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Stadium a New Stage in Rams, Chargers Fight for Fans

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Orange County Register (California)

 

INGLEWOOD — The enormous hole just off of Prairie Avenue is sprouting steel and concrete, the roots of what could be one of this city's gleaming jewels.

That's the hope, anyway.

In the summer of 2020, the $2.6 billion stadium that will house both the Rams and the Chargers is set to open in Inglewood — and along with it, a complex that includes a 6,000-seat performance venue, retail and office space and an artificial lake.

"This can't just be an NFL stadium," said Kevin Demoff, the Rams' chief operating officer. "This has to be a grand project."

Demoff stood at the 300-acre site on Wednesday morning, surrounded by media members who had been invited to take a tour of the grounds. Fourteen months ago, a groundbreaking ceremony consisted of little more than ceremonial shovels moving small bits of dirt. Since then, more than 6 million cubic yards of dirt have been excavated, allowing the skeleton of the project to emerge.

The heart of it, of course, remains the 70,000-seat stadium, which will host not only NFL games, but concerts and a variety of other sporting events. A decade from now, the Olympics will arrive. Before then, there will be a Super Bowl, and perhaps a Final Four.

Stare out from behind what will become the south end zone, and it's easy to see the future. Two red cranes are perched roughly where the Rams and Chargers will have their locker rooms. Port-a-potties line what will be the 50-yard line.

The project is only a quarter or so completed, but it's a long way from where everything stood early last year, when heavy rains pushed the projected opening date from 2019 to 2020. An irrigation system has since been added to prevent any future delays.

"It's amazing," said Chargers owner Dean Spanos, who had seen the site just two weeks earlier. "It's moving at rapid speed, so that's impressive."

The backdrop to all this is a Rams team that has surged under first-year head coach Sean McVay. On Saturday night, they will host a wild-card playoff game against the Falcons 8 miles away at the Coliseum — a stadium that wows with its history rather than its modern amenities. After the Rams clinched the NFC West nearly two weeks ago with a road win over the Titans, they flew back over their future home.

"Those kinds of victories, you could be coming back and hosting playoff games in this building," Demoff said.

The Chargers aren't doing too badly for themselves either. After stumbling to a 0-4 start, they regrouped for an impressive 9-7 finish — capping their post-relocation season with a blowout of the Raiders. Not enough get in the playoffs, but sufficient fuel for first-year head coach Anthony Lynn to envision a future championship.

The Rams and the Chargers are not competing directly, even though the latter arrived from San Diego by loudly announcing their "Fight for L.A." They are partners, and although they will play each other in the 2018 regular season, interconference matchups will be few and far between. The fight, so to say, is more about claiming attention and market share.

And in that fight, the Rams have a leg up. Before the press was bused out to the construction site, Bob Aylesworth — the principal in charge for the Turner/AECOM Hunt joint venture overseeing stadium construction — took his turn at the news podium.

"Without Stan Kroenke's vision and leadership, we would not be where we are," he said, referring to the Rams owner who purchased this parcel of land in 2014.

Meanwhile, Spanos sat just a few feet away, in the front row of the makeshift conference room. But what Aylesworth said was not so much an omission as much as it was a statement of fact: Kroenke is the catalyst behind this project, the man who helped make it irresistible for the NFL to return to Los Angeles after more than a two-decade absence.

Spanos got a great deal, paying $1 in annual rent and receive 18.75 percent of nonfootball event revenue, such as stadium naming rights and personal seat licenses. He assumes little to no risk. But his Chargers are still tenants, the team that relocated a year behind the Rams and latched on to a project that was already in motion.

That differentiates it from, say, MetLife Stadium, the New Jersey venue that hosts both the Giants and the Jets. Those franchises formed a joint 50-50 venture to construct that project, which opened in 2010. When the Giants host games, the stadium lights up blue. When the Jets do, they go green.

The Rams and Chargers — and anyone else that uses the Inglewood venue — will likely take similar measures to create a unique experience for their respective events.

"This is going to be basically digitized to the point where, you flip the switch, and it's all branded Chargers," Spanos said. "Flip another switch, it's all branded Rams. Flip another switch, it'll be two colleges playing here."

A bigger challenge? Actually filling the seats.

The Rams' home-game attendance at the Coliseum this season belied their performance on the field, though what they accomplish in the postseason should help the cause in 2018. That they have the youngest head coach in the NFL, and a potent offense that went from worst to first, should also make for an easier sell.

"There needs to be a flair to what you do to capture attention," Demoff said. "This is a difficult market."

The Chargers have an even tougher hill to climb. Playing at the 27,000-seat StubHub Center, their home games often felt like de facto road trips. Winning nine of their last 12 games nudged the balance of the crowd in their direction, but on New Year's Eve, Raiders fans took up roughly three-fourths of the stands.

Spanos took a wait-and-see approach on fan turnout.

"I thought it was great," he said, when asked about the season's overall attendance. "It was good. Look, we've said this before: We're the new guys on the block. We're fighting for L.A., and that means we're fighting for the respect of the fans and the people. This isn't something we expected to happen in a year."

Asked if the Chargers could generate enough momentum to fill a 70,000-seat venue, Spanos didn't hesitate: "I don't have a doubt about it. Don't have a doubt about it."

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January 4, 2018
 
 
 

 

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