Renovated coliseum set to reopen its doors

The Coliseum’s notable features, like the peristyle and concrete concourse, were among the areas targeted by the restoration. The stadium’s seating capacity was also reduced by nearly 15,000 seats. (Photo courtesy of Gus Ruelas / USC)

The newly renovated Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum will open its doors to visitors on Aug. 24, just in time for the Los Angeles Rams’ first preseason home game and USC’s first home game against Fresno State Aug. 31.

The stadium held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 15 attended by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, USC president Carol Folt, athletic director Lynn Swann and head football coach Clay Helton.

“When I walked down that tunnel, the hair on the back of my neck stood up because I knew I was in a place of history,” Helton said of his team’s first practice at the stadium Aug. 9.

The first major renovation to the stadium since 1995, the $315 million project features enhancements including a more spacious layout with new and fewer seats, stadium-wide Wi-Fi and an improved sound and video system. Other restorations include the stadium’s concrete walls and concourse, the bowl-shape and its iconic peristyle.

Before USC signed its 2013 agreement to maintain the structural integrity of the stadium until the year 2111, only a few renovations had been made to modernize or restore the well-known structures.

“The project itself, the overall project to modernize us … makes us as fine a stadium as there is,”  said Joe Furin, the Coliseum’s general manager. “This is a 96-year-old building. It had been neglected prior to the University taking over management of it.”

The renovation resulted in the removal of 12.4% of the bowl surface to make room for the Scholarship Club Tower, a seven-story addition that will feature new food options, press boxes, premium seating, a rooftop lounge and 24 luxury suites, which can be purchased on 20-year terms. 

With the Scholarship Club Tower, the stadium’s seating capacity has been reduced from 92,348 to 77,500 to remove seats that were inadequate in offering a full perspective of the playing field, according to the Conceptual Historic Fabric Retention Plan. The plan also stated that the decrease in seats was crucial in bringing Trojan fans closer to the  field. 

According to sophomore kicker Alex Stadthaus, after a season that saw a typically-full Coliseum never reach 60,000 fans in any of USC’s home games, the closer, tighter audience perspective could go a long way in creating a good atmosphere for the team. 

“The more fans that are there, the better it is for us,” Stadthaus said. “Our team thrives off people playing together and cheering us on. Whenever there’s more support behind Troy, there’s definitely a reason to be excited for a game versus when you’re walking into a stadium that [appears] only 60% full.”

Furin said a refurbished Coliseum, along with Trojan success on the gridiron, will bring fans back to the stadium’s seats and dramatically improve the attendance numbers that dropped significantly during a disappointing 2018 season. 

“It’s a little bit of both, the product on the field, but it’s also the venue,” Furin said. “We would encourage everyone to come out and experience it for yourself — and, knock on wood, [with the renovations] plus the play on the field — attendance is going to rise again.”

Wi-Fi will also be a feature of the newly renovated Coliseum, and two high-definition video boards have been installed on each end of the stadium. 

“I’m looking forward to getting Wi-Fi, that’s the main thing,” said Aqua Richards, a junior majoring in biochemistry and global studies. “Every time I go there, I would have to use data. The Wi-Fi is a huge plus.”

Despite the Coliseum’s much-needed enhancements, the project was accompanied by controversy. United Airlines and USC faced public backlash earlier this year regarding their agreement to rename the Coliseum the United Airlines Memorial Coliseum.

“Unlike other modern sports venues, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is not just a stadium — it is a war memorial,” said Janice Hahn, president of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission. “Removing ‘Los Angeles’ and replacing it with a corporate sponsor insults the memories of those the Coliseum was intended to honor.”

However, after heavy deliberation, the University and United settled on “United Airlines Field at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum” as a means of balancing United’s title rights with the Coliseum’s standing as a World War I memorial.

According to Richards, both parties did an effective job in retaining the historical and memorial aspects of the original name while also acknowledging United Airlines’ help in funding an undisclosed but significant amount of the renovation project. 

“I think they did a great job in preserving the name because everyone’s still going to call it the Coliseum anyway,” Richards said. “I’m happy they still added the ‘Memorial Coliseum’ part in there for the veterans because it’s what everyone knows it as.”

Stadthaus said that while it was important to preserve the stadium’s identity as a war memorial, the University was right to welcome United’s assistance in the renovation. 

“I thought they did a great job in instilling a historical aspect as well as being able to make the deal occur,” Stadthaus said. “Anytime that the corporation is offering hundreds of millions of dollars to the school just to put a name on a building, I think it’s definitely worth consideration.”

Considering its historic nature, it was imperative for officials leading the project to maintain its well-known characteristics while modernizing the facility to provide an ideal fan experience. 

“How do you do a renovation, how do you modernize a stadium without jeopardizing that national historic designation?” Furin said. “You have to walk a very fine line between disrupting those character features and being able to bring things in.”

The project accordingly made a concerted effort to maintain the old-fashioned feel that has made it a staple of Los Angeles sports for nearly 100 years. 

“Its history, when it was built, and over the years of all the wonderful events we’ve hosted, parallels the growth of the city of Los Angeles in and of itself,” Furin said. “Starting with the 1932 Olympics, every major event that happened in this city took place here. If you wanted to see Sandy Koufax, if you wanted to see the Fearsome Foursome play, if you came with your grandfather and your father, and you were bringing your son, you came here to the Coliseum. So that’s one of the very special things about the facility.”

After the newest slate of renovations, Furin hopes that the stadium will remain the stomping grounds for Trojan players, students and fans for decades to come.

“We have an unbelievable legacy of a century of great events and moments, and with the University’s commitment, there’s going to be another century ahead of us,” Furin said. “That’s humbling to think about.”