The first thing to know is that SoFi Stadium is the most spectacular sports facility I’ve ever seen in more than 45 years of sports journalism.
From its vegetation, manmade lake, translucent roof and winding paths, it’s much more than just a state-of-the-art, 70,000-seat football stadium, which will have an international unveiling Sunday as Super Bowl LVI is beamed all over the world.
The Los Angeles Rams, as fate may have it, are on center stage against the upstart Cincinnati Bengals, a team that won just two games only two seasons ago.
The second thing to know is that Rams owner Stan Kroenke had a very significant seat at the table with the architects at HKS during the design process of a project that took shape on the 300-acre site of the old Hollywood Park Racetrack, adjacent to the once fabulous Forum in Inglewood.
When Kroenke met with designers and master planners to look at Hollywood Park, he told the group, “You can’t undershoot Los Angeles,” Kevin Demoff, the club’s longtime chief operating officer, said in an interview. “Not just building a terrific NFL stadium, but one that would truly fit in with the architectural design of Los Angeles.”
Kroenke brought the Rams back to L.A. from St. Louis after the 2015 season and the Super Bowl back to the region for the first time since 1993. He’s seen the franchise’s value increase four-fold to $4.68 billion, according to Sportico’s latest NFL valuations.
The stadium and, when completed, the real estate development around it will cost Kroenke $5 billion, and a Super Bowl ticket for Sunday’s game at a high of about $18,000 is the most expensive since the advent of the game in 1967, when the average ticket price in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was $20.
The Super Bowl at SoFi is also a dress rehearsal for the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics in L.A.
The bright white stadium is certainly the focal point of the project, but it sits at the center of what the architects say is 15-million square feet of construction that include the NFL offices and proposed retail, restaurant and housing development, only a third of which has been finished to date.
The target for completion is the 2028 Olympics, HKS officials said.
The 74-year-old Kroenke’s project might be a grand multibillion-dollar investment, but the upside could be truly startling.
The architectural designs show illustrated images of fans winding through corridors of upscale businesses and apartment complexes, not only on game days, but year round. That’s why the Rams were quick to welcome NBA owner Steve Ballmer and his Clippers to the area.
Ballmer is building his $1.8 billion Intuit Dome within walking distance of all this proposed retail space, giving Kroenke 41 more nights of traffic into his neighborhood. Right now, 65% of the restaurants and 314 of the projected 2,500 housing units are up and running.
The street plan is anchored by sports venues. The Forum, on Manchester and Prairie, is just to the north of the SoFi complex. Just south of SoFi will be the Intuit Dome on Century and Prairie.
The stadium, in all its architectural glory, is the main entity, but certainly not the sole part of the story. The 35,000 triangles of perforated white anodized aluminum that comprise the signature canopy of a roof cover not only the stadium proper, but also a 6,000-seat indoor amphitheater and a grand plaza between the two structures.
“What I love about SoFi is that it doesn’t look on the outside like a stadium,” Demoff said. “When you look at the metal skeleton, when you look at the design, the lighting, the lake, every tree that’s native to California except a redwood is on the property, it’s designed to be the best of Los Angeles.”
Water that fills the lake is recirculated and used for irrigation. Since it’s on the active Newport-Inglewood earthquake fault zone, the structure’s metal stanchions had to be driven deep in the ground carefully and the roof and stadium were built as separate structures that would sway independently in a seismic event.
A 4.0 magnitude quake struck just south of SoFi on April 6, 2021, but despite a lot of shaking, there was no reported damage.
Architects said the football field had to be set at the bottom of a 100-foot carved out bowl because height limits made it impossible to build higher–the site’s just a few miles east of Los Angeles International Airport.
Kroenke had this vision: “It has to be iconic. And when people fly in this has to be the first thing people know and love about our city,” Demoff said.
Thus, among the many issues of designing the project was the flight path of planes landing at LAX.
As planes fly in from the east, the landing path gives passengers an incredible view of the stadium and the grounds to the north as an introduction to the area.
“That gave us a great visual impact,” said Lance Evans, the sports director for HKS and the lead architect on the project, during a video call. “And that gave us this great opportunity to become the welcome card to L.A. as fans and patrons fly into the city.”
Just as the roof allows air and light to flow inside during the day, there are LEDs that can project images on the outside at night.
“The video board commands your attention, but it doesn’t distract from the action,” Evans said. “The LEDs actually allow for a live-stream broadcast to be projected up to the sky.”
That means portions of the Super Bowl and half-time show will be projected into space.
When then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke spent $16.2 million of his own money in 1967 to build The Forum, he called the building, with its Roman columns, “Fabulous.”
Little did he know what would exist just down the street a half century later.