The totality of the soccering experience is not merely the 90 minutes on the pitch. It begins the minute you buy a ticket, or a kit, or a scarf, and extends to the morning of game day, the moment you park your car, the moment you wander into the tailgate, and especially the moment you arrive inside the stadium.
It is a totality of experience: either a ‘consumer experience’ or a ‘human experience’, depending on who’s perspective you are looking through. The marketing and sales department likely see it as a consumer experience. And that’s fine: that’s their job. A rabbi, of course, perceives the entire thing as a human experience. I might also call it a spiritual experience, but I’m not sure standing in line for 20 minutes at Dippin’ Dots would qualify as such.
Soccer can be played in a dirt field strewn with rocks, with two pairs of sandals as goalposts. It can be played on a plastic turf with aluminum roll-out bleachers. I have seen it on three inches of snow with lines of precipitation shoveled away to provide a green, living border marking the edges of the pitch, while fans in blankets were snuggled into the backs of Subarus and Honda CRVs that had been driven to the edge of the field. It is played in antique concrete bowls, like Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, and palaces like the Camp Nou in Barcelona.
In MLS, the soccer experience can be Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, but it can also be Banc of California Stadium. They are both soccer. They are not the same soccer experience.
I say all this because this past Saturday night I visited LAFC’s brand-spanking-new facility in Exposition Park. I’m going to compare it, element by element, to the full ‘DSGP’ experience, on a five star scale. Because hey, the LA Galaxy have five stars (wink).
Approach to Stadium
Banc of California: ⭐️
The B of C tailgate has potential, but it’s also kind of a mess. In a long rectangle marked with a slick set of six-foot high golden ‘LAFC’ letters in the middle, there’s a mix of tailgating families and friends under their individual tents and a bunch of corporate stands hawking Toyotas and Heineken selfies with a pair of models in go-go boots and such. You can buy beer, but only if you get it from the aforementioned Dutch company with the green bottles, and then acceed to standing in a sad inflatable pen of sorts with the other ‘people not invited to their buddies tailgate.’ These little groupings of a dozen people here and a dozen people there aren’t bound together - if LA is ‘a thousand neighborhoods in search of a city’, then this was ‘three-dozen picnics in search of a tailgate.’. Sure, there’s guaranteed to be old friends that belong in the 3252, the supporters section, that wander over to greet each other, but there wasn’t any place for an interloper from Colorado like me to meet the members of Black Army 1850 or one of the other four supporters groups. In general, you kind of need a sherpa to guide you into the strange world of supporter culture, and the only person I knew was twitter acquaintance Alicia Rodriguez AKA @soccermusings, and she wasn’t there that day. It’s a good scene, but I think it’s missing something.
By comparison, C38’s tailgate with its music and beer and food and player interviews (for $7!), plus all the Rapids-sponsored family-friendly activities just south of the stadium, are actually really good. The grass at the 3252 tailgate was nice though. Note to Wayne Brant - swapping out the concrete that C38 uses for grass would be really nice. C38’s tailgate also needs some infrastructure investment, like permanent concrete barbecue grills, tables, and a year-round outdoor sound setup. Also taco trucks, a dream which I will never, ever let go of.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The curved metal awnings of ‘the Banc’ are gorgeous. They have a symmetry that isn’t rendered bland or boring because of some bends in the exterior line that make them look like they dip and swerve. There’s also two opening points at which the awnings and stands ‘break’, and one of those gives a perfect view of Downtown Los Angeles, framed by palm trees in the foreground. It is breathtaking. Those two openings separate the north stand, which is entirely reserved, top to bottom, for the supporters groups. They give that section a sense of intentional architectural gravitas. And that’s even before they start chanting. The stadium isn’t huge, seating 22,000, but it is quite grand, as if you took Mercedes Benz in Atlanta or the Emirates Stadium in London and just shrunk it.
