The hub­bub at StubHub

A lot of work has gone into mak­ing Charg­ers’ lit­tle home feel like an NFL sta­dium

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Mike DiGio­vanna

The Euro­pean-style roof atop StubHub Cen­ter, made of a fab­ric de­signed to con­tain and re­ver­ber­ate crowd noise, was not in the orig­i­nal design plans for the $150-mil­lion sta­dium in Carson.

It was added at the last minute, at a cost of $8 mil­lion, by sta­dium de­vel­oper and op­er­a­tor AEG on Jur­gen Klins­mann’s in­sis­tence af­ter the former Ger­man soc­cer star and U.S. na­tional team coach toured the fa­cil­ity be­fore it opened in 2003.

Who knew that 14 years later the ten­sioned mem­brane struc­ture, man­u­fac­tured by Bir­dair, Inc., would be one of the keys to trans­form­ing the 27,000-seat soc­cer sta­dium into an NFL-wor­thy home for the Charg­ers, who will host the Seattle Sea­hawks in their first StubHub ex­hi­bi­tion game Sun­day night?

“Home-field ad­van­tage is so im­por­tant in the NFL, so we’re very ex­cited to see whether that struc­tural el­e­ment can add any ben­e­fit to the crowd noise,” said A.G. Spanos, pres­i­dent of busi­ness op­er­a­tions for the team. “Ob­vi­ously, it’s a small sta­dium. It seats 27,000. Our goal is to make it sound like 90,000.”

If the Charg­ers re­bound from a 5-11 sea­son and chal­lenge for a play­off spot, and if their of­fense is high­pow­ered and en­ter­tain­ing, their tem­po­rary home for three sea­sons could, at times, sound some­thing like an NFL sta­dium. It will never look or feel like one, but that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing.

StubHub’s foot­ball seat­ing ca­pac­ity will be less than half of ev­ery other NFL sta­dium. Not since 1965, when the Oak­land Raiders played their fi­nal sea­son in 22,000-seat Frank Youell Field, has an NFL or AFL team played in a fa­cil­ity this small.

“I think it presents a great op­por­tu­nity for us to give our fans a very unique ex­pe­ri­ence,” Spanos said. “Ev­ery seat is go­ing be close to the ac­tion by virtue of the size of the venue.”

The el­e­va­tion of the seats in the last row of StubHub Cen­ter is lower than the first row of lux­ury-suite seats in most NFL sta­di­ums. The Charg­ers will add three rows of field-level bleach­ers in at least two cor­ners of the end zone, bring­ing hun­dreds of fans who can af­ford the high­priced seats even closer to the ac­tion.

The prox­im­ity of vir­tu­ally ev­ery sec­tion to the field will pro­vide a level of in­ti­macy few NFL sta­di­ums can match. Most fans will be able to hear quar­ter­back snap counts and au­di­bles. Coaches scream­ing on the side­lines and bonecrush­ing col­li­sions on the field will be within earshot.

“Ev­ery­body is so close to the field that ev­ery visual sense will be height­ened,” said Michael Roth, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions for AEG. “You’ll smell some of the sweat, you’ll touch the play­ers when they come over the sides, you’ll hear them … it’s foot­ball for the senses.”

Sev­eral play­ers raved about their new home af­ter last Satur­day’s joint prac­tice with the Rams, which at­tracted about 8,000 fans to StubHub. They could only imag­ine how the place will feel and sound when it’s packed.

“The at­mos­phere was amaz­ing,” de­fen­sive end Melvin In­gram said. “It feels like ev­ery­body is so close. … The fans are even more stoked than we are. When you come out here and see them so hyped, I have no choice but to lay it on the line for them.”

The Charg­ers, in con­junc­tion with sta­dium and league of­fi­cials, have worked fu­ri­ously for months to up­grade and ad­just the fa­cil­ity to ac­com­mo­date the larger crowds ex­pected for foot­ball, from adding seats, park­ing, con­ces­sion stands and re­strooms to a mas­sive ex­pan­sion of the press box.

The bleach­ers in the sec­ond deck on the east side of the sta­dium were re­placed by tip-up seats and moved to the berm on the north side, adding 1,000 seats.

A new sec­tion of up­per­level bleach­ers, which will seat 330, was erected in the south­east cor­ner of the sta­dium.

The 43 lux­ury suites have been ren­o­vated with new seats, fur­ni­ture, com­mu­nity ta­bles, and en­gi­neered hard­wood floors in­stead of dated car­pet.

Fans will have use of the re­strooms and con­ces­sion stands at the 8,000-seat ten­nis sta­dium next door. A new con­ces­sion area with food trucks, beer trucks and high­end por­ta­ble re­strooms will be added be­hind the berm on the north side.

“These are not con­struc­tion-site por­ta­ble re­strooms,” Roth said. “They’re movie-stu­dio-set ones.”

Katie Pan­dolfo, the fa­cil­ity’s gen­eral man­ager for 13 years, said most NFL sta­di­ums have a ra­tio of 120 fans to one con­ces­sion-stand point of sale.

