Last month, National Football League (NFL) owners overwhelmingly approved the St. Louis Rams’ move back to Los Angeles in a 30–2 vote. Key to the decision was team owner Stan Kroenke’s proposal to build an 80,000-seat stadium in Inglewood, Calif., just east of Los Angeles International Airport.
Designed by Dallas firm HKS Architects, the 70,000-seat stadium is part of a larger 298-acre redevelopment of the former Hollywood Park racetrack that will include new facilities for the league and its NFL Network cable-TV channel, as well as a mix of entertainment, commercial, and residential buildings. “The ownership, I think, personally believes that [is] the kind of signature project that is going to help make us successful in Los Angeles for the long term,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said during the Jan. 12 press conference announcing the Rams’ move. The project, he continued, would also bring a new “fan experience to the NFL and to Los Angeles.”
The most noticeable design feature of the stadium is its expansive, transparent ETFE (ethylene tetrafluoroethylene) roof that will cover not only the entire playing field and seating bowl, but also an adjacent pedestrian plaza and a proposed 6,000-seat theater capable of hosting high-profile events like the Academy Awards. While several NFL stadiums built in the past decade incorporate retractable roofs to protect against weather and to host events on non-game days, HKS principal Mark Williams, AIA, says the Rams’ fixed, clear roof will actually be more versatile. “You’ve got beautiful weather 350 or so days out of the year, and you want to take advantage of that,” he says. “But if you’re spending billions of dollars, you want to have events 365 days a year no matter what the conditions are outside.” (HKS’s design for the Minnesota Vikings’ U.S. Bank Stadium, set to open this fall, also features a fixed roof, 60 percent of which is EFTE.)
The film roof will allow plenty of natural daylight into stadium and have a 30 percent shading coefficient, providing some sun protection. Los Angeles’ semi-arid climate won’t go to waste, however. The sides of the stadium, under the roof, will be left open, allowing for natural ventilation; thus, Williams says, the structure will use a comparable amount of energy as an open-air stadium.
The Rams’ stadium is distinctive in another manner. The project will cost an estimated $2.6 billion, about $1 billion more than the New York Jets’ MetLife Stadium, the current titleholder for most expensive NFL venue, built in 2010. And the Inglewood stadium will be financed entirely through private funds, meaning that city residents will not be burdened with taxes to cover the stadium construction.
This is an unusual move for an NFL team seeking a new stadium deal. In fact, the two NFL teams also looking to relocate to L.A.—the San Diego Chargers and the Oakland Raiders—both unsuccessfully sought public financing for new venues in their respective hometowns. But Rams owner Kroenke possesses more construction experience and more financial resources than most people. He is a longtime real-estate developer, the owner of multiple sports teams, and the husband of Ann Walton Kroenke, an heiress to the Walmart fortune.
But Rick Eckstein, a professor of sociology at Villanova University and the co-author of Public Dollars, Private Stadiums: The Battle Over Building Sports Stadiums (Rutgers University Press, 2003), believes some public assistance will still be likely, whether it be subsidies for infrastructure or tax abatements for the Rams and other tenants in the development. “There will be public financing, even if it’s not for the actual brick and mortar,” he says. “Although it’s not upfront money, it’s a form of public financing.”
Eckstein also expressed skepticism for the proposed mixed-use district surrounding the stadium. “I’ve seen a lot of these large development proposals that go beyond the stadium itself,” he says. “I can’t think of a single case where it actually unfolded that way.” He cites the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium and Talen Energy Stadium, home of Major League Soccer team the Philadelphia Union, for instance, as projects that both accepted public subsidies after promising mixed-use developments. Neither has panned out.
The problem, Eckstein believes, is that stadiums don’t benefit their surrounding areas. “They drain resources out of a local economy and sometimes drive resources away,” he says. “Although they’re very active on eight or 10 game days, there’s just not much happening there. You wouldn’t open a mall that was open 10 days a year.”
But Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts says the Rams’ stadium plan differs, not only on the issue of financing but also in its architectural ambition. “Cities on the average contribute about 57 percent of the cost of building the stadium because they want the NFL so badly,” he says. What happens then, he says, is that budget concerns lead to compromises in design and planning. “The cities want to spend as little as possible,” Butts says. “But the teams want to build as much as possible.”
In the Rams’ case, he says, Kroenke intends to entirely finance and build “the largest and most expensive stadium project in the history of the NFL [that’s] meant to be the structure that the Olympic Games and World Cup Soccer will want to come to. Right off the bat, this building, unlike most stadiums—except for Jerry Jones’ [AT&T Stadium]—is not a compromise. It’s an all-out effort to make it the best in the world. That’s a big difference.”
While HKS’ Williams prefers to leave the financing talk to economists and politicians, he believes stadiums generally serve the public good. “These buildings, starting with the Colosseum in Rome, have always been the great social halls of our society,” he says. “I think they’re important for all of us to have and be a part of.”
With its transparent roof structure, the Rams’ stadium has the chance to become an iconic landmark when it is completed in 2019. And if Inglewood residents and the team’s fans can partake in a staple of American sports culture on game days, and enjoy a lively mixed-use development the remaining days of the year, the stadium may be a scoring play bigger than anything that happens on the field.