Los Angeles soccer fans get a new venue, and a new team

This weekend, the Los Angeles Football Club, L.A.’s new professional soccer franchise, will play its first game in its new home, the Banc of California Stadium.

Located on the corner Figueroa and Martin Luther King Boulevard south of downtown L.A, the sleek, $350 million venue is inspired by the great soccer stadiums of Europe. It’s also the first open air professional sports arena built in the city limits of Los Angeles since Dodgers Stadium in 1962.

LAFC co-owner and president Tom Penn said he wants the stadium to be a gathering place for a city that often feels fragmented and isolating because of sprawl and traffic.

“We want to be a place of unification, a place that brings this diverse city together,” Penn told KCRW.

Tom Penn, LAFC co-owner and president. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)
Tom Penn, LAFC co-owner and president. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)

Penn added that he wants the LAFC to be a good neighbor to the adjacent community, which is largely Latino and African-American, with about 40% of households living below the poverty line, according to U.S. Census data.

During the building of the privately financed stadium, about 40% of construction workers were hired from the vicinity, according to LAFC. When the stadium is fully open and staffed, it will employ over 1,200 full time and part-time employees. Penn said the team and its contractors are trying to hire as many people who live close to the venue as possible.

“We feel great responsibility to be good corporate citizens, and we love this neighborhood,” said Penn. “We’re of the city.”

And what about making a visit to the stadium affordable? The LAFC says it’s selling some game tickets for as low as $20.00, although if you want to sit in VIP seating next to the field that costs up to $584.00 according to prices on the club’s website.

One test that awaits the LAFC, is whether there are enough people who will come out to fill the new stadium’s 22,000 seats. Competition for sports fans dollars is intense in Los Angeles, with its multitude of major league sports franchises including two new NFL teams and an existing Major League Soccer, the Galaxy.

Empty seats at the new stadium. (Photo: Saul Gonzalez)

Penn said he’s confident the new stadium will be consistently full.

“This is a massive market,” said Penn. “There is plenty of room in L.A. for multiple teams in multiple leagues.”

Penn also acknowledged that L.A. sports fans, with so many other diversions available to them in Southern California, want more than a state of the art stadium in exchange for their support and dollars; they also want to see victories on the field as a reason to keep coming back.

That first chance to score a victory will begin this Sunday at 6:00 p.m., when the LAFC plays its first home game against the Seattle Sounders.