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An inside look at the Los Angeles Rams’ new tricked-out stadium

The 2022 Super Bowl will take place at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles, the most expensive, technologically advanced, and immersive stadium ever built. The designers gave ‘Fast Company’ a backstage look at how they pulled it off.

An inside look at the Los Angeles Rams’ new tricked-out stadium
[Photo: Bruce Damonte/courtesy HKS]

The new $5.5 billion SoFi Stadium, home to the Los Angeles Rams, is a composition in motion. A giant translucent roof soars in a wave from a point hovering just above the ground to a crest nearly 13 stories high, changing shape at every angle. Curved walkways beneath undulating shades guide fans through entrances framed with white industrial beams.

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Once inside, an onslaught of sounds and visuals draws you into the 70,240-seat canopied stadium in full view of its commanding pièce de resistance—the Infinity Screen by Samsung. The suspended 4-story, 2-sided elliptical 4K LED screen runs longer and wider than the field, showering the crowd with 80 million pixels of swirling color and 110 decibels of thunderous audio from 260 independently controlled speakers. The Infinity screen projects the field action while immersing the crowd in a flurry of player bios, audience cameos, social media shots, ads, and interactive chants.

Whose house?” booms the announcer as those words explode across the screen.

70,000 fans roar back in deafening unison: “Rams’ house!”

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[Image: courtesy of the author]
The world’s most expensive and technically advanced stadium—not to mention the largest in the NFL, at 3.1 million square feet—is the new home of the Rams and Chargers football teams, an anchor to a global sports-and-entertainment destination, and a love letter to Los Angeles. Privately funded by Rams owner Stan Kroenke through his Denver-based Kroenke Sports & Entertainment holding company, it’s an award-winning architectural marvel that addresses a disparate array of demands—from harnessing the fractured attention spans of modern-day audiences to providing stunning views, regardless of seating, and celebrating the local geography and climate.

[Photo: Bruce Damonte/courtesy HKS]
Since opening to the public last year, the stadium has thrilled both concertgoers and football fans. After hosting the NFL Conference Championships last month, it’s primed for an even grander splash Sunday as the site of Super Bowl LVI 2022, when the Rams take on the Cincinnati Bengals.

[Photo: Nic Lehoux/courtesy HKS]
“We tried to capture the dynamics between the water and the coast of California—the energy and flow you see from a wave crashing down on the beach,” says stadium architect Lance Evans, “while keeping people connected to the game at all times.” Evans, a principal and director of sports at the Dallas-headquartered design firm HKS, is based in LA and was previously lead architect on the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. (HKS, in fact, has designed 4 of the last 11 Super Bowl venues.)

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[Photo: Nic Lehoux/courtesy HKS]
“The Infinity board is an evolution of how NFL fans engage in digital content,” adds Evans, alluding to the screen’s closest predecessor, the 360-degree, single-sided Halo Board in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “We designed the board to maximize its connectivity to the fans; to ensure every fan has a dynamic view and can look at multiple streams at the same time.”

That’s what it does. But how it feels is next level—a primal gasp-inducing sensory overload that stops you in your tracks and keeps surprising. “The Infinity screen should have a talent agent because it’s inescapable,” Skarpi Hedinsson, the stadium’s Iceland-born CTO, says with a laugh. “It plays a big role in the presentation of the game. People talk about it while they’re here, and they talk about it after they leave. I recently invited a friend to a Rams game. He watched it and said, ‘Yeah, my buddies and I are convinced this place was built by aliens.'”

[Image: courtesy HKS]

An LA homecoming

SoFi Stadium—after the online personal finance company that paid a reported $625 million for naming rights—salutes a long-awaited team’s return to LA in 2016, following a decade as the St. Louis Rams. Located in Inglewood, a city near Los Angeles International Airport, it comprises a three-venue complex, linking to the 2.5-acre American Airlines Plaza for pre-game festivities and the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater for more intimate concerts, e-sports games, and award shows. It also sports roof-mounted LEDs that project massive videos skyward.

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[Image: courtesy HKS]
The stadium layout, which expands to 100,240 seats, can accommodate more massive events like the 2028 Olympics Opening and Closing Ceremonies, or be rented for smaller gatherings. “Sports tourism is a major driver for Los Angeles,” says Adam Burke, president and CEO of the Los Angeles Tourism & Convention Board. “But what a lot of people don’t realize is LA is one of the meetings capitals of the world. And increasingly, professional event planners are looking for non-traditional venues.”

[Photo: Nic Lehoux/courtesy HKS]
The stadium complex anchors Kroenke’s vision for an expansive 298-acre mixed-use development called Hollywood Park, which advances a local revitalization effort. It overlooks a manicured lake and waterfall, and ongoing construction for shops and restaurants, hotels, condominiums, a movie theater complex, and offices that include the NFL’s West Coast hub. When completed, Hollywood Park could top $10 billion and feature among the largest privately financed projects in the country.

[Photo: Bruce Damonte/courtesy HKS]

Unique challenges

Kroenke’s desire for a more immersive and LA-branded football experience, coupled with location-specific challenges, generated novel solutions. Moving the seating 50 feet closer to the field and crafting the Infinity’s screen’s elliptical shape brought the video experience closer to fans by enabling unobstructed views. While the board was still on the ground during construction, the designers used VR headsets to gauge how its content would present to different seating positions. “The design is also clever in that, because it’s center-hung, it allows us to deploy other technology that’s needed for the bowl,” says Hedinsson.