“We tried to get even lower than that,” Pan­dolfo said. “We’re at 112 to one.”

Park­ing lots will open for tail­gat­ing four hours be­fore the game, but tail­gat­ing will not be al­lowed on the lots lo­cated on Cal State Dominguez Hills prop­erty.

Fans wish­ing to use pub­lic trans­porta­tion can take free Charg­ers Ex­press shut­tles from the Har­bor Gate­way Tran­sit Cen­ter on the Sil­ver Line and the Del Amo sta­tion on the Blue Line. Drop-off will be in front of the sta­dium.

An of­fi­cial pregame tail­gate will be­gin three hours be­fore games on the plaza con­course on the south side of the sta­dium, which can ac­com­mo­date up to 8,000 peo­ple.

There will be at least 16 food trucks, fea­tur­ing a va­ri­ety of Los An­ge­les-area ven­dors, sev­eral large-screen tele­vi­sions for the view­ing of early games, an out­door bar, shade ar­eas and stages for pregame ra­dio and tele­vi­sion shows.

The Charg­ers will have full use of the Amer­i­can Ex­press Sta­dium club, which seats about 250 on the south side, the 14 ca­banas, which seat four to six peo­ple, out­side the club and the Jim Beam Cham­pi­ons Lounge, from where fans can see play­ers com­ing in and out of the locker rooms.

The press box is un­der­go­ing a ma­jor facelift. A third row was added to the main box, boost­ing ca­pac­ity from about 35 to 53. Floors were con­structed on the roof of the lux­ury suites so an aux­il­iary press box could be built on both sides of the main box.

In all, the new con­fig­u­ra­tion will ac­com­mo­date more than 200 me­dia mem­bers. Though the aux­il­iary box will be out­doors, the work­ing area will be pro­tected by the sta­dium roof.

Two new ra­dio booths were built out­side the south side of the press box, and a large new booth on the north side will serve as a se­cu­rity com­mand post for po­lice and NFL of­fi­cials.

Two booths were added on each side of the press box for the NFL-man­dated 20yard-line tele­vi­sion cam­eras, and a stair­way al­low­ing ac­cess to the roof of the main box was built to ac­com­mo­date the 50-yard-line cam­era.

Two of the eight booths on the first floor of the press box were re­con­fig­ured with riser sys­tems to ac­com­mo­date coach­ing staffs. The other six booths will house the na­tional tele­vi­sion crew, ra­dio crews for both teams, in­stant-re­play of­fi­cials, game­clock man­agers and med­i­cal spot­ters.

“We had the net­work and NFL of­fi­cials fly in, we brought in a lot of ex­perts to look at all the in­fra­struc­ture that needed to be put in place so the re­play sys­tem can work, so the coach-to­quar­ter­back com­mu­ni­ca­tion can work,” Spanos said. “All those be­hind-the-scene things needed to be done.”

To ac­com­mo­date 53-man NFL ros­ters, four small locker rooms were con­verted to two larger ones with 60 cu­bi­cles in each. Both teams will have ac­cess to train­ing rooms and a weight room. There will be small postgame news con­fer­ence rooms for each team and rooms for game of­fi­cials and the chain gang.

The Charg­ers will have the use of the new 52-by-20-foot video board on the south side of the sta­dium. A rib­bon board was added to dis­play de­tailed game in­for­ma­tion, out-of-town scores and fan­tasy league stats.

The Charg­ers are pay­ing for the bulk of the ren­o­va­tions and up­grades, which Spanos es­ti­mated to be in the “tens-of-mil­lions-of-dol­lars” range.

Eric Smith, former sta­dium voice of the Dodgers, has been hired as StubHub’s pub­lic-ad­dress an­nouncer, and Mark Ta­mar, who spent the past decade with the Sea­hawks, has been hired as vice pres­i­dent of fan ex­pe­ri­ence.

Ta­mar, a UCLA grad­u­ate who pre­vi­ously worked for the Lak­ers and Dodgers, was in­stru­men­tal in cre­at­ing the “12th-Man” ex­pe­ri­ence in Cen­tu­ryLink Field. In ad­di­tion to spear­head­ing game­day en­ter­tain­ment, he will look to “raise the roof” in StubHub Cen­ter.

“Seattle has a sim­i­lar canopy above its sta­dium, and it’s as loud as any sta­dium I’ve been in,” Spanos said. “We hired Mark Ta­mar with two ob­jec­tives: to cre­ate a great fan ex­pe­ri­ence and to cre­ate a great home-field ad­van­tage.

“Sea­hawk fans take a lot of pride in know­ing they can im­pact the out­come of the game. I think the fans un­der­es­ti­mate the role they can play. We need to make StubHub a fierce place to play.”

Pho­to­graphs by Robert Gauthier Los An­ge­les Times

FANS AREN’T FAR from the ac­tion in the south­west cor­ner of StubHub Cen­ter dur­ing the Rams-Charg­ers prac­tice Satur­day.

THE PLAY­ERS will have no trou­ble hear­ing the fans dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son at a sta­dium that seats only about 27,000.

Sources: Mapzen, OpenStreetMap Los An­ge­les Times

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