Not too long ago the high-profile friendly between Borussia Dortmund and LAFC was the perfect opportunity for those without an attachment to the expansion team to check out downtown LA’s new soccer palace.
After all, its important to document what the expansion club is doing right, and report on the stadium accurately without shielding Galaxy fans from the realities of our new neighbors.
After parking inside the USC Coliseum garage on Figueroa for the low price of $30 (Not a good start!) I made the short jaunt to the stadium entrance.
Larry Bird once said there’s nothing like an arena in the city, and indeed it was fun walking and talking with footie fans on the sidewalk in anticipation of the unknown. We couldn’t help but laugh at the fellow in a Bayern Munch jersey dejectedly dragging his kid back to the car...what happened there?
If there’s one aspect of the Banc that commands universal acclaim, the building itself is an ambitious success.
Nestled in the southeast corner of Exposition Park, the pillow-like roof made of translucent ETFE material covers all four sides and extends around the south end, creating a barrier that bathes the field in light and amplifies the noise. Add steeply raked stands and ridiculously close sight lines to the mix and there isn’t a bad seat in the house.
The Banc also does a great job of properly segregating the fans. Whether you prefer to sing and chant for 90 minutes, sit as close to the action as possible or live the luxurious life for an evening, there’s a specific section of the stadium to live your best life.
At its peak the experience can be intoxicating, as I discovered hanging out at the Sunset Deck, a fun spot with all the bells and whistles of a luxury suite without the unpleasantness of being stuck in a box.
350 million goes a long way when allocated properly.
So what’s the game day atmosphere like? My biggest fear ahead of time is I would show up, the atmosphere created by the standing supporter’s section known as the 3252 would exceed my wildest expectations and somehow I’d have to deliver the bad news to Galaxy fans.
My fears were a bit exaggerated. Which isn’t to say the supporter’s union of LAFC fans weren’t loud. On the contrary, when a few members clanged their instruments for the first time, it was almost like a soundcheck as heads instinctively swiveled towards the noise. The acoustics are really something.
But as it turns out, you can’t build a supporter’s culture overnight. As imposing as the steel-clad section can look, upon closer inspection the actual number of legit, chanting clapping singing die-hards numbered in the couple of hundreds, with thousands of casual fans scattered around the supporters. To their credit, many of the songs are easy to sing along with, making it easier for the spectators surrounding the die-hards to join in on the racket. (FWIW, the place should be rocking for El Trafico part 2)
As for the rest of the stadium? There’s been plenty of discussion about the LAFC fan, an argument we’ll stave off for now. The team has managed to draw plenty of casual fans to the new venue. Los Angeles Football Club have sold out of season tickets in their inaugural season and the downtown location is a magnet for walk-up sales.
On the flip side, the stadium isn’t filled to the brim with hardcore MLS regulars, or even footie fans in general. I’m not the first to observe that some folks look like they were on their way to LACMA and took a wrong turn.
The rest of the Banc is a mixed bag.
I arrived hungry and headed to the Beer Belly expecting deliciousness in the form of a burger and duck fries. Unfortunately, the burger tasted no different than your average stadium offering. Even worse, they were out of duck fries. Not the Theatre of Food Dreams I was craving.
Next me and my date tried Seoul Sausage, which was admittedly miles better. (The Little Toyko based food truck is used to operating inside limited quarters, so perhaps that was to be expected)
Falling somewhat for the hype, I naively expected to take 100 steps in any direction and run into a spot to grab a craft beer. This turned out not to be the case: Visiting three different areas in search of local liquid refreshment, I came away empty handed.
That being said, don’t be fooled by these slight mishaps. Banc of California Stadium has accomplished a lot of things, many of them with style, and the important details they nailed out of the park.
During my visit I spoke with several media members sympathetic to the new kids on the block. The most common compromise we reached was yes, the LA Galaxy (and their fans) can rightfully claim Los Angeles as their turf.
We also agreed LAFC have done well to establish themselves as a worthy rival to the 5-time MLS Cup Champions. If there was more the organization could have done over the years to court fans, their new neighbors have exploited that gap.
Eventually, it’s not going to matter how many trophies LA have or which club was here first if LAFC continue to do the right things on and off the field. In the short-term and the immediate future, it is paramount the Galaxy steps up to the challenge if they wish to remain #1 in Los Angeles.