An empty SoFi Stadium hosts first LA Rams game, and a resurgent Inglewood has hope


When the Lakers and Kings left for Staples in 1999, “The City of Champions” was left with only the echoes of Magic’s dribble drive and dish, and with Chick Hearn’s beloved calls from the “fabulous” Forum.

Flash forward to Sunday — the first ever event at the giant SoFi Stadium, and the inaugural game at the new home of the L.A. Rams and the L.A. Chargers.

Despite a pandemic and terrible air quality from local fires, Sunday’s game marked a resurrection of sorts for this South Bay city of 109,000 — ushering in what leaders, residents, the L.A. Rams and L.A. Chargers see as a new era of champions.

Many see Sunday’s game as a big moment for a resurgent city — and a new home and sports hub for a new generation.

Just ask its mayor — who in the countdown to Sunday’s Rams v. Dallas Cowboys opening, was having trouble containing his excitement.

“I haven’t felt this way since the first time my father brought me to a Rams game when I was 7 years old in the 1960s,” Inglewood Mayor James Butts said on Friday. “Even though we won’t have the crowds there’s going to be that same feeling because this is history being made.”

The scene itself was surreal, the grand opening of a massive L.A. stadium against the backdrop of a county health order designed to prevent the spread of the coronavirus: No fans — their soundtracked cheers and their boos piped in. Empty seats — save for the fan cutouts on both ends of the field. Zero activity at closed concession stands. No souvenirs. Lots of action on the field, but none in the stands.

SoFi Stadium also opened amid historic social unrest in the nation, and in L.A., where the outcry against racism was seen on the field, with several players taking a knee during the national anthem.

That history wasn’t lost on fans who came to the site of a game they knew they weren’t going to get into.

“When it actually does open up, we’re gong to be there,” said Juan Belman, who with his wife came from Riverside just to capture the moment in a social-distanced tailgate party in the parking lot outside the nearby Forum, across the street from the space-age-looking SoFi. They had purchased tickets for the game, but Belman put it into perspective. “You know what? We can wait for 2021. We don’t have to rush things. We’re just glad that our sports is back — especially football.”

#LARams fans in the parking lot outside #TheForum in #inglewood, taking in the moment ahead of Sunday opener.

This was not exactly the script that Butts and Rams Owner/Chairman Stan Kroenke drew up in that Aug. 27, 2013 meeting, when what was supposed to be a 15-minute meet turned into a two-and-half-hour huddle plotting out “an action plan to bring this to fruition,” Butts said.

That meeting translated into a sweeping, $5 billion project that is transforming a city that just nine years ago was on the verge of bankruptcy.

The 70,000-seat (expandable to 100,000), stadium sits on the former Hollywood Park racetrack property not far from LAX. The stadium has a roof, but it’s open to the outside on the sides and ends. Designers called it the first major “indoor-outdoor” stadium.

It’s a bit of a marvel. Butts likened it to feeling like you’re walking into a video game.

It’s scheduled to host the Super Bowl in 2022, the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Olympics, and many other events in addition to Rams and Chargers games.

Adjacent to the stadium and under the same roof canopy will be a 6,000-seat performance venue that will host a variety of events, including concerts, esports events, award shows, as well as community gatherings. And not far away, the renovations of the Hollywood Park casino and the Airport Park View offer glimpses of life of a post-COVID Inglewood future.

And then there’s the L.A. Clippers’ arena. The city just approved to begin construction on a $1.2 billion new 18,000-seat arena in 2021.

Inglewood’s approval was expected for a project that claims it will create 1,500 full-time jobs and $100 million in tax revenue over its first 15 years in business.

Not everyone is thrilled about what all of this will mean. Some business owners and tenants in Inglewood fear the transformation brought by the stadium will price them out of the city they worked so hard to call home — even during the rough years.

Inside the stadium on Sunday night, the Rams scored early. The pre-recorded crowd noise amped up.

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Butts was intent on the site’s happy future, though.

“We’re here to show how loyal we are, in Los Angeles, Ramirez said, as he took in the moment outside. “This is a beautiful stadium. A beautiful stadium. We can tell stories about this later on. We’ll be able to say, ‘Man, remember that day in 2020 when we first came — 20 years ago?’ This is like the groundbreaking of everything. We’re pretty much putting mark on where everything’s going to be. We have stories to tell now. This is one of the nicest stadiums in the world. Just let that sink in.”

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Actu monde – US – An empty SoFi Stadium hosts first LA Rams game, and a resurgent Inglewood has hope