkland opens to the public in the coming months. SoFi Stadium has seen $750 million in contracts awarded to local, minority and disadvantaged businesses and it will continue to play a major role in boosting the local economy, Gannon said.
The NFL’s media operations on site adds to the project’s high-profile presence, he said.
As the stadium opens, the focus now shifts to operations, along with developing the mixed-use piece. The initial phase revolves around building 300 residential units and 300,000 square feet of retail space, which is targeted to open for the 2022 Super Bowl next door, Gannon said.
“It almost feels like we’re just getting started,” he said. “You’re transitioning out of one phase and into another phase, making sure that we have an incredible staff to create and deliver on the expectation here in terms of fan experience and what it is we offer the community. It’s an awful lot of work to share this with the world.”