It’s exactly 30 days until Super Bowl LVI and I’m on the mezzanine at SoFi Stadium, sitting in front of six of the executives who are responsible for making sure America’s most popular live sporting event goes off without a hitch.
Katie Keenan, senior director of event operations at the NFL, is espousing the benefits of hosting the contest in Los Angeles and at this “amazing facility” in particular.
In the past few months, the $5 billion stadium — which opened its doors to NFL fans for the first time in September 2021 — has been the site of everything from The Rolling Stones concerts to youth football championships, and, of course, Los Angeles Rams and Chargers games.
It’s all part of a larger 300-acre development, surrounded by towering palm trees, called Hollywood Park, much of which is still under construction, but, when completed, will host about 2,500 residences, a retail district, a hotel, and public parks, among other attractions. Prior to the development, the area was the site of a thoroughbred racetrack for 75 years.
“Stan Kroenke’s vision was to build a facility like this, the largest facility in the NFL. It was built for events like the Super Bowl,” Jason Gannon, managing director at SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, tells us during the 30 Days Out press conference. “It hasn’t been [in the Los Angeles area] in nearly 30 years, so we couldn’t be more excited.”
Kroenke privately financed the stadium, which broke ground in 2016. The billionaire real estate and sports mogul owns the Rams, the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, the Premier League’s Arsenal F.C., MLS’ Colorado Rapids, and several other teams across smaller leagues and esports.
His decision to move the Rams from St. Louis and build the stadium has not been without controversy. Last November, Kroenke and the NFL settled a lawsuit filed by the city and county of St. Louis, as well as its sports authority, for $790 million after a years-long court battle. The suit alleged that the defendants cost Missouri’s most populous region millions of dollars in ticket and tax revenue by relocating the team.
There’s also an argument that the development is displacing low-income residents and independent businesses, though Inglewood mayor James T. Butts has spoken in favor of the project, calling it a blessing for the city that’s raised the value of surrounding homes by as much as 300%.
The NFL’s ‘Crown Jewel’
Both Adam Burke and Kathryn Schloessman, each president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board and the Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission, respectively, constantly refer to the importance of using the Super Bowl as a community-building opportunity as I watch them speak at SoFi, the stadium’s 70,000-square-foot, 80-million-pixel Samsung Infinity Screen glowing behind them.
“The Super Bowl alone is anticipated to create thousands of more jobs and generate anywhere from $230 million to $475 million in economic impact,” says Burke.
Whichever side of the debate you fall on, one fact remains the same: The Super Bowl is coming to the City of Angels and SoFi Stadium on Feb. 13 (with numerous safety protocols in place to manage risk as the pandemic rages on).
“It’s a unique L.A. experience,” A.G. Spanos, the Chargers’ president of business operations, chimes in. “It’s a building that could only be built in L.A. … It’s the crown jewel of NFL stadiums.”
SoFi has a 70,000-person capacity — and expands to 100,000 for extra large events like The Big Game. Cisco, one of the NFL’s official technology partners, created the sole network that connects every management system in the building, including what it says is the largest Wi-Fi 6 deployment in any sports venue worldwide.
The field sits 100 feet below ground level, which contributes to the shockingly loud wall of sound that encompasses visitors on game day.
“When you’re here, you leave with your ears ringing,” the Rams’ chief operating officer Kevin Demoff adds during the panel. “It’s given sports fans in Los Angeles something to be proud of.”
A Technological Marvel
One month prior to the 30 Days Out event, I attended a Giants at Chargers game for a tech tour of the facilities. SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park’s chief technology officer, Skarpi Hedinsson, a former Disney executive, led us around the grounds and practically had to yell for us to hear him over the deafening noise of tens of thousands of fans and songs by Vampire Weekend and Dr. Dre — who’s this year’s Super Bowl halftime show performer — blaring through the Infinity Screen’s 260 speakers.
After Hedinsson showed us the stadium’s vast “Monday Night Football”-level in-house production unit, we made our way through the Google Cloud Club to an executive suite where I asked him if he feels a sense of competition with venues adjacent to SoFi, namely Steve Ballmer’s The Forum — which famously hosted the Showtime Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s and was purchased by the billionaire in 2020 for $400 million — and the forthcoming Intuit Dome, a $1.8 billion stadium for his Los Angeles Clippers slated to open in 2024.
“That’s all great news for us,” Hedinsson said, noting how both Ballmer’s developments and the NFL’s new 450,000-square-foot West Coast headquarters down the road only add to the growth and vitality of the area.
More Than The Super Bowl
There’s more than the Super Bowl on the way. SoFi Stadium will host the College Football Playoff national title game in 2023, the Olympics’ opening and closing ceremonies in 2028, and is a candidate for the 2026 FIFA World Cup.
Ballmer isn’t the only one building up, either. Teams throughout all of the major U.S. sports leagues are expected to spend over $10 billion on new and renovated stadiums and arenas by the end of this decade, from Oakland to Chicago to Miami, and several other cities in between.
Los Angeles hosted the first-ever Super Bowl in 1967 and the storyline comes full circle when it returns to the city in just four weeks.
More than a game, it’s a coming out party for a new type of stadium that will occupy the dreams of fans and team owners for years to come. After 100 million-plus viewers witness the glory of a truly future-proofed stadium in February, I don’t think any of us will be able to look back.