warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Eventful Decade in Store for Coliseum

Brian Bencomo |
October 7, 2015 | 2:30 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Entrance to the Coliseum through the peristyle. (Brian Bencomo/Annenberg Media)
Entrance to the Coliseum through the peristyle. (Brian Bencomo/Annenberg Media)
Over the past 92 years, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum has hosted some of the most important sporting events in this country and in the world. For the past 20 years, it’s seen little more than USC football. The next nine years might be some of the most eventful in the stadium’s history as it nears a century of existence.

With NFL owners discussing the possible return of one or two teams to Los Angeles at meetings in New York this week, the Coliseum stands poised to host a team as soon as next fall. Of the five venues in Southern California that the NFL has asked to temporarily host teams until a new stadium is built, only the Coliseum has said it would. 

Looking further into the future, the Coliseum is set to be a major venue if Los Angeles ends up hosting the 2024 Olympics. Last month, the LA24 bid committee identified the Coliseum as the site of the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as the track and field events.

Sometime between the possible returns of the NFL and the Olympics, the Coliseum will definitely undergo renovations. When it took over the Coliseum in 2013, the University of Southern California agreed to $70 million in renovations to be completed within 10 years. 

Coliseum general manager Joe Furin said the university was hoping to wrap up the $70 million — mostly infrastructural improvements — within a larger program of renovations. These include the addition of club seating, suites, handrails and more aisles. 

Nothing is set in stone yet.

“The plans are still conceptual at this point for a couple of reasons,” Furin said. “Most notably we are a national historic landmark.”

The Coliseum’s landmark status means the National Parks Service (NPS) must approve any changes to the historic structure.

“We’ve had very positive indications back from them,” he explained. “But nothing is final until they give it the stamp of approval and then we present the whole plan to the [university] president and the president’s cabinet.”

Furin said he was hoping to present plans to the university president this fall. Under this timeline, the project wouldn’t break ground for at least another two years.

“We’re hoping to put the shovel in the ground in 2018,” he said. “As soon as we can, following the 2017 football season.”

That football season would end in Dec. 2017 following USC’s last game of the season, or Jan. 2018 when an NFL team might be finishing up its second season in LA.

“We’re not designing our future renovations to comply with the NFL because they’ll be in and out before we even get to that stuff,” Furin pointed out.

The league would likely request modifications to the Coliseum to accommodate a team, according to Furin, and that because none of the changes would be permanent, NPS approval would not be needed. 

“They could literally crane in a press box."

The proposed renovations also don’t include any changes to prepare the stadium for the 2024 Olympics. 

“We’re aware of what’s required for the Olympics, but we’re not quite there yet to marry the two projects yet,” Furin said.

These requirements include the installation of a new track. The LA24 committee’s official bid book also shows a roof partially covering the stands in renderings of a renovated Coliseum. The book declares $800 millions in renovations — $500 million from USC and $300 million covered by the committee.

The Coliseum has had a track before, but it has never had a roof. While it remains to be seen whether the NPS would approve such an alteration to the Coliseum, experts like Olympic sportswriter Alan Abrahamson don't hink the Coliseum will run into any hurdles in securing approval for 2024 renovations.

LA84 president and U.S. Olympic Committee senior board member Anita DeFrantz recalls running into issues in preparing the Coliseum for the 1984 Games.

“At one point we were planning to take the ceremonies out of the Coliseum and put them at to the Rose Bowl because there were too many people fighting about who owns what,” she explained.

The Coliseum didn’t undergo nearly as many changes before 1984 compared to what it anticipated for 2024.

“All we did to it besides spiff it up — make it cleaner, fill in the divots and things like that — was paint the ring around the top,” DeFrantz said.

Regardless of renovations, the Coliseum already makes LA’s 2024 bid strong.

“There are many Olympic bids implemented without a centerpiece stadium,” Abrahamson countered. “There was no centerpiece stadium on the ground for Chicago’s 2016 bid, nor was there one for New York’s 2012 bid and that played a significant role in the failure of those bids to be elected.”

The USOC’s original choice for 2024, Boston, also didn’t have a centerpiece stadium built.  Despite the trend of building newer and more expensive Olympic stadiums for recent Olympiads, the Coliseum’s age doesn’t figure to be detrimental to LA’s bid.

“People misunderstand the [International Olympic Committee],” DeFrantz pointed out. “The IOC has never directed a city to build something. If anything, it’s been the sports federations that have said, ‘No, no, no — we need something that’s bigger or something that’s better.'”

“It is a proven asset,” reiterated Abrahamson. “If you wanna talk old, the original Colosseum in Rome is being put forth as a venue for the Rome bid. I think when you compare the two this one comes out pretty favorably.”

Contact staff reporter Brian Bencomo here and follow him on Twitter here.



Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.