Rams’ return to Coliseum brings challenges

Thousands of spectators cheered as Jared Goff, the quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, scored a touchdown in the end zone of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Aug. 6. It was the Rams’ first open practice at the stadium, following a grueling first week of training camp held at the University of California, Irvine. And for many onlookers, it was their first time seeing the blue and gold uniforms of the former St. Louis Rams practicing on the field alongside the cardinal and gold “’SC” logo.

“Walking down the tunnel for some of these guys for the first time was a cool experience for them, thinking that this is going to be home for a while, so let’s make the most of it, and let’s make it our place to play,” Los Angeles Rams Coach Jeff Fisher told NBC LA at the practice.

The practice marked the Rams’ return to Los Angeles for the first time since 1995, when the team moved to St. Louis with promises of a better stadium as well as an expanding fan base. In the 20 years that have passed since, no NFL teams have played at the Coliseum. With the arrival of the Rams, new changes are expected in both the stadium management and the fan experience at football games. Despite the benefits of increased revenue and attendance, security and traffic concerns will pose a challenge that the University says it will work to address.

The Rams played at the Coliseum between their relocation from Cleveland in 1946 and their move to Anaheim in 1980, but it wasn’t until the franchise found itself in deep financial trouble — and unable to find a stadium willing to renovate to fit the needs of a large NFL team in the Los Angeles Area — that the team moved to St. Louis to start over. Twenty years later, the Rams once again needed a new stadium, and St. Louis was unable to provide the funds to renovate the Edward Jones Dome, which faced a $144 million debt. As a result, the day after the last game of the 2015 season, the Rams — along with the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers — all requested to relocate to Los Angeles, but it wasn’t until an NFL vote on Jan. 12 that the Rams officially made the switch from Missouri to Southern California.

The proposal for the Rams to come to the Coliseum, however, began much earlier, according to Joe Furin, the general manager of the Coliseum since the University took over management of the stadium in 2014. Furin answered the NFL’s call for any available stadiums in the Los Angeles area on behalf of the Coliseum, and as a result, he was present at talks discussing the Rams’ move from St. Louis as early as August 2015. Furin said that at the time he saw only positive aspects to the shift.

“An NFL team like the Rams would bring [the Coliseum] nine to 10 more events per year,” Furin said. “And with 80,000 people per event, that’s lots of additional revenue for the facility.”

The Coliseum is only the temporary home stadium of the Rams, who will play there through the 2018 season until the new 80,000 seat Inglewood Stadium is completed. But in these three years, because the stadium is owned by the University, whatever revenues the Rams generate for the Coliseum will belong to USC — and although the projected profits depend on factors including attendance and game times, Furin estimated that the Rams will bring several million dollars in every year.

“It’s going to be nothing but a positive impact,” Furin said. “There’s a big economic boom to hosting the event that trickles down to the average person.”

Although these changes are expected to benefit the University financially, the arrival of the Rams introduces issues with traffic, security and conflicts between NFL and NCAA games. Several streets surrounding the Coliseum, including Exposition Boulevard, Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Figueroa Street and Flower Street, will be closed for one hour after the completion of home football games — which now will mean not only USC Saturdays, but NFL Sundays.  Furthermore, according to Department of Public Safety Assistant Chief David Carlisle, parking spaces on campus will be restricted due to an influx of NFL season pass holders who will now have permission to park on campus.

“The Rams will definitely have an impact on the University Park Campus,” Carlisle said. “The Rams have bought all of the parking spaces in all of the parking structures on campus for each home Rams game. That means that there will be probably 6,000 cars parked on campus that are filled with fans going to the game, and this can pose a traffic control issue.”

To offset the change, Carlisle said that more than 300 spots on campus will be reserved for students and staff, but that alternate parking should be sought elsewhere by students who need to park on campus over the weekend. Tailgating will also be banned on campus during Rams games, so DPS will face the added challenge of enforcing this policy.

“Those who are used to coming to USC games may think that they can come set up their canopies, barbecues and tailgates on campus for Rams games, but that’s not the case,” Carlisle said. “DPS is going to work with CSC to be here from early in the morning until post-game, and we will be letting people know that there is no tailgating on campus. After the game, the fans will be coming back, and our challenge is to make sure that they get back to their cars safely and off campus.”

Furin said that the Coliseum will collaborate with other bodies such as DPS and the Los Angeles Police Department to manage traffic around Rams games in much the same way as it is managed for USC football games.

“It’s a plan that’s beyond just the Coliseum management of it — it’s a collective effort,” Furin said.

NFL security guidelines will be put in place not only for NFL games, but for all events at the Coliseum in general — meaning that rules such as a strict no-backpacks policy will now be enforced for USC football games as well. Spectators will be able to bring in clear bags only, and security staff at the Coliseum will use metal detecting wands for both USC and NFL games.

“The NFL security policies are more strict than USC home game policies, but USC Athletics and the Coliseum commission are moving more towards the level of security that the NFL has,” Carlisle said. “For example, for USC home games, there will be a bigger perimeter set up around the Coliseum to provide a greater security buffer.”

Furin said that he doesn’t expect conflicts to arise when it comes to the management of the stadium even when — as on two weekends this season — USC plays on a Saturday and the Rams play on the following Sunday. However, according to Furin, balancing the two teams will require extra effort from the Coliseum management staff.

“We provided the NCAA schedule to the NFL and asked them to work around that if possible,” Furin said. “They are aware of that and do what they can to avoid scheduling back-to-back games, but over the course of a season if might be inevitable. It’s just a matter of our team flipping the stadium or turning it over from one event to another, working all night to make sure that it’s clean and ready to go.”