When the Los Angeles Rams opened their new state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium last month with a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys, the atmosphere was a far cry from what many would have envisaged when plans for the venue were first drawn up.

Due to ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, the first event at the 70,000-seat venue, which will also serve as the home of rival NFL team the Los Angeles Chargers, was played without fans in attendance.

The only voices heard were those of players and coaches – not those of 70,000 screaming Rams fans. “Eerie is a great way to describe it,” said Rams coach Sean McVay after the game.

SoFi Stadium had been due to open with a Taylor Swift concert on July 25, but that event, along with performances by artists such as Guns N’ Roses and Tim McGraw, were postponed until next year, or cancelled completely. NFL pre-season games were also cancelled as COVID-19 put paid to the Rams’ grand plans to open the stadium with a bang.

It remains unclear when fans will be able to sample SoFi Stadium for the first time, with games to continue behind closed doors until further notice. When spectators are eventually allowed in, though, they can expect to be wowed by one of the most technologically advanced sports venues on the planet – and, at a reported cost of $5bn (£3.85bn/€4.23bn), one of the most expensively-assembled.

SoFi Stadium, and the surrounding Hollywood Park development, is the vision of Rams owner Stan Kroenke. The Rams broke ground on the stadium in November 2016 and the partnership team for the project included general contractor Turner AECOM Hunt, architect HKS, Hollywood Park development manager Wilson Meany, and Legends, the stadium’s project management, sales, and food and beverage operator.

As well as SoFi Stadium, Hollywood Park will include the 2.5-acre American Airlines Plaza and a 6,000-seat performance venue. The aim is for the complex to be a year-round destination and not just a site for NFL games.

“Stan Kroenke had an overall vision to create a global sports and entertainment destination in the heart of Los Angeles,” Jason Gannon, managing director of SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, tells TheStadiumBusiness.com.

“Hollywood Park is a near 300-acre mixed-used development where you will be able to live, work and play. Hollywood Park is designed to be not only a global destination, but also a gathering space for our community. When complete, Hollywood Park will feature more than 25 acres of public parks and open space for guests to enjoy year-round.

“SoFi Stadium is the centrepiece of Hollywood Park and the first part of Stan Kroenke’s vision that we have delivered on. The stadium is the first indoor-outdoor venue, and the largest stadium in the NFL at 3.1 million square feet. The stadium design was inspired by Los Angeles, and our goal was to create a venue that was designed to take advantage of this beautiful coastal environment.”

To put the scale of Hollywood Park into context, the site is 3.5 times the size of Disneyland Park and twice as big as Vatican City.

SoFi Stadium itself will lead the way in terms of fan experience, with the venue featuring the largest dual-sided centre-hung videoboard in professional sport. The 70,000-square-foot structure features a first-of-its-kind design and will serve as a focal point of the stadium.

“The building has many unique architectural elements,” says Gannon. “These include an ETFE semi-translucent roof that both protects fans from UV rays and keeps the stadium temperature cooler than the outside; terraced canyon landscape features that act as an ingress and egress point for guests as well as open up to our Patio Clubs; and finally, all of the landscaping at the stadium is local to the environment and reflects the five main ecologies in Southern California.”

Digital personal finance company SoFi acquired naming rights to the stadium in September 2019 through a 20-year deal reportedly worth upwards of $30m a year, a fee setting a record for a sports venue.

The deal, which was negotiated by Legends Global Partnerships, also named SoFi as a partner of the 6,000-seat performance venue and surrounding entertainment district, and Gannon said the company’s digital focus made it a standout choice.

He says: “SoFi is an innovative digital personal finance company that shares our drive to have a positive impact on each and every fan that walks through our door. Similar to our drive to use the latest technology to create an immersive technological environment for our fans and guests, SoFi also places an emphasis on digital innovation for their customers. Our shared vision to offer our fans and customers, respectively, the best converges at SoFi Stadium.”

SoFi Stadium’s digital-first approach is further highlighted by partnerships with Cisco and Google. Cisco is the official IT network services partner of SoFi Stadium and Hollywood Park, while Google will power digital innovation experiences, with Gannon stating that the latter’s innovation and services will be a “critical component” to delivering Kroenke’s vision for creating the ultimate sports and entertainment destination.

“We have partnered with Cisco to provide a platform to streamline operations and facilitate IT and business innovations,” says Gannon. “SoFi Stadium also utilises Cisco’s Wi-Fi 6 technology to power the stadium, making it the largest ever Wi-Fi 6 implementation.

“Samsung LED display technology was used to create SoFi Stadium’s videoboard, which offers a state-of-the-art JBL audio system. With more than 260 of the stadium’s total 4,500 loudspeakers, the system accounts for half of the 1.3 million watts of Crown Audio amplification in the venue.”

He adds: “A project of this size brings its own unique set of challenges. SoFi Stadium’s event level sits 100 feet below grade level. To accomplish this, over seven million cubic yards of dirt were excavated from the stadium bowl alone and redistributed around the site.

“Additionally, the stadium’s wire frame double cable net system is the largest ever developed. The upper net supports the ETFE roof and the videoboard is suspended from the lower net.”

While Gannon admits that COVID-19 disrupted the team’s original plans for opening SoFi Stadium, he insists the “number one priority” remains the safety and health of the team, their families and the local community as the pandemic continues to cause disruption across sport.

A number of NFL teams have welcomed a proportion of fans to games since the season started but no such plans have been outlined by the Rams or Chargers.

The Las Vegas Raiders, who recently moved into their own state-of-the-art new home, Allegiant Stadium, will not admit spectators for the whole season in the interest of fairness to fans. It remains to be seen whether SoFi Stadium will adopt a similar policy.

“We won’t speculate on the future, but we are working closely with the LA County Department of Health, Rams, Chargers, and local and state officials to determine the next best steps,” says Gannon.

Although Rams and Chargers fans are being forced to wait for the chance to sample their new home, all evidence suggests that it will be worth it.

Images: SoFi Stadium