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Why the striking Super Bowl stadium is three-quarters underground

By Brandon Griggs, CNN

From Joe Burrow and Matthew Stafford to Eminem and Mary J. Blige, Sunday’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles will feature plenty of famous faces.

But the event’s biggest star might be the stadium itself.

The NFL’s newest glittering shrine, SoFi Stadium has lured the Super Bowl back to greater Los Angeles for the first time in almost 30 years. And like the breathlessly hyped Super Bowl itself, it’s full of superlatives.

At 3.1 million square feet, it’s the largest and the first “indoor-outdoor” stadium in the NFL. It’s got an adjacent six-acre lake, an enormous video board hovering over the field like a giant halo and a striking, curved canopy that flashes messages and videos to airplanes overhead.

“There’s always a tremendous sense of excitement and awe” when visitors see the stadium for the first time, says Jason Gannon, SoFi Stadium’s managing director. “The building itself — the structure of the building — architecturally is incredible. The curvature of the roof, the size of it, is incredibly unique and interesting. People will find it to be quite an experience.”

Built in Inglewood on the site of the former Hollywood Park Racetrack, the $5 billion stadium opened in 2020 as home to both the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers. It can seat up to 100,000 people. The Rams are playing in the Super Bowl, on their home field, against the Cincinnati Bengals.

SoFi has quickly become a preferred showcase for large-scale events.

Justin Bieber, BTS and the Rolling Stones have performed there. It’s also is slated to host next year’s College Football National Championship and the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2028 Summer Olympics.

If you’re planning a trip to Los Angeles, it may be worth a visit. Here are six of the stadium’s unique features.

1. Three-quarters of it lies underground

The stadium sits just three miles east of Los Angeles International Airport — and in LAX’s flight path. FAA restrictions prohibited architects from building a towering structure.

So the football field itself lies 100 feet below ground level — double the depth of any other NFL venue. To accomplish this, more than 7 million cubic yards of dirt were excavated from the stadium bowl.

With most stadiums, fans arrive at ground level and then climb to their seats. At SoFi, they mostly descend. Designers studied cliffside architecture and built terraced pathways, surrounded by landscaped gardens, that lead fans down toward the field.

“We wanted the experience of going down into the stadium to be something truly unique,” says Lance Evans, the stadium’s lead architect. “So we used the natural landscape and terracing to welcome the fans as they come down the building.”

2. The roof has an LED screen that can air live TV to passing airplanes

The vast roof is made up of hundreds of semi-translucent panels that diffuse sunlight during the day to reduce glare and help cool the building.

At night, the canopy becomes a giant, illuminated screen, thanks to a network of LED lights that can project images and video.

The roof can even air live TV. In November 2020, the Rams showed their Monday Night Football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the stadium’s canopy, offering an aerial show to airplane passengers on their final approach to nearby LAX.

3. It’s open on the sides to take advantage of SoCal breezes

While the canopy covers the entire football field and the stands, the stadium is open to the elements on its sides beyond the two end zones. The roof also has 46 panels that can be opened to boost airflow.

The aerodynamic design takes advantage of SoCal’s temperate climate and earns the facility its “indoor-outdoor” label.

“We carved this building to allow the ocean breezes to pass through it and promote airflow,” says Evans, the architect. “But also to give the visitors here connectivity to the beautiful surroundings here in Southern California. So you’re looking into Malibu on this side, you can see the Hollywood Hills on the east side, Palos Verdes down to the south.”

The open-air design also means that parts of the stadium, despite being sheltered under a massive roof, are susceptible to wind, rain and lightning strikes. That’s why a game last October between the Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders was delayed while a thunderstorm passed overhead.

4. Its hanging video screen is larger than the football field

Suspended over the field like a spaceship is an enormous video screen in the shape of a ring.

Its official name is the Infinity Screen by Samsung, and it’s the largest such screen in sports — 70,000 square feet of digital LED, with about 80 million pixels. It’s longer and wider than the football field itself.

It’s also the only dual-sided screen, meaning that messages and video are shown on its inner and outer surfaces. This is especially helpful to fans seated down near the field, who can gaze up at the inner screen on the opposite side of the ring.

“It can immerse fans in content,” Evans says. That’s presumably when fans are not watching, you know, the game itself.

5. It has field-level suites just beyond the end zone

If you’re feeling flush and want to impress several dozen of your buddies, you can reserve a field-level suite, called a bungalow, that’s only a few yards from the back of the end zone. The suites are so close to the action that an overthrown pass could land in your plate of nachos.

“They’re the closest field seats in the NFL. It’ll feel like you’re in your backyard,” says Evans. “Put your feet up on the green rail, be as casual as can be. It just so happens that the energy of an NFL game is happening 10 feet on the other side of the rail.”

6. Tours let you run a 40-yard dash and kick a field goal

You can book a stadium tour that will take you to the private luxury suites, the teams’ locker rooms and an interview room where coaches and players field questions from reporters. As of December 2021, visitors are required to provide proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test result.

But the most memorable part of the tour may be visiting the field itself — accessed via a 60-foot tunnel to replicate the players’ experience of charging onto the turf before a game.

“The tour affords you an opportunity to go down on the field of play … and actually engage in combine-like activities — to run the 40-yard dash, to throw a football, to kick a field goal and measure how you perform (when compared) to NFL athletes,” Gannon says. “I think that’s really the fun and engaging part of the tour.”

Just don’t pull a hamstring. Tickets start at $30.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Paul Vercammen contributed to this story.

Article Topic Follows: Football

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