Expansion LAFC selling soccer dreams in revitalized downtown

LOS ANGELES (AP) " Banc of California Stadium is designed to be a jewel of Los Angeles' revitalized downtown. With 22,000 seats and an overwhelming array of lavish suites, restaurants and party spaces, it's one of the most alluring destinations for sports and nightlife in the urban core of the nation's second-largest city.

Sure, the stadium won't actually exist for another year. It's currently a dusty construction site off Figueroa Street on the site of the demolished Sports Arena.

But just 3 miles away, fans of soccer and this city can virtually see, feel and experience the future home of Los Angeles Football Club, the Major League Soccer expansion team set to begin play in 2018.

Amid exposed brick walls and wood-beamed high ceilings befitting a well-heeled California startup, the LAFC Experience Center presents potential fans with detailed renderings and models of the stadium and its innumerable generous amenities. They can even experience a detailed simulation of the view from their prospective seats on a wall-sized screen.

Team President Tom Penn doesn't have a physical product to sell just yet, but LAFC is conjuring up a tantalizing West Coast dream " and they've already taken more than 14,000 season ticket deposits.

"We have a club," Penn said. "We don't have the team. We don't have the coach. But we've got a club, and we've got the culture, and it's just growing. It's got nothing to do with wins and losses. It's got to do with the connection of these folks who are signing up. We're still 13 months out. There's just tremendous connection with this sport and with this vision."

While MLS' 22 current teams open the season this weekend, the 23rd is deep into its planning for a spectacular debut next year.

LAFC has made no secret of its global ambitions ever since a multinational conglomerate of soccer-loving businesspeople and celebrities paid $110 million for a club, yet they're also determined to forge an intimate connection to their sprawling city.

Those intentions are exemplified by the stadium, which will stand next to the venerable Coliseum and across Exposition Park from the California Science Center, the University of Southern California and the prospective site of George Lucas' $1 billion Museum of Narrative Art.

"It's a home-run location, home-run stadium," general manager John Thorrington said. "I think a lot of stadiums look like spaceships that have been planted somewhere, but this really fits LA. It's incredible, the momentum and traction we've got already without a player and without a coach."

Thorrington has the financial backing to make splashy signings in the months ahead. The worldwide soccer rumor mill has linked LAFC to serious interest in Mexican star Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez or Chelsea's Cesc Fabregas, while former U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley is widely rumored to be a candidate for the top job.

Thorrington won't deny he's aiming high.

"When we talk about representing our city, part of our city is it's a city of stars, and we're not going to hide from that," Thorrington said. "We're not doing anything that doesn't involve competitive value and on-field quality. That's clearly the priority. We want players that our fans are really, really excited to watch."

LAFC already has a youth academy and a partnership with USL club Orange County SC, fulfilling another part of Thorrington's plan to land elite talent from Southern California.

"Our phraseology is, 'From cradle to cathedral,'" Thorrington said.

Indeed, LAFC executives speak about Banc of California Stadium in holy terms, from its intimate ground-floor seats all the way to its artistic roof, which will be made of translucent paneling similar to Bayern Munich's Allianz Arena.

Every cathedral needs a stained glass window, but LAFC is using its unique setting to create one: The stadium itself is a frame for the Los Angeles skyline. The stands are open on the northeast corner, revealing the glittering buildings of LA's growing downtown to its fans.

Even the front-row seats have a special quality: There's literally nothing between them and the field 10 feet away. LAFC won't have LED advertising boards lining the opposite side of the field from the team benches.

Penn, a longtime NBA executive and analyst, advocated for emulating basketball's intimacy by skipping the field-side advertising that has become nearly compulsory in soccer.

It's a bold idea, but LAFC aspires to be as bold as its city.

"LA is so diverse and so creative, and as they say in soccer, so on the front foot," Penn said. "It's an expression to the world of what America means. The California Dream, the American Dream, really lives here. We wanted to weave that into everything in our building and in our organization."

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 29 Mar 2017 23:23:08 Processing Time: 558ms