Fans watch other foot­ball at StubHub Cen­ter

About 8,000 peo­ple in­vited by Charg­ers at­tend a joint prac­tice with Rams.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - SAM FARMER ON THE NFL

Cory Petroll has some ex­plain­ing to do to his bud­dies back home.

He’s a Charg­ers fan from San Diego who had his heart ripped out when the team packed its bags for Los An­ge­les, but he showed up Satur­day for his team’s joint prac­tice against the Rams at StubHub Cen­ter.

“I tell ev­ery­body I’m a fan for life,” said Petroll, 30, wear­ing the No. 17 jersey of his fa­vorite player. “I’m not happy about it, but I love the Charg­ers and I love Philip Rivers prob­a­bly more than any­body on this planet.”

Petroll might be in the mi­nor­ity — droves of San Die­gans have sworn off the fran­chise — but the Charg­ers had a pretty ro­bust turnout for the de­but of their cozy new home. The Charg­ers, who opened only the lower level of the sta­dium, ex­tended in­vi­ta­tions to fans who have ei­ther bought sea­son tick­ets or are on the wait­ing list. The team es­ti­mated at­ten­dance at 8,000.

“I walked out and saw the place and said, ‘This is pretty cool,’ ” Charg­ers coach An­thony Lynn said. “It was good en­ergy today. I can only imag­ine when it’s packed.”

It is a bizarre ex­per­i­ment, NFL games in a 27,000-seat venue, one less than half the size of ev­ery other sta­dium in the league. The Charg­ers will play here for three sea­sons while Rams owner Stan Kroenke is con­struct­ing his $2.6bil­lion palace in In­gle­wood.

With the na­tion’s No. 1 sports league com­pet­ing against the couch — fans are in­creas­ingly fond of stay­ing home to watch games on TV — it will be fas­ci­nat­ing to see whether the in­ti­mate feel of StubHub causes a rip­ple ef­fect around the NFL.

“This feels more like a col­lege sta­dium,” said for­mer NFL line­backer Kirk Mor­ri­son, now an ESPN an­a­lyst. “It feels like the fans are re­ally hold­ing your hand if you’re the home team. You’re going to be able to feel that. At the same time, if you’re play­ing poorly, you’re going to be able to feel that as well.”

It’s all good en­ergy now, with ev­ery team 0-0 and the start of the ex­hi­bi­tion sea­son a week away. The Charg­ers will take the wrap­per off their new digs next Sun­day night with a game against Seat­tle. Part of the rea­son they didn’t open Satur­day’s event to all com­ers, or open the up­per decks, was be­cause they wanted a man­age­able crowd for their dry run.

Some sights were fa­mil­iar — $5 waters, $14 beers, $15 grilled cheese sand­wiches — while oth­ers were only-at-StubHub scenes. There were, for in­stance, some unique seats sim­ply not avail­able in other sta­di­ums around the league. There’s a club be­hind the south end zone that fea­tures restau­rant booths look­ing di­rectly onto the field. Were there not a net be­hind that goal post, a field goal could eas­ily fly through an open win­dow and into a bowl of buf­falo wings.

There’s also a sec­tion that sits di­rectly on the field, a safe dis­tance be­hind the play­ers and down closer to the goal line. Whereas other sta­di­ums have ground-level suites, these might be the league’s only on-field seats.

Rich Gray paid $7,000 per seat for those sea­son tick­ets that put him mere yards from the ac­tion. He brought his wife and two young daugh­ters Satur­day, al­though he’s con­flicted about his sit­u­a­tion. He’s a Rams fan who also has sea­son tick­ets at the Coli­seum, and three times this sea­son the Rams and Charg­ers will have si­mul­ta­ne­ous home games.

“When the Charg­ers moved up, it took a minute for me to em­brace them,” Gray said. “But we went to the first day of train­ing camp, they treated us well, and Philip Rivers signed my daugh­ter’s jersey.”

Satur­day, Gray was sit­ting in the NFL’s ver­sion of the Jack Ni­chol­son court­side seats. He was so close to the play­ers he might have been able to over­hear their con­ver­sa­tions, but for the cease­less mu­sic cranked at full vol­ume.

AEG, which owns the venue, al­lowed a re­porter to take a small group of spec­ta­tors to the up­per cor­ner, the far­thest seats from the field. Vanessa Padilla, who had Charg­ers sea­son tick­ets in the up­per deck be­hind an end zone at Qual­comm Sta­dium, said those “worst” seats at StubHub would be the best she had ever sat in for an NFL game.

The chal­lenge for the Charg­ers will be build­ing a fan base in Los An­ge­les, and get­ting fans to pay pre­mium prices 10 times a sea­son, rather than peo­ple look­ing at these games as a one-off bou­tique ex­pe­ri­ence.

That re­quires win­ning. And for some, even that won’t do the trick.

“I’m a Raiders fan,” said Ge­orge Bar­bosa of Long Beach, who joined a friend at StubHub just to sur­vey the scene. “When the Raiders come here, this is going to be a home game for us.”

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

SER­GIO RUIZ of Ox­nard pho­to­graphs his chil­dren, from left, Ser­gio Jr., Diego and Christian at StubHub Cen­ter, where the Charg­ers and Rams held a work­out.

Robert Gau­thier Los An­ge­les Times

WITH PLENTY of el­bow room around them on the east side of StubHub Cen­ter, Mal­ibu res­i­dent Ja­son May­nard and son Xan­der take in work­out. The Charg­ers in­vited sea­son-ticket hold­ers and those on a wait­ing list.

CHARG­ERS DE­FEN­SIVE END Jeremiah At­taochu au­to­graphs the shirt of Car­rie O’Leary, one of about 8,000 fans at the team’s work­out with the Rams.

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