DSGP is a beautiful stadium: the East and West stands are arranged in a traditional , square, matter-of-fact manner, kind of like Colorado itself (and Coloradans). The ‘flash’ of the Dick is the cantilevered shade structures arranged to look like mountain peaks that make it distinct throughout the world, as well as the lovely view in the northwest corner of the stadium of the Rockies. The blemish at DSGP is the north end, which the longer I’ve lived here, the more I think was poorly thought out. We have to be the only stadium in the gosh darn world where players exit the locker rooms and go down two flights of concrete stairs, passing through a couple corporate party tents of disinterested TransAmerica account agents waiting for the barbequed chicken to get refilled, before coming onto the pitch. I know the north end was designed with having a stage for Phish shows in mind. But it’s a total architectural cock-up, and if the Dick ever gets a facelift, mark my words, the whole north end is getting demolitioned, as it should.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My readers know that I keep kosher, which generally limits what I can eat at sporting events to pizza and french fries, both of which are so bad at Dick’s that I have learned to eat before the game. Note that also vegetarian fare in the press box or at the C38 tailgate is either rare or non-existent. I imagine the addition of GB's with their menu of authentic English savory pies might be good, and perhaps the new taco stand on the north end is good, but I haven’t heard from anyone about either.
Here’s a sampling of things you can get at Banc of California Stadium:
- hand-carved Porchetta Sandwiches and Rotisserie Half-Chickens
- beer braised short rib and cheddar pressed sandwich
- Pita chips loaded with chicken shawarma, feta and tzatziki and cucumber salsa.
- Hebrew National foot-long, loaded up with slow-braised beef, shredded cheddar and classic hot dog toppings. (note: they took a kosher hot dog and poured cheese on it, which breaks my heart a little TBH)
- Duck Fat Fries
- Barbacoa, Chicken, Pork and Veggie Tacos
- Brisket Nachos
I ate a roasted veggie sandwich with tomato, basil and mozzarella on focaccia bread. It was really, really good, and there is nothing at DSGP on par with it for a vegetarian.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Parking at LAFC is $35 at the stadium; VIP parking is more. Parking at the Dick is free. A smart person should take the metro, which is cheap and gets you a 15-minute walk from the stadium.
DSGP might consider that for an overall slogan: “It’s not the best stadium in MLS, but at least parking is free.” That amenity obviates the need to ride public transit to the Dick.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️
Pre game pomp
LAFC rolls a set of giant letters onto the field. Then they introduce a celebrity: Saturday night it was Little League pitcher Moné Davis. Then, with great ceremony and attempted gravitas, said celebrity helps release a hawk and it flies around the stadium. Then they play a piece of classical music and flash a sign on the screen that says ‘scarves up’, and people stand up. Although since they're a new team and thousands of people are attending their first-ever soccer match, most folks in the East end don't have a clue whats going on. Then ten-foot high flames shoot out of the letters. Then everybody sits down and the ‘MLS Theme Music’ plays as the players walkout of the tunnel and lineup. It’s a bunch of nonsense, and it also doesn’t flow together at all.
Colorado’s pre-game pomp consists of the MLS Theme with scarves up, fireworks, and then singing ‘Mountain Roads’ together. The punk band that was commissioned to do that song I find kind of irritating (and I like punk music), but out ceremony is brief and it hangs together neatly.
Banc of California: ⭐️
Sigh. This could be an article all it’s own about ‘building supporters culture’ and ‘MLS 1.0 versus MLS 3.0’. Suffice it to say, this one’s not a fair fight. The Colorado Rapids have finished near the bottom of the table four of the past five years, and our supporters group has taken a beating because of it. C38 also is faced with other challenges that are hard to overcome. For one, the teams distance from Denver hurts millennial interest, a prime element within supporters groups. For another, Commerce City bans the use of flares and smoke, and the best SGs are all about the pyro. And things have significantly improved in the past two years, as the Rapids and Centennial 38 agreed to consolidate their supporters in section 117 instead of in 117 and 101, and also took out the seats and installed ‘safe-stand’ railings in the section, as well as riggings for tifo on the south end. Generally, you can find one-hundred to five-hundred fans in the 117, and they can make a respectable bit of noise. C38 and the supporters section is a work in progress which is steadily improving. All the new teams in MLS… are new. They have tremendous millennial buy-in and huge excitement that is completely independent for performance on the field, and probably will be for at least five years. LAFC’s five supporters groups have built-in competitive advantages over old-school MLS like the Chicago Fire, Columbus Crew, and Colorado Rapids that need to be taken into account.