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[Photo: Bruce Damonte/courtesy HKS]
To bring a sense of place, light and nature permeate the arena. Open-air accessways nod to LA’s canyons via sweeping landscaped paths, and multi-level atriums integrate plants from across Southern California. A detached high-tech polymer and aluminum covering envelops the entire complex, letting in natural light while protecting from the elements. The polymer canopy has mechanized vents that dissipate heat and direct the constant Pacific breezes across the structure. The white anodized aluminum skin of the building has 52 million unique perforations that create dappling effects as the sun crosses the sky. “The building is much more alive and energetic than we anticipated,” notes Evans.

[Photo: Nic Lehoux/courtesy HKS]
Those effects go a long way with fans. “The Infinity screen, the way it drops down, no matter where you sit, [there’s] a great view. It feels more immersive, like you’re part of the team,” says Chris Matthews, decked out as a self-appointed team superhero and ambassador, Ramator. Matthews runs the Rams chapter of the Mob Squad Booster Club, an independent organization that raises money and awareness for autism. “You also have easy access level to level, which makes it a lot easier for handicapped people. They designed special wheelchair-accessible seating areas that are more accommodating than other stadiums I’ve seen.”

More than 60% of the building sits 100 feet below ground to keep the roof a safe distance from LAX flight paths. The architects separated the seating bowl and roof structure, adding hydraulic pistons to enable them to move independently in earthquakes, allowing for up to five feet of sway in either direction. In the sunken portion, sound waves bounce back, amplifying the noise to home-team advantage by drowning out the opposition’s play calls. “It’s a very loud stadium, one of the louder ones we’ve been in,” Tom Brady, the now-retired Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback, lamented to reporters after losing to the Rams in September. “We’ve got to do a better job of handling it.”

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A priority from the outset was exceptional connectivity. Modern arenas must increasingly cater to audiences who want more personalized interactions and are accustomed to watching in tandem with their cell phones. Hedinsson estimates roughly 55,000 concurrently active devices generate up to some 30 terabytes of data per game. From the beginning, blueprints called for bleeding-edge 5G and Wi-Fi 6 bandwidth, fiber optic cable systems, and cell zones for Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, including 397 in the seating bowl alone.

“We need to accommodate what is essentially a stadium full of content producers. Their expectations are that it’s no different than when you sit on the couch,” Hedinsson says. “It’s one of the trickiest engineering-design problems that we have because of the density of the technology. There’s enough fiber in this building to go to the moon and back twice.”

[Photo: Nic Lehoux/courtesy HKS]

Programming the fan experience

The stadium’s mission control, meanwhile, is filled with state-of-the-art audio-video production suites that sync live game plays and audience shots with sound design and graphics on the Infinity screen. They also coordinate imaging on the rows of ribbon screens lining the seat levels and campus-wide signage. “There’s a graphical game engine behind the things that we do on the Infinity Screen,” says Hedinsson. “All of our real-time rendering is using the same technology as modern video games. How can we [use that] to elevate that guest experience?”

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[Photo: courtesy of the author]
Planning the content took years, due in large part to maximizing 70,000 square feet of souped-up screen. Cory Befort, the Rams’ Emmy Award-winning senior creative director, and Sarah Schuler, senior director of game presentation and brand experience, teamed with LA brand agency, and longtime partner, Troika to design graphics and preprogrammed content packages for regular-season games. (NFL Productions handles all Super Bowl content to avoid favoritism, though one element that Troika created for the Rams was repurposed for a Super Bowl branding flourish.)

Their challenge was using the screen’s unique features to build escalating waves of excitement without exhausting the audience. “What could we potentially do on a canvas that has never been done before?” asks Befort. When the 2020 Covid shutdown forced games without audiences, it gave the production team a season of practice. “That became a silver lining,” says Schuler. “They were full-fledged, all-out dress rehearsals every single time, but for live games.”

The result is a strategically paced medley of player videos, fan and celebrity cameos, stat and score boxes, frenzied animation, and sponsorship integration. “Part of that is the psychology of the fan experience,” says Troika senior account director Aaron Sapiro. “If you’re coming at fans with 110% energy all the time, they’re not going to remember exactly when they need to bring the energy and when to take breaks.”

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[Image: courtesy of the author]
The more whimsical graphics incorporate interactive fan traditions, like the “Whose House?” cheer and the “Rampede,” a foot-stomping, hollering crescendo that bleeds into a live heavy metal solo by Alice Cooper lead guitarist Nita Strauss. “Our Rams House Fan Council named that,” says Schuler, referring to the community of season ticket holders who provide game experience feedback. “That’s when our brains took off. It was, ‘Oh my goodness! We can make this an incredibly special moment.'”

Brace for many more this Super Bowl, when the Rams run out to the field in a cacophony of roaring crowds and flashing lights in a stadium designed to wow attendees and embrace them like a giant open house.

Whose house…?

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“They’ve been waiting for a permanent home for this team forever,” says Rams COO Kevin Demoff. “This is the first stadium ever built by the Rams for Rams fans, designed by Rams fans. And I think you feel that home-field advantage come to life.”

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About the author

Susan Karlin, based in Los Angeles, is a regular contributor to Fast Company, where she covers space science and autonomous vehicles. Karlin has reported for The New York Times, NPR, Air & Space, Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, and Wired, among other outlets, from such locations as the Arctic and Antarctica, Israel/West Bank, and Southeast Asia

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