That said, it’s no comparison. 3252, named for the number of seats in the section, was rocking and rolling and screaming their heads off an hour before kickoff. By kickoff, nearly every seat was full, although almost every fan in the section elected to stand, of course. That mass of humanity produces an ungodly, thunderous racket. The 34º rake of the stands in the steepest in MLS - think of the angle of a hairy double black at Telluride, and put the crowd right on top of their opponents. The 3252 sing a bunch of songs you’d hear anywhere in MLS, but also a bunch I don’t associate with any other team. They have THREE capo stands. After a publicized opening match in which the word ‘puto’ was yelled repeatedly, they had their Latino players explain to the crowd of their second ever match not to do it again, and they haven’t done it since - bonus points for that. When they do their signature (drumbeat) dung dugga dung dugga dugga dung dung ‘LA!’… dugga dung dugga dugga dung dung ‘FC!’ chant, you think you’re in Azteca or the Bernabeu. It is mindblowing and it is impressive.
Note: C38 makes amazing tifo, and LAFC have one small tifo out for a ‘Women of LAFC’ supporters recognition event, but I didn’t consider tifo in this review.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Press Box/Press Conference Room
When you finally find the press box, upon entry there is a lounge area resplendent with white couches on your way in with a few tvs tuned to other sports. You also pass a full video production suite that has desks and tvs and knobs and dials for the TV crew - no truck-in-the-parking-lot at LAFC. Once you get there, the space is beautiful: you sit in a gleaming white cube in the south west corner of the stadium. There are two rows of about 40 seats with desks in front of them, and they open to a great view. After the game, media head down to the field level and enter a velvet-roped area with big beefy bouncers, where an exclusive bar and grill for season ticket holders has the LA elite dressed up in their finest Fred Segal and Manolo Blaniks are drinking $16 cocktails. You go into a normal press conference room, but one with a 30 foot long glass wall that bar patrons can look in on. When Bob Bradley and Adama Diomande came in to be interviewed, 100 people crowded around the window to look in. It's kinda cool.
At DSGP, there are three places for media to sit: one is right on the center stripe and directly underneath the Spanish language radio broadcasting booth of the 87.7 ‘La Invasora!’ The view is great, but not if you’re prone to vertigo or if it’s cold. There’s more seating down towards the north end, but the view isn’t as good. And there’s a lounge/workspace indoors too that’s nice. It’s functional and well appointed, but not fancy. Again, just like the Rapids themselves. Rapids press conferences are held in a glorified broom closet, although it has a nice mural. Your audio recordings are often punctuated by the sound of a service elevator going up and down.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
LAFC boasts three different sets of luxury boxes: 12 Founders club suites, 11 Sunset Suites on the Sunset Deck, and 10 Field Level suites. As I was walking back to the Press box, a family of four up in the Founders Club were selecting cakes from off of a dessert cart. ‘The Banc’ has five separate ‘club spaces’ - exclusive bar and grill setups. If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars to drop on a luxury suite, the hoi polloi in the supporters section have their own bar area and good food options too. Ticket prices are $20 in 3252 and $34 for good seats on the East side. For all the fans at the stadium there are a pair of enormous video screens, one at the north end, one to the south. The south video board is fully 70 yards long and 30 yards tall. The apres-match party is on the Sunset deck; I left the stadium at 11:30pm and the music was still bumpin’ and the drinks were still flowing.
DSGP’s suites are quite nice also, and 1876 is a bit small and crowded, but the food and drink options are very good. The Rapids season ticket holder special experiences: being pitchside for goalkeeper warm ups, getting upgraded to fieldside seats, and getting to visit the Press Conference, are all fun and engaging.
I suppose a big piece of this is philosophical: if you to ‘be seen’ and eat well and be showy, or if you have a crap-ton of money, LAFC’s high end options are spectacular. If don’t need all that, and you can wait till after the game for a hand crafted mojito and late-night tacos at Pinche or Torchys, then DSGP is great.
Banc of California: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Overall You kind of get the gist: if soccer is all about the soccer, and you are more of a purist without the need for bells and whistles, DSGP is really a very good environment, and the tailgate surrounded on all sides by soccer fields makes it a more down to earth and authentic "soccer experience". However, if you want a full-blown, pull-out-all-the-stops “experience” that’ll hit your taste buds, you auditory receptors, and your architectural/aesthetic sensibilities, you should really experience Banc of California Stadium. It's a bit more "consumerist", but it's also really really fun.
At least go and get those Brisket Nachos on my behalf. Man those smelled good.